Tuesday, January 29, 2019

Taking Turns in a Crisis

In my corner of the world - this month has felt like never-ending snow, ice, and record-breaking cold temperatures.  While I was outside cleaning off/digging our vehicles out of the snow the other day, I had a flashback to the most unforgettable time I dug a car out after a snowstorm.

It was Christmas Eve during my senior year of high school. My Dad, my sister, and I were cleaning off cars and shuffling them around in our driveway.  I remember that we started with my car - a little white GEO Metro with a manual transmission.

I don't remember why we started with that one.  Could have been because it was the smallest, could have been because I had to get up early and go to work the day after Christmas and I wanted to make *sure* it got done.  All I know is that it was cleaned off, and it was at the end of the driveway closest to the street.

Dad was messing around with my Grandpa's old brown pickup truck that was parked at our house.  My knowledge of the inner-working of cars is limited to where you put the washer fluid and the transmission fluid, so I have no idea what was wrong with it. What I do know is that Dad was standing there with the hood open, and he finally got it running.

And that's when we heard him shout that he was hurt and he needed a towel.  NOW!

This is where my memory gets a little fuzzy.  I don't remember who ran inside, grabbed the towel, and yelled at Mom that we were headed to the emergency room.  I don't remember Dad telling us what happened or even who *decided* we were going to the ER.  What I do remember is that the only car ready to go was my GEO, the only one who could drive a stick (that wasn't bleeding profusely) was me, and the roads were covered with ice and snow.

I think it's important to note that we only lived a little over a mile from an emergency room.  This trip should have taken like 3 minutes... max.  But I kept killing the engine.  (In case you've never driven a stick, "killing it" is what happens when you let off the clutch without giving the car enough gas. The car lurches, then dies, then you have to restart it.) Not to mention I kept sliding backwards down the icy hills when I stopped at the stop signs, and I was crying so much that I could hardly see.

My sister stayed pretty silent from the backseat, and my Dad kept murmuring encouraging things and reminding me to breathe while holding his towel-covered hand tight against his chest.  We eventually made it to the hospital, and I pulled right up to the door.  My sister helped Dad out of the car and took him inside - while I continued to sob and look for a place to park.

I found a spot, and headed inside still taking those shuddering breaths that always seem to happen when I'm trying to make myself stop crying. The sight of my sister weeping in the waiting area was enough to make MY tears go away completely.

In case you were wondering, things turned out fine for my Dad.  He ended up having surgery to repair the ends of his fingers that were injured when his glove was pulled into one of the rotating belts inside the truck.  While a couple of his fingers are a bit shorter than they used to be, he still has enough of a middle finger to use when the occasion arises. 

Joking aside, even 18 years later I'm still fascinated at the idea of how my sister and I "took turns" crying during this mini-crisis.  I was nearly hyperventilating trying to drive us to the hospital, and she was calm.  Stoic even.  Then the second we got Dad inside and the medical professionals took him away, she crumbled.  And it took her falling apart to calm me down.

People have written endlessly about the things that humans *really* need in life beyond food and shelter.  Someone to love, something to look forward to, connection, vitality... the list is infinite.  But I'd like to argue that everyone needs someone to "take turns" with them during all of life's major and minor crises.  So find the people that will stay calm when you're completely panicking (and forget how to drive in the snow)... and remember to soothe them when they need it.

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