Pep Talk #2: Don’t Panic and Always Know Where Your Towel Is*

Laundry Lines

I had a strange dream about ten days ago. Now, I am not a mystic or a prophet, but I am a believer in the miraculous, the existence of a loving God, and the meaning of life (and the answer is not 42!). I am occasionally (when I am paying attention), offered a word of comfort or advice, either through something I read, a song I hear, a conversation with a friend, a circumstance, or, in this case, a dream. It was so significant, and clear, that I got up at 4 in the morning to write it in my journal. Here it is, as best as I can tell it from memory and bad handwriting:

I am trapped in a burning building, somewhere near the top floor, six or seven stories up. Rachel is there with me (my 8-year-old daughter) and a group of strangers of all ages. I smell smoke, see the glow of flames, and look for an exit—blocked by fire. I feel the immediate sense of panic and doom: we are going to die in this burning building. But then I stop and pray out loud, “Lord, help us find a way out.” Despite my fear, I suddenly feel a sense of calm determination. I go out a door and find myself on a balcony, which is still wrapped in sheet plastic from recent construction. I walk to the end of the balcony and find some wooden scaffolding, descending like a spiral staircase—a way out! I know what I have to do.

I go back in the building, where people are beginning to panic, each in his or her own way. Some are screaming, someone is calling 9-1-1, some older ladies are sitting in the middle of the room, frozen in terror. I announce to the room that the building is on fire, that the main exit is blocked, but that I found a way out on the balcony. I tell someone to get everyone out on the balcony, and then I go to the people who aren’t moving, one by one, and speak to them individually: “What’s your name? Doris? Get up, Doris! There’s a fire! Get out of your chair and walk to that door! Go out on the balcony!” I do this for everyone left in the room, and then I go out on the balcony. I wake up as the first of the children, including my own daughter, are climbing down the scaffolding and to safety.

It took me a few days to process the dream and its images. What has stayed with me is the sense of calm-despite-fear. We are living in fearful times, trapped, if you will, in our own kind of burning building. The threat is real—of illness and death, economic disaster, societal breakdown. As a culture, we’ve watched too many horror movies and our imaginations are running wild.

But we do not have to let our emotions run our lives. We can tell them who’s boss and we can tell ourselves the truth. It’s okay to feel fear, but not always helpful to act on fearful feelings. In a dark alley, panic and adrenaline can save your life, but in a protracted emergency, keeping your cool may be a better survival strategy.

If you can calm your mind, breathe deeply, and slow your racing heart, then remember where your help comes from (the encouraging word of a friend, your family, a comforting sacred text, prayer, meditation, yoga, maybe God Himself!), you will be ready for whatever comes next. Perhaps you will be able to offer help instead of feeling helpless. All around you are people feeling panic in their own ways: who can you reach out to individually? Who is in your sphere of influence that might need a pep talk? It’s a good time to reach out by phone, by video chat, or even over the backyard fence, sidewalk, porch, or balcony (as long as the neighbor is 6 feet away!). If you’ve received comfort or encouragement in these tough times, don’t hoard it like toilet paper…pass it on!

*Advice from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams