CalmRegular readers of Chris Rose know that the locally revered writer for The Times-Picayune sought professional counseling to deal with depression last year. Rose credited his return to functionality to medicines prescribed to alter his mental state.
Over lunch recently, some colleagues admitted they, too, rely upon medicine bottle maintenance to keep their cars between the lines. Funny thing is, none of them lost a house to Hurricanes Katrina or Rita. I'm pretty sure none of them experienced even minor flooding. And I was the only one at the table that day who sleeps in a FEMA Travel Trailer.
They joked, "Tim, you must be taking more pills than all of us put together!"
People are amazed at how calm I am. I can’t explain how or why, but I’ve always had an attitude that there’s always hope for tomorrow, and of course, it could always be worse. I’ve been called Pollyannaish for this point of view. I’ve also been called Scarlett’s twin brother.
I remember being this way even as a young lad. I remember one morning on the school bus when we were involved in a minor accident. I may have been in fourth or fifth grade. My little sister was sitting next to me when the bus driver slammed on the brakes and we went flying forward for lack of safety belts.
The moment the bus came to a stop, children all around began crying. My own sister had a bloody nose after hitting the seat in front of us. I remember looking at it and, not seeing any cuts or protruding cartilage, calmly telling her to pinch it and hold her head back. I assured her that it would all be okay and that her injury was minor. As the bus driver made his way down the isle to check on each passenger, I told him I was taking care of her and that she was alright.
Nobody went to the hospital, and no one required medical assistance of any kind that I recall. After a few minutes, we continued to school and nothing more came of it as far as I know. But I remember wondering at the time why so many children were crying when there were no serious injuries.
More recently, I attended a class at the University of Tennessee in Project Management and Teambuilding. As part of the training, we did a mock bridge building project and I was made the project leader of one of the teams. One of our instructors was a retired Army colonel--a large man with a booming voice. I probably attracted his attention once or twice in class by asking sticky questions or outright challenging him.
Anyway, the whole point of the exercise was to give us a simple task that gets bogged down with every kind of problem imaginable to see how we would respond. The instructor played the role of the project sponsor, who was looking over my shoulder the whole time, making stupid suggestions, asking interminable questions and generally just getting in the way of my task. I responded by being as diplomatic as possible, and tried to keep focused on the goal.
About 30 minutes into the exercise, he got right into my face and was telling me that the way I was doing things was going to doom the project and that I had better listen to his suggestions. I told him, “Sir, I appreciate your input, but in this instance I think we should do it my way.”
His eyes grew large and his hands balled up in fists. And then he said, “Doggone it, how can you stay so calm when I’m throwing everything I’ve got at you?”
“Well, it helps to remember that this is just an exercise,” I said.
Since last year, family, colleagues at work and neighbors have variously expressed a similar sentiment. “How can you stay so calm?” they’ve asked. “If I was in your shoes, I’d be a nervous wreck!” they’ve said.
My answer is similar to my response to the retired Army colonel: “Well, it helps to remember that everything I’ve lost is just things. I still have my family, and I have to do my best to keep them happy and safe.”
What good would it do to break down and cry over lost possessions? What good would it do to mourn the loss of money and property? My Darling Wife and I decided early on that we would remain forward looking. We decided that we should teach our Precious Daughter a most important lesson in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina: Don’t despair. Keep hope. Work to make things better.
I am not claiming to be super-human. I have had my bouts with fear and frustration, financial worries and physical and emotional stress. But at the end of the day I must keep going, and I am confident that we will be okay. We have survived so much already, this sometimes just seems like an exercise.
And truth be told, we were never at any time in any mortal danger. We evacuated early. We never missed a meal, never worried that we would not have a safe place to sleep. Even our pets have had a relatively easy ride compared to many.
All that we lost was things, so perhaps my calm disposition is not all that remarkable after all. Under the circumstances, I find it easy to play the “Glad Game.”