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Shaken to a Standstill

My history with choosing flight over fight

If there is any good thing that results from a natural disaster or crisis, it is that leaders emerge, people display an unusual capacity for compassion and kindness, and everyone seems to go out of their way to help their fellow human beings.

Most people, anyway.

When the , I was sitting in my office at work. No one knew what was happening until a co-worker informed us with no small amount of urgency that we were experiencing an earthquake. She authoritatively told us to stay out of doorways and to step away from the windows. People listened and took cover, happy to have someone taking charge.

However, I found that not only was I unable to process what she was saying, but I also couldn’t move. I stood there paralyzed like a helpless idiot until the shaking eventually stopped. Which, believe it or not, is a vast improvement over how well I’ve handled crises in the past. At least this time I was only endangering myself.

The first crisis I ever experienced occurred when I was young and there was a grease fire in my family’s kitchen. Although the flames were high and it looked pretty scary, the fire was (fortunately) put out quickly.

Or so I hear.

I was so busy bolting past my family, out the front door and several blocks away that I was not entirely sure what had become of them. All I knew was that ol’ number one was doing just fine.  

I chalked this up to youthful selfishness. However, this exact scenario repeated itself when I was an adult. It happened when my family and I went to visit my sister in Florida where she was attending law school. She took us on a tour of the University of Miami while school was out of session for the holidays. A highlight was the moot court classroom where she had won some mock trials, so she was excited to take me, my mom and dad, and my brother-in-law to see where the magic happened.

As we walked through the courtroom and approached the jury box, we saw that there was an open bag of potato chips sitting on the railing. Without missing a beat, my sister continued with her tour guide narrative, exclaiming, “Sometimes, the jury eats potato chips.” We all laughed and continued to look around the courtroom — which is when I noticed the filthy pair of feet sticking out from under a blanket on the floor of the jury box.

What I realized was that a homeless person had obviously set up camp in the courtroom while all the students were on Christmas break. What I didn't know was whether this person would be dangerous. Because, you see, I was so busy pushing my father (after literally spinning on my heel, placing both hands on his chest and shoving him for all I was worth) out of my way to run out of the courtroom with complete and utter disregard for the fates of my family members, that I wouldn't have known if the homeless guy was a crazy, knife-wielding lunatic until everyone was sliced into bloody ribbons and I was hearing about it on the evening news.

Don’t worry. As with the earthquake yesterday, everyone survived and there was no harm done.

Unless you count my ego every single time the stories are re-told.

jeff cockey August 24, 2011 at 03:57 PM
Your column reminds me of Owen Wilson's character's column in the Marley movie. He hit it big when he started writing about his life and of course dog. I am not making any comparisons between Tim, little-tim or your cats to Marley, I am simply saying that this random stuff you spew is pretty damn good. Maybe you guys should get a dog?
Kathleen Canedo August 24, 2011 at 05:51 PM
Cockey - Or perhaps I should have my nose made crooked surgically?
Tumbleweed August 24, 2011 at 10:19 PM
Maybe you just have super-survival-of-the-fittest genes and it's your DNA that takes over in these situations. Sure the Dodo was good in a crisis, but look where that got him.
Kathleen Canedo August 25, 2011 at 01:24 PM
Trucking T - I think you're onto something, T Rex and teen pop sensation Debbie GIbson were also fantastic in crises...

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