It wasn’t until long after the car had passed, and I had escaped unscathed, that I realized I hadn’t panicked. I remember hearing once that traffic incidents often happen near home, probably because we let our guards down.
Maybe that was in the back of my mind as I rode my scooter, on my street, three houses from my home, and I saw the headlights veering toward me. Cars park along one side of my street, so it’s not unusual for a car to drift farther than necessary. I watched closely though, shifting closer to the sidewalk on my side of the street. The headlights kept coming. The speed was noticeable. I moved even farther to the sidewalk. Then the headlights swerved quickly toward me, then away, and the car passed.
I stopped, letting my scooter lean beneath me toward the sidewalk as I looked at the car, waiting for some sign that the driver was aware. It appeared to run a stop sign and hurry away. After continuing home, and taking stock of what had happened, I realized: I didn’t panic.
It may seem like a silly thing to think about, “did I, or didn’t I, panic, and why, or why not?” But I’m very aware of how much control over my reactions I do or don’t have in situations. As a radio host, I’ve been told I’m uncannily cool under pressure, under deadline, under the constraints of a clock. The fact about radio, though, is whether or not I hit a post (speak within my allotted time) or not, is not a life or death matter. Of course I have pride in my work, a deep work ethic, and a desire to do my best for my listeners, employer, and self.
But that’s not enough to trigger panic.
I recall during my open water SCUBA training that one exercise was to lose your regulator (breathing device) and have to calmly sweep your arm to retrieve it and breathe again. In the same way you lose your mask, and feel around for it, and have to clear out the water and carry on–all while under water. If you struggle too much, you can lose air and stamina quickly, so you have to keep cool. I could’ve panicked during this training, but I didn’t. Some students did, and I remember thinking that I wanted to gain as much knowledge as I could so I wouldn’t easily feel outmatched by the elements.
Often times the stress and drama of life can push us toward instability. We can feel overwhelmed, we can feel outmatched, we can feel out-classed. But if we take a step back, we can see that there is a way forward and a way out. We don’t need to be a deer in the headlights, we can shift and watch and act to get out of the way. We don’t need to gasp for air and grasp toward the surface, we can calmly feel around for the tools we need to recover.
Of course stress is a part of life, and sometimes we have to hold fast through difficult situations. It’s hard.
But it’s even harder if we panic, and harder to use the experience to make it to another day.