201 – I’m Back! With a harrowing tale…

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I’m Back!  With a harrowing tale…

Hey every body!  I’m back!  This is Alf Herigstad resuming the Being A Better Man podcast after mother nature took me out for a few days.  As you may have noticed there was no podcast last Friday, or this Monday, and todays podcast is coming out late in the day. 

I am sorry for the break in continuity, it’s the first time that I have ever missed releasing an episode on time and there is a good reason for it.  Here where I live in the wilds of Western Washington, we had a major weather event that causes severe damage.

We thought it was a tornado, but turns out it was a micro-burst.  Essentially it was a super powerful storm with tornado like gusts of wind.  It cut a swath of destruction though our community and we were without power and internet for several days.

Even as I am recording this episode we do not have internet…our power just can back on though, so I am getting ready for when our internet does come back on line.

Everyone that went through this storm has a different story about what it was like for them, what they saw and what happened.  I am no different.   However, I am going to share my story with you, not just for the story aspect—but also because of the observations I made during the chaos.

For those of you who don’t know, I spend a portion of my time being a substitute school bus driver.  I enjoy the interactions with the children and some of the other challenges that come with the position.  On the day of the storm I had an after school route from an elementary school, kids between kindergarten and 5th grade who had some sort of after school activity and needed to be brought home. 

We had a little thunder storm earlier in the day with heavy rain and wind, and everyone thought it was over.  As I pulled up to the school and was waiting for the children to come out, I got out of the bus and was just looking around.  It was very eerie.  There wasn’t any wind, and the sky and everything else was taking on an unusual color.

I looked to the southern sky and I saw clouds that were pitch black all across the southern sky from horizon to horizon.  There was something else though, a very odd cloud shape I hadn’t seen before.  It looked like it was welling up from somewhere evil, with little tendrils underneath it.  It looked…ominous, and foreboding.  Here are pictures of the approaching storm:

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This odd, ominous cloud was clearly advancing toward where I was.  About that time the children started coming out of the school.  As they were boarding the bus I saw the first rain drops hit the windshield.  By the time all 23 kids were on board it was full on raining, and lightning and thunder had started up again.

Being kids of this age, many of them were scared of the lightning and especially the thunder.  There were two adult aids who boarded with the children to help maintain order during the trip and all three of us were assuring the children that it wasn’t anything to worry about.

By the time I had pulled the bus out of the parking lot and was on the street—everything changed.  It was as if the heavens had opened and began to pour out everything they had, all at once.  The wind seemed to be coming from every direction at once and the bus was rocking back and forth under its invisible influence.  The rain was so heavy that it wasn’t like rain at all, it was more like solid sheets of water falling from the sky, as if there was a gigantic bucket above us being poured out.

To make matters worse, when I had started my day the sun was shining, so I had put on my dark prescription sunglasses.  My clear glasses were in the car.  Even though it was early evening, it was as dark as the middle of night.  The kids were asking me to please turn on the interior lights, but they were already on, that’s how dark it was.  So there I am in pitch black, with dark sunglasses driving a bus in a freak storm with 23 kids behind me…and I can’t see anything.

Almost immediately, several children started crying.  They were very afraid, perhaps more afraid than they had ever been before.  Fear is contagious, and it quickly spread to all the other children on the bus.  They were all crying, wailing really.  The aids were doing all they could to maintain order but it was a losing battle. 

I made a couple turns very slowly and I made it to the first child’s stop, which was only about a half mile from the school.  I stopped the bus and knew we would have to wait here until it blew over before I could let anyone out.  The storm had now reached it’s apex, foliage was flying through the air and more water than I had ever seen was dumping out of the sky amid non-stop lightning and huge crashes of thunder.  When I stopped the bus I was next to a storm drain, but within five minutes the drain had clogged and now the bus was sitting in 18 inches of water.

I was helping the aids to reassure the children, but it seemed almost pointless, they couldn’t hear us because their fear had reached a level that made reason obsolete.  Three of the children were so scared that they just started throwing up.  It had all happened so quickly, in just a matter of minutes really, and it was around this time when I realized that I was in a very unusual situation.

Then one of the older boys finally reached the limits of his sanity.  He was bouncing all around the bus like a trapped animal.  Then he came to the front of the bus, to me.  He got in my face and demanded that I start driving, now.  He kept screaming over and over that he had to get to his parents, he demanded that I start driving the bus and go back to the school.  I have rarely seen that level of rage from anyone, much less a 10 year old.

Meanwhile another boy was trying to open the door as if he were leaving.  When asked what he was doing he just kept repeating that he had to find his dad…he wanted his dad.

The aids had been on the phone with several parents.  It was decided that I would drive back to the school.  On the way back we had to maneuver around fallen trees and branches and drive through some very deep water. 

When we got back to the school the storm seemed to be losing some of it’s gusto.  An administrator came out and we decided that it had become unsafe to transport the children with all the downed power lines and trees.  All the children got off and were taken into the school, their parents would be called to come and get them there.

As they got off the bus I said goodbye to them.  Last to get off were five kids who had not been crying, they didn’t seem shaken up at all.  I congratulated them on their courage and thanked them for maintaining their composure. 

From there it took me forever to get back to the bus yard.  Many major streets were closed and traffic was ridiculous.  Trees had uprooted fences and sidewalks.  Power lines were hanging down in the street and many, many trees…big ones, had just toppled over under the force of the wind.  Here is one of many trees:

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Eventually I made it back, parked the bus, and then I had to figure out how to get home.  The roads near my home were even worse.  Eventually though, I made it home to my dark house with no electricity and no internet.

The next day I surveyed the damage to our property.  We were lucky.  It looked like a small forrest had sprouted in our field, it was the branches of big fir trees that were driven into the earth upright by the wind so hard, that they looked like young trees growing instead of branches.  We lost a few big trees and a few fences were damaged, but mostly we were intact.

I spent the next couple days re-living those moments on the bus and thinking about those children.  It was difficult for me to understand at first.  I had never witnessed that degree of mass hysteria before.

As I thought about it I realized what I had witnessed was the loss of innocence.  For most of these children this was the hardest, most scary thing they had ever endured.  Up to this point everything was solid for them, everything was stable and easy and comfortable.  This storm took them so far out of their comfort zone and away from the safety they had come to expect that they reacted instinctively.

It was like having a little window into the behavior of our species.  Just because we are adults now we really aren’t that different from the kids on the bus that day.  When extreme situations occur humans will react in predictable ways, and every one of those behaviors were represented on the bus that day.

The majority just sat and cried, looking to the leaders for help and security, immobilized by their own fear.  A couple of them snapped, and began acting aggressive and irrational, even dangerous.  Some of them became physically ill.  Then there was the small group who seemed to take it in stride.  They were calm and rational, even though they were concerned they never stopped thinking or lost their connection with reality.

In every catastrophe you hear about happening around the world you see these different behaviors over and over again by adults.  For these children this storm may have been the worse thing they had ever experienced, so for them this was a real catastrophe and they acted appropriately—like humans.

As men, when faced with catastrophe,  I think it is preferable to do what we can to ensure that we are always in the last group.  The calm, rational, thinking group,  Because that is where we can do the most good and help the most people when things go bad.  How can we prepare for that?

It isn’t really a matter of gender though.  On the bus there were children of each gender in each of the behavior groups.  However, as men, I think we have an obligation to ourself and others to attempt to be in the group that maintains control.

It’s difficult to prepare for something that has never happened to you before, but I believe there are some things we can do.  The first thing of course is to live your life in such a way that you actually know who you are.  You know your limits, your strengths, and you are familiar with your weaknesses.  The more you know yourself the better you will handle any situation.

Secondly, I think making a conscious effort to think about these things goes a long way.  For example I am always imagining the worst case scenarios, playing out in my mind what I would do if this or that happened.  It helps because as we think of these things our subconscious mind remembers it.  Our subconscious doesn’t make a distinction between reality and imagination—so it’s all practice.

Also, start making note of your reactions in every day life.  We all have minor catastrophes from time to time.  We get a flat tire on the way to work, or your kid spills the milk, someone cuts you off in traffic or you stub your little toe on the leg of the couch.  These types of every day occurrences are opportunities to take stock of your reaction and behavior when something unexpected happens, and it’s an opportunity to make improvements.  It’s all practice, for the big hard things if you are paying attention.

Before I go I want to thank our sponsor, Stumptown Kilts.  Since there was no Friday episode last week I’m going to talk about them today as well.  In my opinion, Stump town kilts are the finest kilts a man—or anyone, can get.  For several reasons.  It’s not just the way each kilt is expertly crafted, or the premium, durable no-iron material they use.  It isn’t just the innovative design and the snap-on accessories or the huge hidden pocket, or even that they are adjustable to five sizes.  Nor is it solely the great people who work at Stumptown Kilts or the affordable prices…it’s all of these things.  All of these things together make Stumptown Kilts the best and only choice for the would-be kilt wearer.

Right now, listers of this podcast can get 10% off their on-line purchase by going to stumptownkilts.com and entering the purchase code: betterman, at check out.  All one word, all lower case.  That way they will know Alf sent you, and you will get a great deal on your new kilt.

Ok guys, I am back on track now.  My power and internet are back on so I will resume normal broadcasting.  Thanks for sticking with me.  If you want to support the show don’t forget to check out our page on patreon.com and become an actual patron of the show by pledging your support.  Also don’t forget to order a copy of my new book; Forging A Man, available right now on amazon.com.  

Now head out into the world and think about your reactions.  Consider how you behave when unexpected things happen.  Try every day to know yourself a little better and it will help you to be a better man today, than you were yesterday.

Hey don’t forget to check out my new book, Forging A Man, available right now on Amazon.

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