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Fear Exemplified: Seeing My Own Nonsense Played Out Before Me

by Gip Plaster on May 27th, 2011

It was instructive this week to see my own weirdness taken to an extreme right in front of me, and it must somehow be the next step in recovering from a silly brain process that still bugs me.

Vague enough for you?

This is a post that examines a problem I have and something I saw that made me realize one of the places my life could have gone if I hadn’t decided to examine and repair it. Does its lesson apply to your life?

Let’s jump right in and find out.

The Backstory: Short Version

For many years, thunderstorms and the threat of them have made me slightly panicky. They made my stomach hurt and they made me feel sick.

This was probably the result of at least two major storms I’ve experienced.

When we lived in a Fort Worth apartment, the so-called Mayfest hailstorm in 1995 brought baseball sized hail that broke out most of the windows in our complex and took out the back window of my car.

But… our apartment was one of only two or three with no damaged windows. And by driving my damaged car to a nearby suburb where there hadn’t been any hail, I had its window repaired within a couple of days. Dozens of people were injured at Mayfest — an outdoor art festival — when the hail hit and no shelter was available, but I was safely inside my apartment.

Then a few years after we moved to our current home, a violent rotating thunderstorm hit our neighborhood. When I saw a neighbor’s shed being blow away in one direction and immediately saw other debris blowing in another direction, I knew we were in for trouble. It was probably wind sheer from a dying thunderstorm or perhaps a half-baked tornado. The house shook violently. Many of the shingles blew off our house and our storage building was pivoted a few feet.

But… by calling dozens of numbers, we had temporary repairs to our roof done quickly and a new roof within a few weeks. And while one neighbor had a hole in the side of his house where a piece of debris blew through, we didn’t have anything that dramatic.

Still, I developed a bit of panic related to thunderstorms, a real annoyance for a Texan.

In the last two years or so, however, my silliness around events I can’t control has lessened. When a storm hits, I will either survive or I won’t. My house will either survive or it won’t. The animals, people and (very few) things I care about will either survive or they won’t.

The Great Azle Panic

Tuesday night I saw why it was necessary for me to recover from my silliness. The consequences of reacting at an unexamined level rather than from the perspective of an educated, spiritual person with some common sense are enormous.

Our area was on the southern end of a severe weather outbreak Tuesday night, but because I’m better now, I was only somewhat worried in advance and didn’t panic while the storm was underway. It got a bit tense, but other than some moderate hail, it was a non-event.

Once it passed, we decided to go to nearby Azle to switch out a library DVD, have a quick dinner and take care of a return at Walmart. But a second storm developed and headed for Azle.

When we left the restaurant, I could see some lowering in the clouds and realized that we should have stayed at home, out of the path of the new storms. Still, the storm clouds were now east of town and since they were moving from west to east and there were no more storms coming (my cheap MetroPCS phone can access radar), we were in the clear. We drove across the highway and tried to go to Walmart.

Azle’s storm sirens were now blaring.

The store had lost sight of it’s goal of making sales and was no longer conducting business. They had gathered all of the customers who were willing to be herded at the service desk along with all of the employees except a few managers who were — remarkably — standing outside for some reason.

One woman was explaining to someone on her phone that officials were telling everyone to go to Walmart — probably because so many people in that area live in mobile homes and older site-built houses. It’s hard to imagine that a large, open building with only a sheet-metal roof is the safest place in town, but I suppose it’s possible.

Here’s the part that really messed with my brain: There were people yelling into their phones trying to contact loved ones who were somewhere else and teenagers crying like little babies. These good people — some of whom had phones with radar — were so uneducated and so irrational they didn’t know they were in absolutely no danger.

Let me make that point again: They were in no danger. By the time the sirens went off, the storms that threatened them were no longer their problem. They had access to the same information I had and must have known that on some level.

An entire city seemed to be panicking.

We felt like we didn’t belong there, so we left through an emergency exit and drove home, leaving them there to complete their exercise in mass hysteria.

What It Means To Me… And You

My Azle experience may have cured me completely of my fear of storms. We’ll see.

Tuesday night, I was much more afraid of the consequences of fear than I was of the storm that was near.

There was some minor damage to a convenience store in Azle, and I saw lowering from the storm for myself, so I know there was cause for some concern.

But there’s never a reason for hysteria. Abandoning your senses, your faith and your intelligence has no place in a simple, deliberate life. While going with a gut reaction based on fear may be a simple course of action, I don’t advocate being simple. I suggest living a life that’s both simple and deliberate.

Have you seen an example of what will happen if your deepest flaws are taken to their logical conclusions? Have you witnessed or participated in a mass hysteria event during which common sense went out the window? Have you seen how lack of education combines with unexamined fears to create a downward spiral?

The spectacle I witnessed in Azle wasn’t very deliberate, and it made me wonder if the people participating in it were a very different kind of simple. It scared me that people can behave like that.

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From → Simpler Living

8 Comments
  1. Hey Gip! What an experience, eh? I can’t think of a specific time that I’ve seen my deepest flaw carried out by others, but I’m sure it’s happened.

    It sounds like this event really helped you get outside of yourself and see that your fears may not be rational after all. I know I have some irrational fears (e.g., getting lost), but I’ve never seen someone get lost and then freak out. I have a GPS now, so I don’t worry about it much anymore, but I’m still known to take a wrong turn or two fairly often. 😉

    As far as storms go, I’m more alarmed now when there is a chance of a tornado then I was when I was younger. Now I feel a duty to protect my children. If there is a tornando warning overnight (common during the spring here), I spend most of the night listening for sirens and watching the weather radar on my phone, so I can grab the kids and get them into the basement if needed.
    Jenny @ exconsumer recently posted Cheap Minimalist Birthday Party for Kids

    • It was a very useful experience, and I really do think it will have an impact on me. I did feel like I was in a Twilight Zone episode, though.

      Gip

      • I’ve never actually seen a tornado despite being a lifelong Texan. Most of our are short-lived ones as well.

        I also lived fairly near downtown Fort Worth when it was hit. I was most worried about the ducks I often visited at a nearby duck pond. I actually drove around barricades to see if the duck pond survived. There was damage to the park around it and I’m sure some ducks must have been killed, but it survived.

        I was home on 9/11 and unfortunately still had the TV on. I watch TV in the mornings for a few minutes. I assume similar hysteria went on here too. I was glad to be living in a rural area because I knew I would survive even if there was an attack nearby, a very unlikely event anyway.

        Our minds can play amazing tricks on us in stressful situations.

        Gip

  2. So glad that you’re safe Gip, and amazing that you’ve managed to let go of your fear around storms.

    I grew up on the west coast of Florida. Tornadoes happen frequently there, along with lightning strikes and hurricanes. For some reason I’m not afraid of them, even when lots of people are panicking. I did drive over the skyway bridge (a gigantically tall, many miles long bridge) during the beginning of a hurricane once, and that made me nervous. 🙂

    There was another time I was driving to work and I was driving “towards” a tornado. (They’re little guys in Florida, not like the giant ones in the middle of the country). That one made me nervous too and I pulled over to the side of the road while the world whipped around a bit. No sense driving away, right? They go faster than a car.

    Anyways, I can’t think of any examples the deepest flaws bit for me, but mass hysteria once. It was (everyone will remember this one) 911. Patrick and I don’t watch television so we didn’t know anything about it. It was our day off and we were planning on going hiking. We drove through a little country town and the two gas stations (usually deserted) were lined up with cars, pickup trucks, and suv’s. Everyone was getting as much gas as they could, filling up containers and all. That was a surreal experience, especially when we asked what was going on and started getting answers from people. Lots of folks were convinced war had been declared and it was the end of civilization.

    All the gas stations in town ran out of gas that day. Patrick and I cancelled our hike and spent the day visiting an Indian friend who was afraid to leave his house for fear of… well, you know, being strung up by an unruly crowd of Arkansans.
    Tanja @ Minimalist Packrat recently posted Leaping Rats and a Christmas Tree Shed Turned Tiny House

  3. I think alot of what you witnessed, Gip, was a result of the fact that people have been trained to do as they are told, to relinquish their own judgment and to trust that whomever is barking out orders knows what they are doing and are doing it for the right reasons.

    Also, many of those people, while they may have had internet-capable phones, might not have known how to find the weather radar, or if they did, they might not have a clue how to interpret it.

    You, armed with tools and knowledge, were able to evaluate the system, and make your own judgment that you were in no danger.

    They were left to believe they were in danger. I think the real problem was with the authorities, who I’m sure had access to accurate weather data. Why were they not properly informed so that they could calm and reassure their citizens, rather than exciting them to the point of hysteria?

    – Mike
    Mike | Homeless On Wheels recently posted Poorly Packed Shipments

    • In a small town, I wonder if the authorities are really any better informed than the general public. Most officials in small towns are rejected big-town officials.

      You’re right about people’s willingness to give their power over to anyone who speaks with authority. In general, it’s a bad idea to follow anyone who enjoys being followed.

      Gip

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