Monday, October 18, 2010

Fire Drills

Years ago, while dead to the world, but technically in a geographical sense in the hamlet of Troy, Alabama, I was awakened by the blaring sound of the fire alarm in the dorm. I remember thinking two things at that moment: 1) Get out and 2) This dang sure better not be a fire drill. Something had better be on fire.

I mean, standing out in front of the dorm at 3 a.m. in the dead of winter while feeling the call of nature and realizing that it was indeed a drill...was definitely not my happy place.

I'm still not a fan of the fire drill. You know...those times when someone else's poor planning, feeling of urgency, or lack of courtesy somehow becomes your emergency. When you are tooling along the highway of life, and you are suddenly you hear a siren and realize that you are armed with a red or blue light and traffic is stopping to let you pass. Usually when I find myself in this predicament, it takes me a few minutes to put on the Fire Chief hat because I'm a little slow on the uptake. "Slow" may be an understatement, actually. I normally don't react because I've already checked the whole freaking out thing off my list on the front end. If you look at what might possibly go wrong and prepare for it, then when something actually does go ablaze, you are in a little bit of denial because you think "I've got this." And sometimes you do.

Recently, that happened at work. I won't go any specifics for obvious reasons and also because I don't discuss that part of my life generally. But I will say that it was an excellent reminder to be more vigilant about asking questions like "When do you want this?" or "Does this guy have a direct line to the big bosses?" before handling things in the order in which they are received. It ended up okay, but for a few hours, I had my adreneline up.

Some days seem like you smell smoke before your feet even hit the floor. The car won't start, the dog is acting weird, or something you were supposed to do the night before was ignored or forgotten. Maybe the power went off in the middle of the night and you have no idea what time it really is...but you suspect it is later than it needs to be. Or you find that your day is scheduled with one awful thing after another and your only refuge is a bathroom break and the time in the car from one burning building to another.

I have days like that sometimes...and I detest them. you know...when you leave the house...realize that you left the phone on the charger, you get into the one lane on the interstate (or the drive thru)that isn't moving, and your lipstick is in your other purse. The phone system is down at work or the computer update the night before means that there is quirkiness that has to be worked through before you can actually begin to get anything done. The phone rings five minutes after you sit down and rings fairly incessantly all day.

Yeah, I love it when that happens. (I'm totally lying.)

On the other hand, there are times when you don't prepare because you didn't know that there was a chance that anything would or could go wrong. You do what you are supposed to do when you are supposed to do it, only to find out that there's been a last minute change in plans and all your work was for naught. But never fear, there's a new you'll need to get right back on it. Okay, THOSE do tend to freak me out a little. But every time that it happens...and I survive it...I build confidence that I can handle the next disappointment, challenge, or pending disaster.

Life with the young people I've raised has taught me that tight scheduling or sometimes scheduling them at ALL is the equivalent of saying, "Yes, Sir, may I have another?" I've had more fire drills of last minute papers, book reports, projects, signed papers, and mandatory forms that had to be returned yesterday to prepare me for this eventuality for decades.

I have found, though, that each of us has vastly different ideas of what constitutes an emergency. For some, it is any deviation in their well devised plans whatsoever. For others, it is when the sprinkler system has gone off and they are wondering why it is raining in the building. We are all wired differently, and for the most part...I am very grateful for that.

When Jill was about seventeen months old, she choked on a piece of a carrot while David and I were enjoying our anniversary dinner. Nothing will throw a damper into a dinner than having your child turning blue and finding yourself meeting the pediatrician in the emergency room. While I was two doors down for a paramedic who wasn't home like Prissy from "Gone With the Wind" - David was busy turning her upside down and getting the carrot out of her windpipe.

Of course, I'm not always totally useless. When we have a situation to work out that requires creative thinking or just making do in a MacGyver-like fashion...I'm your girl. I suppose that I learned my limitations - or the possibilities for actually being useful - during times of stress and challenge.

We don't like those very much, though, that stress and challenge, do we? We like happy surprises, no doubt, but we all lock up when we hear the sirens or get that telephone call alerting us to the fact that something is on fire somewhere. Yet, if we never experience it...we really never know what we are made of or how much improvement is necessary so that we can get through this life.

Even if we learn that the smoke detector does indeed work at 3 a.m. in the dead of winter.

Every day we get those little drills that prepare us for what life is going to bring. We are never given more than we can handle, although sometimes we wish God didn't trust us so much or think so highly of our ability to manage what is thrown at us. Sometimes we are able to relax knowing that we will hold strong in the storm, and other times, we are shocked at how incredibly unprepared we are.

So, when you get your next fire drill, just remember those times when you prepared, or were challenged, or grew to meet whatever was placed in your path. And know that sometimes a drill is really NOT a's showtime.

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