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Honestly evaluate the way you respond to crisis situations. Are you happy with the way you react?

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I always fancied that having kids prepared a person for responding to crisis situations with some kind of mental/emotional aplomb. After all, how many bloody lips and skinned knees and elbows had I treated? And what about the time when my son fell trying to stuff a basketball in the net and knocked his three upper front teeth out two weeks before the orchestra was to go to California (he played trumpet and French horn).

And what about allergies — the time my daughter nearly stopped breathing from an allergic reaction to a scented candle at the dinner table on Christmas day, and my son’s throat closing up when he was three because we didn’t know he was allergic to peanut butter.

Then there was the time his lordship’s colon burst while he was hunting and he ended up having a colostomy which I had to learn to irrigate for a year. I thought I was a brave little sucker! But it turned out I wasn’t as brave as I thought I was. When finally put to the test one day, I found myself sorely disillusioned

boilerI was the secretary at our church for 22 years. An old church building from the turn of the century, it was still heated by the original boiler. One cold, autumn Saturday morning nearly 20 years ago now, I was working when Dan, a church member, came in and went down the basement to light the boiler. Something was going on that night, and though the little space heaters were good for the office, the rest of the old building was like being in cold storage. I was standing in the second-floor office filing when all of a sudden there was a big WHOOSH and all the doors slammed shut then slammed back open. I stood rooted to the spot. Then it happened again. It took me a few seconds to realize the boiler must have blown up — and Dan was downstairs with it.

I couldn’t move. For a good five minutes or better I stood stock still and waited to see what would happen. Nothing. Another few minutes passed and, not hearing anything from Dan, I realized I needed to go downstairs. I was terrified. I didn’t think the building was on fire or the alarm would have gone off. But what of Dan? What if he was injured and needed help? What if he was dead? It took every ounce of courage I had to finally force myself down the long flight of stairs to the main floor. By the time I reached the basement door, there was Dan crawling his way up the stairs, smoke rolling off his back, his shirt in tatters, the side of his face covered in blood. Fortunately his back had been to the boiler when it blew up.

My heart sank into my shoes as I ran to call 911. I was sick with the thought that I very nearly hadn’t been able to make myself go downstairs to see what had happened. What the hell was I thinking? I KNEW Dan was down there. There was a knot in the pit of my stomach that is still there to this day when I let myself think about it. It wasn’t just that I failed to help Dan as I should, it was that I let MYSELF down as well. I couldn’t help feeling I was NOT the person I always thought I was.

Dan’s injuries turned out to be minor, though there were some burns on his back and the side of his face. I was unimaginably grateful he was alive. The first time I saw him at church after that, I thought I’d throw up. In the end I think I must have apologized to him a dozen times for my tardiness in coming to help. He was so gracious. Now, all these years later, when I run in to him the first thing he does is hold up a finger as if to say, “Don’t apologize to me one more time!” Then he’ll laugh. I think he understands that the incident left as much of a scar on my psyche as it did on his body.