Lying in bed before turning off the lights for the night, we frequently preview the next day’s schedule. To our delight Sunday was wide open! It was like finding a forgotten air line ticket to an exotic destination. We could create the day of our dreams! It had been a very busy month and we were both tired. While we always schedule something fun to do each weekend, most of our weekends are consumed with cutting the grass, weeding the flower beds, or just catching up on the work from last week. As we celebrated our good fortune, we also decided to make the best use of our open schedule by not filling the time with more to do’s, but to let the day flow naturally. Like two kids waiting for Christmas morning we went off to bed with thoughts, not of sugar plums, but of hours lost in the Sunday paper with steaming coffee and warm bagels and a leisurely walk along Hershey Park. But none of those things ever happened.
It was around 7 AM and my husband was standing over me. As I began to stir, long before I intended for my eyes to open, I could hear Bruce’s voice. It came as a muffled distraction. “Remember its only money. Don’t get excited, remember to stay calm, there is something I need to tell you, so please wake up.” Why was Bruce speaking to me? What could be so important that he would be attempting to wake me up so early? Then his words took hold in me; like the tendrils of an octopus, they wrapped around the synapses in my mind. Startled I bolted into an upright position in the bed. “It’s only money, Judith,” Bruce insisted once again, “no one has died, but there has been a little situation. I need for you to be calm.” What!
If you knew me at all you would know that while there are things that I can be calm about, walking unaware into a crisis has generally resulted in a hysterical call from me to my husband. A year ago on a cold wintry March night when I couldn’t sleep, I wrapped myself in a warm bathrobe, slipped on my slippers and headed for the kitchen for some ‘sleepy time tea’. As I walked out of the bedroom I heard torrents of rain coming down and instantly knew the rain I heard was not outside, but was coming down in the middle of my living room. With a throw of the light switch my worst nightmare was confirmed. I saw the water streaming down from the ceiling through our newly laid roof and repainted vaulted ceilings. No one has ever described me as calm in those instances. With a blood curtailing scream that had Bruce bounding out of the bedroom, I pointed in terror to the water soaked hassock that had both muffled the sound of the rain and absorbed some of the water. But I digress!
Like the previous debacle, Bruce was heading to the kitchen for his morning rounds, which begins by making coffee. As he was walking through the living room on the way to the kitchen, he heard a foreign sound. Before he could identify its source, he was distracted by the realization that he was standing in about a quarter inch of warm water. His first reaction was to enjoy the comforting feeling of his feet in water, and then he realized that he was standing in the living room—this was not good. Water should not be in the living room. Unlike me he quietly waded through the water till he rounded the corner to the kitchen. He found the source of both the mysterious sound and the oncoming warm water; a water pipe that fed hot water to our kitchen faucet ruptured and water was everywhere. It was pouring out from the cabinet below the sink; there was more like an inch and a half of water in the kitchen. He quickly closed the water valve below the sink. Shutting the water off was the easy task, waking me was the more ominous task.
After living in Houston for over twenty years you would think that I would get used to water issues. The city itself is almost situated below sea level. I’ve lived through three hurricanes and experienced flooding of epic proportions. With hurricane Ike, I was as calm as a cucumber when we lost electricity for six days. I knew we were blessed in many ways considering others had trees in their homes and went without electricity for uppers of four weeks. I’ve learned to drive through standing water so that it doesn’t back up in my car and knew enough to buy a home that was a foot higher from the sewage drains. But these things always happened out side of my home. Why can I be so calm in a big crisis and yet react so wildly when relatively small things happen to me in my home?
What I can say is that I’m in awe of watching Bruce respond to crisis. He stays calm and moved ahead on a logical course of action while I am more scattered and less resilient. When crisis comes, be it a broken water pipe or a roofer who makes a mistake with the chimney f lashings, I react as if someone was trying to personally attack me. I move into a defensive stance. My reacting does not advance the resolution of the crisis so much as muster people around me to take flight. When there was a problem with the chimney flashing that resulted in water coming into the living room, I sent a blunt, harsh email to my contractor demanding that he be here to fix it immediately; it was four o’clock in the morning. By seven o’clock I was on the phone to him. When I think about my reactions I understand that I have an unexamined belief that when I’m in my home, I will be safe and secure and when things happens to remind me that there is no such thing as safety or security, I’m startled, frightened and I react. It’s is a pattern that no longer serves me.
We orchestrated the claim and were moving ahead when, a week later, after visiting earlier that day with our new contractor that we hired to repair the water damage; I looked up from my desk to see a large, yellow water mark looming over me. There is an old adage that bad things happen in threes! I sure do hope that this is the case and that we are finally done with our ‘busted pipes.’ Armed with previous reflections on my reactions and with Bruce’s gentle but effective response to a perceived crisis, I responded differently. Instead of reacting wildly, I calmly brought Bruce down stairs to look at the latest situation. We called our contractor to have him come back to examine it and with his exploration we did find that another busted warm water pipe lodged between the floors. Within an hour we had a new plumber here to replace the damage connection and we are back in business. The damage was minimal this time and we already had contractors on hand to re-plaster and paint. Things were looking up!
In the light of a new day, I realize that there is no big conspiracy out to get me! The roofing contractor didn’t consciously tell his workers to skimp on the chimney flashing. The pipes just broke after 25 years of accumulated wear and tear. My reaction is mine to change. It is not the truth, but born out of an unconscious belief about my need for safety and security. With the third busted pipe incident happening so close to the last one, I was able to let Bruce’s words take hold within me. In doing so, I took a deep breath, relaxed my tensed body and responded calmly to the situation that was in front of me. When I look at it from that angle, I’m reminded of what Bruce so eloquently said to me “It’s only money, Judith, no one has died, but there has been a little situation. I need for you to be calm.” And the truth is, in being calm I was much better able to respond appropriately and more importantly still, out of my ‘busted pipes’ peace now flowed.