Last Saturday I was having a bad day. My head was spinning with the messiness of my house, the too-many tasks of building readership for my blog and my novel Revelle, and how controlling Thor was acting towards me. I felt discouraged and overwhelmed, to where I had no idea of what I should do with my afternoon. If our lives are our stories, I was at that point living a muddled, pointless story.
So I sat down to pray in the Sacred Corner of my bedroom. I quieted my chattering mind and listened for a wiser voice than my own. And I actually heard a clear answer on what I should do with my confusing Saturday.
I should follow through on my long-delayed intention of hosting a neighborhood meeting on earthquake preparedness. Right away my body relaxed some, as in my shoulders dropping back down from my ears. The back-story here is that I grew up in the earthquake country of Southern California, have lived through some temblors, and am keenly aware that Oregon, where I live, is overdue for a major earthquake. All those things are also true for my neighbor Karen. We both want to be prepared, and we know that in any disaster, earthquake or otherwise, neighbors are the primary source of help. Professional medics and rescuers will be too swamped.
So, that Saturday evening I had Karen over to chat. We decided we’d hold a neighborhood meeting at Thor’s and my house the afternoon of Saturday, June 29. We’d make flyers and invite everyone, set out snacks and drinks and nametags, present some information and maybe a good video Karen might find, since she’s a librarian. I felt good. I was living a good story again.
The challenge in our lives may be our struggle to get an education, or a job we find meaningful, or any job at all. Or our challenge may be how to get along with our spouse , or how to get our own business off the ground. All of us struggle with mastering our fears, even when we don’t admit it’s a fear that’s making us snappish with our kids, or keeping us awake at night, or making our shoulders go up towards our ears.
Back to my current story. It took an unexpected twist, as any story that’s true to life will do. The neighborhood email list that I’m on started buzzing with reports of bad activity in the area: a theft here, a scare there, a man brazenly walking through someone’s closed gate right into their backyard. People wanted to meet and talk about crime prevention. It was clear that Karen’s and my passion for earthquake preparedness would get no traction at this point. The neighborhood’s conflict was that it was experiencing crime. My neighborhood’s current story is one of protecting itself, but from crime, not an earthquake.
Sigh. I don’t walk around worrying about someone breaking into my house or stealing my bike from my front porch, even though I’ve had both those things happen in the past. Stuff being stolen is irritating but survivable. In contrast, lots of people don’t survive major earthquakes. Or, they survive but get maimed. I walk around worrying about the Cascadia earthquake that is overdue to happen. Do we and our neighbors know how to access the 40 or so gallons of waters in each of our water heaters? Do we all know some basic first aid with which to resond to each others’ inevitable injuries? I walk around worrying about climate change (global warming), which is much less concrete and in our faces than theft or even earthquakes, but will end up killing a lot more people in the world. Neighborhood crime feels like small potatoes to me compared to my huge-potato worries.
But. On the other hand. I learned earlier this year that resiliency is resiliency, whether we’re dealing with earthquakes, climate change, or neighborhood crime. Building our relationships with the people right around us makes us safer, no matter what challenge we might face. Relationships are what glue us together, whether we’re talking about safety, or talking about happiness.
What did Karen and I decide to do? We decided to embrace the new story. Our flyer is announcing a Sociable Neighborhood Watch Meeting, same date and time as in our original story, same scenario of nametags, snacks and drinks. Mike, who handles the neighborhood email list, has lined up Katherine Anderson, the crime prevention coordinator for Southeast Portland, to be our speaker. People are planning to come.
To be honest, this is probably a better story than the one I first had in mind, because it’s a shared story. Later this year Karen and I can hold a meeting on earthquake preparedness. In the meantime, we’ll have built closer relationships with our neighbors, and built our shared resiliency skills.
I’m finishing this post at Rain Or Shine Coffee, Thor sitting peacefully next to me. I notice that when I’m living a good story, he doesn’t try to control me as much, or if he does, it tends to slide off of me like water when I’m living a good story. When I slip out of living a good story, I react poorly to him. Our house, when we bicycle back to it in a few minutes, is still messy, but I won’t react to that either. Living my good story is that powerful.
Over to you: what’s the current challenge in your life? What story are you living in response to it?
P.S. Confession: I didn’t make up this idea of needing to live a good story. I got it from an inspiring book I just read by Donald Miller, another Portlander.