|Fire drills are necessary whether we want them or not.|
It's crazy how the human mind works sometimes. This morning, my husband registered our daughter for the seventh grade. She'd been agonizing all week long over which homeroom "team" she would be placed in, hoping against hope it would be her top choice with all her friends. When the phone rang, I answered the call expecting to hear either my husband's or daughter's voice telling me about the schedule and homeroom assignment. What I did not expect, however, was my husband screaming fairly incoherently into the phone. In an attempt to tease our daughter about her previous angst regarding registration, he pretended to be an excited pre-teen girl delivering good news. I didn't hear that, however. All I heard was my daughter's name and my normally reserved husband screaming which completely terrified me in a visceral, bone-deep way.
In the span of a few seconds, I was thrust back almost nine years ago to a phone call I received at work from my hysterical father telling me my mother had died very suddenly of a heart attack. On the heels of that memory, I started shaking and rapidly talking over my husband, asking what happened. Fortunately, he quickly heard the panic in my voice and explained his badly received joke. I calmed down just enough to talk with my daughter about her class schedule, her volleyball try-outs, and to yell at my husband to never, ever do that again.
After they hung up, I sat for a minute, trying to gather myself and realized that not only was I still shaking very badly, but also I was crying. Intellectually I knew the "flight or fight" response had hijacked my body and it wouldn't stop until the adrenaline had run its course. The knowledge of that didn't help my emotions, though. It took me about fifteen minutes to achieve a calm state, and the entire time I thought about how absolutely awful that moment nine years ago had been and how unfathomably horrific another phone call like that would be, especially if it concerned any one of my children.
When I said it's crazy how the human mind works sometimes, I meant that it's really an amazing thing. For example in this kind of instance, the mind operates on so many levels at one time. It triggers a biological response to handle crisis, it evokes precisely and clearly old memories as if they happened yesterday, it manages to deal rationally with information processing, and all the while floods a person with emotions running the gamut from abject fear to overwhelming relief.
In addition, after some reflection, the mind allows a person to realize he or she just experienced a serious reality check. It drives home the point that bad things happen to good people all the time and random, tragic events occur on a regular basis. No one remains immune from the vagaries of life. But it also gives us practice on how to deal with potentialities like this. It's like an emotional and mental fire drill for crisis. Moments like these give a person the opportunity to face fears that usually remain hidden, or briefly thought about and then dismissed. Even though addressing fear can be incredibly unpleasant, it is necessary. If we didn't deal with fear occasionally we would be totally unprepared for when we come face to face with it.
As well as providing practice for possible future scenarios, instances like this readjust a person's perspective on life. It forces a person to recognize who and what comprise the truly important things, and reinvigorates a person's appreciation of and participation in one's life. Last but not least, it thankfully allows the fear to recede into the background so that we can go about our lives without being dominated by "what ifs".
I'm still having a hard time believing I reacted the way in which I did, and I am still feeling some of the after effects of the adrenaline rush and the unwanted thinking about painful memories. Nonetheless, I'm going to shake it off. I'm going to let my mind do what it does best--focusing on good, productive thoughts, staying in the moment, and appreciating the people who mean the most to me and valuing the time I have to spend with them. It's going to be a good day even though it got off to a rocky, adrenaline fueled start.