Car wrecks, earthquakes, heart disease, and good-byes

Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Lions and tigers and bears, oh my. Like Dorothy creeping through the haunted woods with the tin man on one arm and the scarecrow on the other, I have been creeping through my own woods, lately, wondering when the next scary thing would show up. In these past few months I have felt overwhelmed with a sense of the fragility of life, the changeable nature of everything, and the deep, deep love I have for friends and family and therefore the all encompassing grief I feel when what I love leaves. I am having to be vigilant to stay out of the mindset that goes something like this. “Ok. You win. Just hit me again while I am down so it won’t hurt so much.”

Here’s the backstory. On a recent trip to the California wine country, my siblings and I were in a two-car caravan to a winery about forty-five minutes from where we were staying. Enjoying the company and the beautiful day, we were all startled when the car directly in front of us was T-boned by another vehicle. It happened so quickly. And it was so loud. And bad. Our two cars pulled over and all the men got out to help. Some tended to the injured. Others tried to break windows to let the smoke escape. I stayed out of the way and watched, and prayed, and kept telling myself to breathe because I really wanted to hold my breath. I was scared. It was so close. When the first responders were on the scene we left and continued our plans to visit certain wineries. I really wanted the wine now. But mostly I felt an immediate and pervasive sense of gratitude and fragility. It could have been us. Another time it might be us. How fortunate I am to have three siblings and their spouses that I can enjoy spending time with for a week. So much love. So much vulnerability.

Later in the week, early Sunday August the 23rd to be exact, I woke up in the middle of the night to what I first identified as a very strong wind. We had been having serious gusts of wind every afternoon and in my mostly-still-asleep state, I thought it was that. And in what seemed like the next second, I found myself holding on to the nightstand and trying to keep myself from hitting the floor. I was awake now, and the reality came barreling through my awareness. Earthquake. EARTHQUAKE. GET UP. We need to get out of here. Of course if it had been a tornado, I would have known exactly where to go in this villa we were renting. But earthquake? What do you do in an earthquake? Down? Up? I grabbed my cellphone, thinking that would be a smart thing to have. 3:17 am. Pulling on some clothes, heading for the main part of the house, I heard the rest of our group making their way to the center. I heard the horses in the barn whinnying. I looked out the windows. Transformers were exploding in the distance. I looked on Twitter. Yup. Earthquake. Big one. Napa Valley. The exact location we had just been yesterday, leisurely tasting wine and living the good life. What do we do? Nothing. We waited. A few more tremors. Then nothing. Oh my goodness. What next? Is it over? What now? We had no electricity, gas, or water. I was worried about gas lines exploding in the house. I was on alert. It took a few hours and we all finally went back to bed. There was nothing to be done until morning. We left the next morning, without water or gas or electricity, and made our way to the airport.

After a few delays we arrived home to the Charlotte airport, close to midnight. Got our car, headed home on 1-77, and there, maybe three cars in front of us, was another wreck. Others stopped so we didn’t. I was already weary with the fragility of life.

Only a week later, one of our best friends had a stroke, and then found out his heart had been attacked by a virus and was only working at 15%. Of course my sense of fragility could not measure up to his or his wife’s, but I assure you, the closeness of this hit me hard. I LOVE this guy. Like a brother. And the message was coming through loud and clear again. Nothing stays the same. Each and every one of us is vulnerable. Life is fragile. Oh yeah, and then my office manager took a new job. And I thought my life was going to just crumble right then and there. And I had to say goodbye to someone who felt like one of my appendages. NO MORE SCARY CHANGES.

Of course all of this was happening in my little teeny tiny world. In the bigger world, however, the story is exactly the same only worse. And more serious. The world is changing at a rate none of us can or wants to keep up with. Every institution that I am familiar with is either having to change rapidly or die. Education, medicine, religion, financial institutions, media, government….add whatever institution you want here…is having to embrace completely new paradigms and models because they are not going to exist in the form we are use to in just a few short years. Change or die.

We all know this. But we deny it, until the truth of being vulnerable hits us personally. Until an earthquake, or Ebola, or a school shooting, or a crashing IRA, or a job loss, or a betrayal hits us, we tend to forget that we need to be participating in creating these new paradigms. We cannot go back to the way it was. We must be a part of the new creation.

The world is small now. Technology, global financing, the ease of travel, media coverage have made it so. In our little lives we are vulnerable. In our larger, common life, we are vulnerable. The answer isn’t to put up more defenses. The answer, to me, is paradoxical. On one hand, we need to be creating new paradigms to live by…paradigms that affirm the truth of the world as it is, not as we would want it or wish it. AND, there are ancient and timeworn Truths that we need to revisit and embrace again as vital.

Many of you know that there are some major changes at my office. We are working to create a new paradigm, a life-giving, life-affirming way of practicing the healing art of psychotherapy, spiritual direction, and coaching. In my own little way, I am trying to walk the walk, of embracing vulnerability, living whole-heartedly, and participating in much needed changes.