Keeping and Losing the Cool

I wish I could say my return to  survival thinking and awareness came about because of some pulse-pounding adventure.   I would love to relate a gripping story where I was stuck hanging off a cliff or being lost for six days in the wilds of Burma.  Nope.  It was nothing that spectacular.

I locked my keys in a car.

Though it’s no tale of high adventure, it IS crucial as to why I’m here.  I was just outside Denver, Colorado with my wife.  She had been able to come along during a business trip and following the three days of work we took our rental car up to see the mountains and Estes Park.  It was an amazing and memorable day.  At the end of it, we stayed with a family member for the evening before heading to the airport early the next morning.  The stay was relaxing and the homemade dinner a perfect end to our trip.

Sunday morning we were up early and quick.  We were 40 minutes away from the airport and had timed it to arrive roughly two hours before take-off.  Everything was going smoothly.  I took the bags to the rental car and began placing them in the hatchback. As I  shut the hatchback, my camera bag full of expensive and fragile equipment started to tumble out.  One hand was free, the other contained the car keys.   Reflexively, I tossed the keys down and grabbed the falling bag with both hands before it could hit the pavement.  The speed of my reaction surprised me.

Breathing a sigh of relief, I re-placed the bag, made sure it was secure, and shut the hatchback doors.

And realized the keys were inside the hatchback. 

I had not bothered to unlock the doors from the night before.  I reached out and tugged on the handle.  It was the kind which locked automatically when closed.  I stood staring at the locked rental and did the math.

Sunday morning before dawn + rental car + 40 minutes from airport + 3 hours before departure + about $100 to my name X the airline tickets were in the bags I had just locked in the car = !$@&*%# !!

Whether it was the four long, stressful days of my business trip (on my feet constantly with high stress), the lower amount of oxygen, lack of sleep, or a combination of all sorts of factors, I may never know.  What I do know is that I lost it.  Lost IT.  I went inside, calmly told my wife, and things got crazy from there.  My wife, bless her, kept her head and started dealing with the situation.  She called the rental car company.

I couldn’t think straight.  I went outside.  I paced up and down on the sidewalk, my brain unable to function correctly about what to do next.  I was embarrassed, freaked, and worried we would not make our flight with no money left over to buy other tickets.  My thoughts were racing and out of control.   The commotion had awoken our host and after explaining what had happened, her cool head came through as well.  She had a AAA membership.  She graciously made a call for us and a locksmith was on the way.  My embarrassment went up several more notches.  In the end, we made it to the airport (it WAS a close-call) and everything was fine.

The only thing busted up was my cool.  For days, weeks, and months afterward I carried it with me.  I’d lost it.  I’d never lost it before, ever.  Worse, I had lost it in front of my wife and her cousin.   In my life, I’ve been involved in all sorts of stressful events and I pride myself on the fact I’m usually no slouch when it comes to dealing with them.  I’ve been lost in the woods, helped out at car accidents, worked a search and rescue situation and many others.  I just don’t normally lose it in tense situations.

I was not concerned about the idiotic move of dropping the keys in the trunk.  I’m human after all and we all do stupid things.  No, I was much more concerned with how I handled, or didn’t handle, the fallout from the situation.  Even though it was just a minor event of locking your keys in the car, a foundation post had been pulled from “who I thought I was.”  I kept asking myself questions, months after the event, replaying it in my head over and over.

I needed to figure out what had gone wrong.

It was this deconstruction which led me to pick up Deep Survival by Laurence Gonzales and add it to my collection (more on that later.)  It was why I started picking back through my other books on the subject.  I started looking at why my mind decided to take the left turn at Albuquerque instead of sticking around to actually assist with the situation.  I found what I went through was normal and I was actually making the experience useful to me since I was taking steps to understand it.  More importantly, like the earlier post regarding my computer crashing, I was starting to see how the same lines of survival thinking could be applied to everyday activities.

And somewhere in all of that, I started hearing a small voice telling me to write about it.

All because I dropped my keys one Sunday morning.   Considering the stories I’ve heard and read about folks stuck in far worse situations, I got off easy.

In our current way of being we still deal with psychological primal instincts and reactions although we’re in a modern setting.  In the future, I hope to explore and discuss how this, as well as creativity and spirituality, all come together in our lives and how to deal with them regardless of whether you’ve locked your keys in your car, are stuck in an elevator, or lost in the Burmese wilderness.

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Posted on April 2, 2009, in Learning, Survival. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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