I posted that quote just over 2 days ago on a personal page. Since then, Calgary (my home), along with many other parts of Southern Alberta have been flooded. As many as 75,000 people in Calgary alone have been forced to leave their homes. In High River, only an hour South and the hardest hit, the entire community was evacuated and a few people lost their lives. While it’s affected me personally, this blog is not about what’s happened, who’s been evacuated, and the damage that has been caused. It’s about what happens to people when these things happen to us.
I attend a boot camp most mornings. Every morning the same rotation of women fill the gym and we spend the next 40 minutes sweating. This has been my routine for 6 months and how many of them do I know? Probably two; and they teach the class.
Last week one of the girls introduced herself. She said, you know, I work out beside you most mornings and I don’t even know your name. That struck me. I pride myself in getting to know people, letting them into my world, but here’s a girl I share a (very small and sometimes intimate) space with most days of the week, and I know nothing about her.
The morning of the flood things were different. There was a completely different energy to the room. People were sharing stories and how they were impacted personally. There was so much raw emotion. All of a sudden I felt like I could see these people for who they were, feel their pain and identify with their struggles. I got past all of my own stuff, my own to do list, insecurities and judgments and truly saw them, maybe for the first time.
What happens to us when these emergencies happen? We let strangers into our homes. If they had knocked on our door last week, we would have peered out our window wondering if we should even answer the door for the ‘weirdo’ that stands on the other side of it. We’re reminded of the real, caring and compassionate human beings we not just want to be, but are.
Anyone who has been through a major emergency or natural disaster will (almost always) say how everyone came together. They helped and supported each other. They let their emotions show. They put aside their differences because something more important was happening. They started to build bridges.
So what’s available to us when we practice being more open in our lives?
I call this ‘life in full colour’. Not knowing what situation, opportunity or person we will meet. People, situations and challenges come into our life for a reason, what if we gave up control and danced (sometimes literally) in the moment?
When I was in Costa Rica last year, one morning a girlfriend and I took an early morning trip to the grocery store. Something we did often, and completely normal, until a handsome Costa Rican approached me and asked me if I knew how to Merengue. Before I could say Merng-what?, he grabbed my hands and took me for a spin, dip and all. As he explained the steps (in broken English) I couldn’t help but think, is this really happening right now?! But I went with it, and it’s one of my favorite stories from the trip.
If that same story had happened in the Safeway by my house, there’s a good chance I would have ran the other way, down the street, and into the police station. But I was travelling. My guard was down and I was open to all the amazing people and opportunities that presented themselves.
So how? Is there a way we can keep this feeling of community, support and openness long after the flood waters subside? There is. And it starts with you, and me.
Awareness is always the first step.
You don’t know what you don’t know. Then a shift happens. I wasn’t aware of my behavior during boot camp until the amazing woman next to me introduced herself. When was the last time you noticed how you were feeling/acting in a certain situation? It’s witnessing our actions/behavior/feelings and deciding if they are getting us closer or further away from who we want to be.
Being open takes courage. No one likes to be first. Sharing a hard story first is like being the first one on a frozen pond. There’s a good chance you’ll fall right through and freeze to death; but there’s also a good chance the water will be strong enough to hold you. And once everyone sees how much fun your having, they want to join in.
I describe being authentic as knowing who you are and what you stand for, having your actions match these beliefs, and being able to share the gray and rough pieces of yourself along with the bright and shiny.
I find we’re so afraid of telling stories of times we’ve failed because we’re worried that others will think less of us, but often the opposite is true! We’re human. We all make mistakes. The power comes when we can be open and share our experiences, especially the ones we’re afraid/embarrassed of.
Being Caring and Compassionate.
Seek first to understand and then be understood. That line is borrowed from one of my favorite books, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People. I think that’s what comes naturally during an emergency. They put aside themselves and focus on you. I want to help you. I care about you. I want to make things better for you. How would the world be different if we came from this place first not just during an emergency,but in our everyday lives?
The last point I want to offer is that these disasters are not going to stop. And it’s not just global warming that’s to blame. There are wars over just about everything; religion, politics, resources, money, power, terrorism. Mother Nature just offers a different angle. And we may feel like we can’t control these things, but I assure you we can. We can control who we are as human beings and how we treat our neighbors. What we let the world see of us and how we choose to participate in it makes all the difference.
If you or someone you know has been affected (in any way) by the #yycfloods #abfloods I would love to hear your story. There’s also free coaching sessions being offered by Certified Co-Active Coaches (myself included!). More information and how to sign up can be found at https://www.facebook.com/CoActiveCares?fref=ts
Also, if you’d like to donate to help those hardest hit a link to the Red Cross fund can be found here. https://secure.redcross.ca/registrant/donate.aspx?eventid=126477
And lastly, if you’d like to donate something even more precious, your time, a list of forming volunteer organizations and a ton of other information can be found here. https://www.facebook.com/CalgaryCleanUp #yyccares
Thank you Calgary. For not only being my home, but for the amazing people who live here that inspire me to be better.