Finding our way without a map
The helplessness is the thing that’s making all of us so uneasy. Like being pushed along by a wave that you know is big and that you know could hurt you, but in that second before it crashes it’s too late to do anything but ride it out.
A couple of years ago I flipped my truck going down my mountain. The temperature inversion got the best of me, and while the road in front of my house had snow but no ice, a quarter mile down the mountain it was a sheet of ice.
As the truck gathered speed down what we call Suicide Hill and my pumping of the brakes did nothing, I knew I was going to wreck. I had played this out in my head dozens of times. I turned left into the ditch, knowing I’d damage the truck but walk away unhurt. Surprisingly, I was going so fast the truck bounced out, caromed across the road and went off the side with a cliff.
As the truck flipped and went skidding on its top, the roof started closing in on me and the angle of my neck was going from 45 degrees to something closer to 90. Time froze in that second or two, and as the roof pushed down on my head I wondered if this was it? There was absolutely nothing I could do about it.
A tree stopped the truck, and I was left sitting upside down, seatbelt on, all my weight on my neck and head, which was turned at a potentially gruesome angle. Fortunately, I was able to unclasp the belt and crawl out the passenger side window with a few scrapes and glass cuts and a nasty crick in my neck.
This feels something like that moment when I was upside down, where we are all close to crossing that blurred line between minor upheaval and major tragedy. For now, though, like everyone else I’m floating along, wondering where we’ll land, when we’ll find solid footing again.
One time Lori and I were sailing on her father’s 32-foot Bayfield. We were in a heavy chop in a narrow channel between Beaufort, North Carolina, and the Atlantic. It’s a notoriously frenetic little passage, where the waves tend to come from one direction, the wind from another, and the current adding one more factor into the frothing mix.
The swells were six feet or so, nothing too serious but enough to get your attention. We were under motor and after fighting our way through rough seas for some time decided to turn around and head back to Beaufort and try the channel when things had calmed.
As we were making the 180-degree turn, a large wave came seemingly out of nowhere and caught us broadside, picking the boat up and turning it on its side so the mast was parallel to the sea and its top clipped the crest of one of the waves.
It happened in an instant, and again it seemed that time slowed. In a second we were upright, me still at the wheel and Lori holding to the lifelines, the waves behind us. A full-on dose of adrenaline-infused fear surged through me, and after a stream-of-consciousness release of some choice words, we looked at each other and started smiling and laughing almost uncontrollably.
Now is one of those moments, one of those epochs for all of us going through it. We’re all on the edge, wondering if we’ll go over or if the ship will right itself?
Who does well in a crisis? You often read about great people who made the right decisions in a seemingly pivotal moment or over weeks and months as they confronted untold challenges. Winston Churchill and Abraham Lincoln come to mind.
Together in a crisis, we try to keep our sanity, keep our families safe, and keep our businesses solvent. We’re going fewer places, finding new ways to spend time or finally spending enough time doing those things we always knew we should.
I remember my father-in-law — a wise soul if ever there was one — saying that we prepare our whole lives for a crisis by how we live each moment leading up to it. For a whole lot of people the world over, that crisis is now.