Yesterday I wrote about the onset of spring. The sun is (has been) shining, the birds are (have been) singing, and the first dandelion popped up in our flower bed yesterday – right through the “weed barrier” that’s supposed to keep it away. Perfect.
Today the skies are gray, and we may have to pay homage to Mother Nature for the weather that will soon welcome us into the great outdoors. The forecast is calling for strong thunderstorms most of the day. And in this part of the country, thunderstorms in late March and early April are cause for concern. Some of those clouds have a way of reaching down and knocking things over.
I’ve been in more tornadoes than most storm chasers, just by being in the wrong place at the wrong time. One was a pretty direct hit, two were skipping overhead, and one was breaking up as it crossed the house. Yes, I’ve been lucky. And no, I don’t care to test my luck again any time soon. Four times is more than enough.
I watch these shows where people chase the weather, trying to get as close as they can to a tornado, and act like they’re on a carnival ride the entire time. Maybe that’s because they have the advantage of computer simulations and Doppler radar that tell them the winds aren’t strong enough to pick up their car and toss it like a beer can. Or maybe it’s because they’re just plain stupid. I’m not quite sure.
It reminds me of something comedian Ron White once said. He was talking about an elderly athlete who tied himself to a tree in a hurricane to ride out the winds. Ron said, “It’s not that the wind is blowing 150 miles an hour … it’s what the wind is blowing.” You see, tree limbs don’t weigh as much as a car. The smallest tornado can pick them up with ease. And most car windows don’t fare well against tree limbs. Food for thought.
But unlike a storm chaser, I don’t have the advantage of knowing what I’m up against. In fact, I’ve only actually seen five tornadoes in my life, and none of them were the ones that came after me. But when you’re driving down the road at sixty miles an hour and all of a sudden find yourself in the middle of a blinding white vortex, feeling your full-size pickup try to spin in a counter-clockwise direction, the Fujita scale means nothing. At that point, it’s the big one.
I try not to worry too much about the weather. First of all, I can’t do anything to change it. All I can do is respond. And I’m the guy who sits in the front window admiring the lightning, and runs to the porch when the tornado sirens go off. I want to see it. But because of the landscape around my house, if I ever do see one it’ll probably be too late to run. They’ll find my remains in the merry old Land of Oz.
My grandson is certain every storm will produce a tornado, and it’ll make a beeline for our house. Or his house. Or whatever house he happens to be in at the time. As far as he’s concerned, Mother Nature looks for him and says, “Go there.” Thunderstorms scare the daylights out of him. If a single cloud appears in the sky, he’s flipping the TV to the Weather Channel.
I’ve tried logic. I’ve explained to him that thunder is just noise, the residual effect of something that he already survived. But he knows lightning strikes are like bill collectors – where there’s one, you can bet another one won’t be far behind. And I’ve explained to him that a tornado, though very powerful, is small and compact, and only affects things that are directly in its path. Of course, the same can be said of a runaway bulldozer. Except bulldozers can’t throw cows.
I think it’s good to have a healthy respect for the weather, among other things. But it’s easy to let respect turn into fear, and that’s not always a good thing. Should we be afraid of a tornado? Absolutely. Should I be afraid of poisonous snakes? Without a doubt. Besides, I know there’s no such thing as a “harmless” snake. In the heart of every snake lies a rattlesnake, just waiting for the chance to take a bite out of my life. You’ll never convince me otherwise.
I guess the point I’m trying to make is we all have fears. To a storm chaser, my grandson’s fear of thunder is probably amusing. To a herpetologist, my fear of snakes is probably hilarious. That’s okay. To me, they’re suicidal idiots. And to the person who experiences it, fear is very real and completely rational. Just like the ghosts who visited my mother-in-law every night. In her mind, they were there.
The thing about fear is to recognize it for what it is – the expectation of something unpleasant that may or may not ever happen. I’ve seen some pretty wicked clouds pass overhead with little or no fanfare. And I’ve seen a clear blue sky spawn a squall that had me wondering if we’d make it to shore alive. When you’re in the middle of something like that, fear is inevitable. But I can’t go through life expecting every blue sky to drop the hammer. I’d rather enjoy the ones that don’t and deal with the ones that do.
I think a sense of humor helps calm a lot of those fears. Maybe not when you find yourself in the middle of a frightening situation, but before and after. People joke about laughing in the face of death. I don’t think anybody ever stared into the face of a hungry tiger and laughed. Okay, nobody sane. But the ability to laugh about the situation later, to even make jokes about it, can clear your head and make the next encounter a little less stressful.
Fear clouds our judgment and makes us do things that may not be the best in a given situation. But the ability to laugh about something, even though we may not laugh right at the moment, makes us look at things just a little differently. If nothing else, it takes the edge off just enough to let us think clearly and rationally.
And here’s the thing – you can’t wait until you’re in a dangerous situation to give laughter a try. It won’t work. You have to cultivate those mental reflexes long before you need them. You have to exercise your sense of humor every day.
To laugh requires using our imagination. Nothing is inherently funny – well, except watching me try to run. The people at the gym get a good laugh out of that. But otherwise we have to imagine what’s going through a person’s mind, or how the situation may have transpired differently, or whatever.
And using your imagination exercises your mind. The brain is like any muscle – the more you use it, the better it works. And laughter is just one of the things we can do to exercise our brain. Besides, it’s fun.
I have no idea what the weather will do today. I do know this – no amount of worrying will change what’s to be. Besides, as I was writing yesterday’s column I broke a tooth. So now I have to go to the dentist. And if there was ever anything to be afraid of, that’s at the top of the list.
So far the sky is calm, and I’m pretty sure the Land of Oz will get by just fine without me for another day. Let’s just hope the visit to the dentist goes as well.
Copyright 2011 – Dave Glardon