When Everything Stops

There are those moments in life when everything stops. Occasions when a community, a city, even a country, come to a halt and we all turn to look at that one thing that stops us in our tracks. We are spectators to disaster and we hold our collective breath as catastrophic events drag our attention away from the scattered activities of our busy lives and focus it on one thing for some period of time. Minutes, hours, a day. 

June 21, 2013 was just such a day in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. On the calendar it marked the first day of summer, but it did not feel like summer. It was cool and wet, and record rains falls combined with spring run-off from the mountains to the west to push every river in the region up to, and above the limits of their banks. Not just Calgary was affected, many areas to the north, west and south also declared local states of emergency. 

Emergency alerts, non-stop news coverage, evacuations and dramatic rescues would contradict my premise that life came to a standstill. Obviously not everyone and everything stopped. Countless people worked harder than ever. First responders, civic employees and aid agency volunteers began putting in long shifts with no end in sight until the rain let up and the water receded.  

But above the flood plain, many of us were stopped in our tracks. No school, no work, stay home, keep safe, don’t put any extra strain on the city’s infrastructure, just hunker down and watch. And for a day we did just that. 

This morning when the sun came up and we finally exhaled the breath we did not realize we were holding. The rains have stopped and the waters are receding. Now we can inhale and count our blessings even as the long haul job of getting things back to normal begins.

Few Calgary residents are completely unaffected by the disaster. Most of us know someone directly impacted by this flood, someone who will need our help as the water clears away. The job of cleaning up the mess will call many people to action soon enough, but for that one day it really did feel like everything stopped.

What is it about ‘Yes’ and ‘No’ ?

A good interviewer or host knows the secret to an engaging conversation with a guest is to ask questions that cannot be answered with a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  However, many things in life can be distilled down to exactly that:  Yes or No.

Despite the obvious interpretation that ‘yes’ is positive and ‘no’ is negative, we learn from an early age that life is not that simple. For a child, many manifestations of ‘yes’, including the non-verbal ones (a hug, a smile, a helping hand), are indeed positive.

But, just as surely, we discover that ‘no’ can also be positive if it is used correctly. 

We may have resented our parents for saying, No! You cannot stick that key in a light socket or No, you are not allowed to spend all your money on candy, but eventually we recognized that in those instances, their ‘No’ was simply a different way of saying Yes, I love you enough to keep you safe from harm.

Similarly, ‘Yes’ became a negative thing if a sombre nod confirmed that a beloved relative or pet was seriously ill and likely to die.

As we grew older, the answers in life got more complicated. And I don’t mean ‘maybe’.

I’m no stranger to ‘NO’. I’ve worked in direct marketing, and my stint as a door-to-door encyclopedia salesperson in the early 80s has helped me deal with the rejection inherent in submitting my writing to journals and publishers. Fortunately, ‘Yes’ is a strong part of my life too. I know that I am valued and loved.

Our life experiences and self-esteem influence how we react to ‘yes’ and ‘no’. So, why do we still get it wrong after all these years?  Now there’s a question without a simple ‘yes or no’ answer! And my point is not to bore with my attempts to answer it, because the personal journey I make to that place will be different from yours.

What I will do is share a couple of things that have helped me explore that question for myself. Both of these links (one to an article, the other to a video) brought home the fact that, as much as I am affected by the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses I get from other people, it is the YES or NO answers that I give to myself that really makes the difference.

The first link is for an article by Kevin Ashton (Thoughts on Creativity) about the power of ‘No’ when it comes to protecting the creative mind from unnecessary distractions.

The second link is to a TED talk video featuring Amanda Palmer, (The Art of Asking) that has inspired me to say ‘Yes’ to taking more risks; to making myself vulnerable by asking for what I need, even if it means that the answer I get could very well be ‘No’.