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In a Heartbeat, Life Unravels

Here in Lake Woebegone, spring has arrived. Flowers are blooming, grasses growing, farmers are plowing and planting, and we lovingly embrace the normal rhythms of life those of us who endured another COVID winter welcome (and rightly deserve).

And our house almost blew up.

Well, it didn’t, but here’s the story and the lesson. I returned from an early morning run and used our backyard area for routine post-run stretching.

But something “felt” different. There was a peculiar odor that faintly resembled natural gas, which fuels the hot water heater and gas-driven fireplaces. It was subtle, barely perceptible but something was not right.

We’ve all seen visions of homes and businesses leveled by gas explosions, and I had the insight to call the gas company. And the supervisor and his team of utility trucks and emergency vehicles promptly descended into our serene neighborhood.

They were efficient, professional, no small talk about the weather, systematic and meticulously organized. They checked out the appliances and every conceivable room for danger and surmised that the peculiar odor was a combination of grass clippings, fertilizer, and mulch.

Yes, they had seen this before but did not want to be casual when lives and property were at stake. But now for the important lesson.

I was obviously focused on the natural gas situation and the potential danger, while the other mundane details of life could not be ignored for long and loomed on the horizon. But I had lost my focus on the day.

A Zoom presentation later that morning to selected executives was hardly seamless and seemed disjointed. I was still disoriented from the scare. A quick trip to the hardware store, the big box store, and the library did not go well because I couldn’t find my to-do list. The commitment to meet with a colleague outdoors and with masks to review some editorial projects did not go smoothly. And a golf date for a family member got off to a shaky start when the golf shoes were left in the garage.

You get the picture. We lost the rhythm, the deliverables, the consistent patterns of our daily lives, at least for a day.

Life Goes On

Despite the geopolitical chaos that threatens our very survival, the heavy lifting of life still needs to be done, chores need to be attended to, pets need to be fed, we need to connect with relatives. That is just the way life is.

But when an unanticipated event—like your house blowing up—intervenes, you’re thrown off your game. You can’t concentrate. You need a moment to get your bearings.

The take-home message for us all—even if your house isn’t in danger of blowing up, you might get thrown off track by something else—is this:

  • Be appropriately cautious and observant of a smell, a something-isn’t-quite-right moment, and act accordingly.

  • Plan for day the night before. Lay out the nonnegotiables: wallet, purse, keys, glasses, hat, and depending upon the circumstances and travel plans, the passport, the document showing a negative COVID test, the document for being fully vaccinated. Charge your cell phone. An extra mask in the car.

  • Batch stuff together. Golf shoes belong with the golf clubs. The tennis racket belongs with the tennis stuff. The power cord for the laptop belongs in the case with the laptop.

  • Carve out that quiet interval in the gloaming of the evening or early in the dawn to visualize how the day unfolds. No surprises even when there may be surprises.

  • If there is a major event on the horizon such as a wedding or a graduation, or a commitment such as a trip, be mindful of the resurgence of COVID. And plan accordingly. A case in point is a prominent female rock star of legendary dimension who throughout her career purposefully would avoid the hug, the handshake with the physical contact with anyone within seven days of going on tour. She recognized that if she “tanked,” the tour does not happen and people do not get paid.

And when life unravels in a heartbeat—a smell of natural gas, a vision of your house blowing up, chest pain, a fender bender, a twisted ankle, a flat tire, an unexpected illness—you are much better prepared to deal with the inconvenience and take appropriate action.

Get your ducks in a row. (Image from Unsplash media.)

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