Provision #326: Lessons From Isabel

Laser Provision

This Provision captures some of our experience with hurricane Isabel here in southeast Virginia. The event has been cataclysmic, to say the least. But from the eye of the storm, we can discern at least seven life lessons on the pathway to recovery. This Provision covers some of what we can learn when disaster strikes.

LifeTrek Provision

I don’t know what the outside world knows about the devastation here in southeast Virginia, in the wake of hurricane Isabel, because we have lost our usual and customary ways of connecting to the outside world. Isabel came through in about 14 hours, on Thursday and Friday. In her wake, there is widespread destruction and some loss of life.

In our immediate area, massive numbers of trees have been toppled over, crashing through houses, power lines, and roads without rhyme or reason. Most areas are still without power, phones, and Internet access, although some are starting to come on line (I’m sending out this Provision thanks to a local hotel). Area institutions, such as the College of William and Mary, are closed until further notice. At least 14 homes within walking distance of my home have been condemned as uninhabitable.

In short, this area has been hit hard and it will take a long time before things are back to normal. It will be at least another week, and some say as much as a month, before we have full power and services restored.

To describe the scene, I would use the analogy of a toy neighborhood. Each model house would be set around a bowl, representing a beautiful lake. Now, point a powerful fan at the neighborhood over a pile of wooden matchsticks. Some of those houses would be knocked down, others would be tipped or damaged, while still others would have no damage at all. And after the big blow, there would, of course, be match sticks lying all over the place.

In the real world, we’re talking real houses and giant trees • some as much as 4 or 5 feet in diameter and 100 feet tall. The overturned root balls have left craters up to 15 feet in diameter. One house was cut like a pat of butter, right down the middle, by an enormous tree. As the family watched out the window, they saw the tree starting to fall and they dashed to either end of the house, the father and child on one side and the mother on the other side. Everyone, except the house, survived just fine.

There are countless such stories, but you get the idea. What you may not get are many of the life lessons that we are learning through the experience of disaster and recovery. Here are some of the lessons that come immediately to mind.

1. I BELIEVE IN LUCK. When you throw that box of wooden matches, there’s no telling and no controlling where the matches will end up and which houses they will knock down. In theory, I suppose, with enough data and sophisticated computer modeling, it might be possible to predict where each match stick would go. But if there’s no way to stop them from being thrown and if you only have toys to work with, then there’s no way to protect yourself from their devastating effects. In the end, who gets hit and who does not get hit is a matter of chance.

It may seem strange to say that I believe in luck when I also believe in God, but the two are not incompatible. It goes to the core of what you believe about how God acts in the world. I believe that a very smart God and pure dumb luck both have parts to play.

2. I BELIEVE IN GRACE. Grace is the ability to see and be thankful for the goodness in life. If you survive, it’s always possible to see that invisible hand of protection. Whether you live, as we do, in one of those homes that were not hit by a tree or other flying debris, or whether you simply run through all the what-if scenarios as to how much more damage could have been done if only a tree had fallen a bit more this way or that, or whether you come away thankful for the gift of life itself, amazing grace has a funny way of working itself into the nooks and crannies of life.

For instance, one of my running buddies lives in a beautiful home that was hit hard by falling trees. He and his wife were sitting in the kitchen when the glass started flying and they started running for their lives. A carefully placed car in a corner of their driveway, protected by walls on two sides, was flattened. Twisted tree limbs and metal were everywhere. The next day, as the son rose in the East, neighbors could hear my Scottish friend standing outside in his kilt playing “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipe. They had survived. There was reason to look up, give thanks, and sing.

3. I BELIEVE IN RESERVES. The reason I can write this Provision is because my home and office came with an automatic backup generator system. The story is amusing. The previous owners installed a $10,000 natural-gas generator because their $10,000 tropical bird could never be in temperatures less than 70 degrees Fahrenheit. Lest the heat go out for days in the middle of the winter, they installed the generator.

Thanks to that precious bird we now enjoy the use of our computers and appliances. We even have hot water and ice, which were two commodities in short supply last night at a neighborhood block party. If it really takes several weeks before power is restored, that automatic backup generator system is a very good thing. I’m not sure we would have had the wisdom and foresight nor thought we had the resources to make that investment on our own, but many neighbors have taken note and are now talking about doing the same.

This automatic backup generator system illustrates the importance of a key coaching concept: reserves. When we have adequate reserves, we can better handle the ups and downs (especially the downs) of life. In the good times, reserves give us confidence and courage. In bad times, reserves give us something to fall back upon.

4. I BELIEVE IN ROUTINE MAINTENANCE. Unfortunately, I had not paid much attention to our automatic backup generator system before this hurricane. So when the power went out, I was distressed when the generator did not automatically start up. Going outside in the hurricane, I saw the “Low Oil” light on and I found a quart of oil in the garage (more reserves!). After filling the oil reservoir, the generator started back up and ran for about a day before shutting down again. This time the problem was the battery, which required replacement.

All this could have been avoided if the automatic backup generator system had been maintained properly. The classic illustration of this principle comes through in the adage, “There are two kinds of people in the world. Those who have lost all their data to a computer failure and those who will lose all their data to computer failure.” Routine maintenance of automatic backup systems is essential for those systems to do their job. They don’t do much good if they don’t work when called for. So develop your reserves, test them frequently, and keep them in good working order.

5. I BELIEVE IN COMMUNITY. Anyone who has lived through a natural disaster has plenty of stories to tell as to how it brings people together. This one is certainly no different. In big and small ways, people are helping each other out. Those with less damage are lending a hand to those with more damage. And that neighborhood block party was designed to give people a break, including camaraderie and hot food, after two days of dreadful losses and hard work. It is a blessing to see people come together and get themselves through a tough time. That was true in New York and Washington D.C. after 9/11 and it’s true here now, where hurricane Isabel hit land.

As mentioned above, the reason I can send this Provision is because of the kindness of a local hotel that has had its power and phone lines restored. This is more than just quick thinking. It is community writ large, as people find ways to assist each other through a troubled time.

6. I BELIEVE IN LIFE. Even as we have just witnessed the incredible destructive power of the universe, I am also reminded of it’s incredible power to create and sustain life. Any universe that can tear down with such awesome force in the blinking of an eye can also build up even against the most insurmountable odds.

Take the pleasure I’ve had this summer with my giant cockscomb plants. I first saw these plants in a colonial garden last year, and was completely amazed by their size, color, shape, and beauty. They were like sunflowers, with fat, tall stalks and big purple flowers that looked like a human brain with their many convoluted folds. I called the gardener to find out what they were and how to get some seeds. In more testimony to the power of human community, the gardener was pleased with my interest and sent me some seeds from her plants, free of charge.

The tiny seeds were quite a surprise, given the size of the finished plant. They could well have been poppy seeds. After several false indoor starts, in seed trays, I tilled a couple garden plots and tossed in the remaining seeds, despairing over my ability to get them to grow. Weeks went by, and nothing seemed to be happening. Finally, I went back to the colonial garden to see how her plants were doing. Some already had the first indications of a flower! I was sure that my plants would never come along.

Upon my return to my garden, you can imagine my surprise and delight to discover that I had cockscomb growing all over the place. What I thought were weeds were, in fact, the first fruits of my first crop of giant cockscomb. And once they took root, they grew by leaps and bounds. On some days, they grew more than two inches in a single day. And my flowers ended up being just as dramatic as I remembered. In spite of a very wet growing season, and in spite of a gardener (me) who had no idea what he was doing, these plants came through just fine • surviving not only the deer and the rabbits but also the hurricane.

Now how’s that for a universe that can make something out of nothing! The next time you despair of your situation, remember that no situation is ever without hope as long as life goes on.

7. I BELIEVE IN LISTENING. It was interesting to go through the hurricane, given its deafening winds and crashing trees, to recognize how much listening had to do with staying safe. It certainly got your attention when the wind picked up or the trees started snapping. If you had a safe place to hide in the basement of your house, you went there quickly if you weren’t already in position.

Listening is like that. When we listen we get all kinds of clues as to how we can interface with the world. For the next couple of months, I’m going to return to my series on the Ten Keys to Better Listening. Some of the material will be a repeat from a couple years ago, while other material will be new as I better express and develop the ideas around this important subject. By dusting off and reworking an old series, I hope to give myself the time to finish that book and get it off to the publisher.

Until then, be safe! And watch out for flying match sticks.

Coaching Inquires: What are your automatic backup systems? Are they adequate to handle the load of life? Have they been maintained, tested, and are they ready to go? Think broadly and deeply about your physical, emotional, financial, relational, and spiritual requirements. What shifts need to be made in order to meet more of your requirements more of the time?

LifeTrek Readers’ Forum (selected feedback from the past week)
Editor’s Note: The LifeTrek Readers’ Forum contains selections from the comments and materials sent in each week by the readers of LifeTrek Provisions. They do not necessarily reflect the perspective of LifeTrek Coaching International. To submit your comment, use our Feedback Formor Email Bob.

I just want to let you know what a great meeting I had with my faith at work group, discussing your “Apprehension vs. Comprehension” distinction. We talked for 1 1\2 hrs and could have gone another 2 hrs. All 16 of us found it a very interesting subject, and knowing our gang they went into all sorts of other avenues to discuss, so thank you so much for YOUR insights on the subject. (Ed. Note: Given my reflection on hurricane Isabel, this distinction takes on new significance and power. Thanks!)

I enjoyed the last issue of Provisions, very thought-provoking! Also, in your list of countries, and places the newsletter goes to: Guam needs to be added to the list! I look forward to the next issue! And remember, in the Islands, we forget to count the days!

Thanks for your continuing wisdom and sharing. And keep focusing on the spiritual side. Doesn’t “kairos” also imply in-breaking time, at least hinting at the divine? I trust you will keep pastoring as well as coaching. (Ed. Note: You’re right about “kairos” and no immediate plans on the pastoral side of the equation.) 

May you be filled with goodness, peace, and joy.

Bob Tschannen-Moran, MCC, BCC
LifeTrek Coaching International
121 Will Scarlet Lane
Williamsburg, VA 23185-5043

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