Welcome to Wellness Wednesdays. I realized I had more to talk about than just exercise. Lani has such a full schedule she has to bow out and I happily grabbed her spot.
Today, I was going to talk about swimming, because yesterday in the horrible, horrible heat—which many of you are now experiencing, too—I picked myself up out of my un-conditioned house and went to the pool at my gym. In the summertime, it is packed with children, and even the normally sleepy times are so overrun with teenagers in packs that it can be exasperating to say the least. I will say more about coming to peace with teen girls and their hundreds of towels per day usage, but I have other things to talk about today.
Like making peace with What Is.
Here’s the thing: I dislike intense heat intensely. It’s not humid and I know everybody says that humidity is what makes it hot, but just try walking around happily in sunshine at 7500 feet altitude at 95 degrees. It’s like having an iron on your skin at all times.
So, yesterday, there I was, too hot and trying to escape it and very grumpy. I decided that I had to do something. One of my life rules is that I am 100% in charge of my own happiness (not that I am particularly good at remembering this), so what could I do to make it better?
I could go swimming. I went. The outside lanes were packed and I didn’t want to go inside, so I plopped myself down in the 95 degree heat and waited.
And waited. And waited. Finally a lane was free and I leapt in—
It was absolute, utter, complete, deepest BLISS. Cold water pouring through my hair. Blue sky overhead. Blue water beneath. I’ve always liked it when you open your eyes underwater and see all that wavery light below the surface. It’s a secret, thrilling world. Mainly, yesterday, it was cool. It improved my mood instantly. I felt like my twelve-year-old self, off to the pool with my siblings for the entire afternoon, not swimming For Exercise, but playing. Paddling around in the water. Daring ourselves to jump off the diving board. Learning to swim underwater with eyes open….all those things. One way to be happy is to find that sense of childhood play.
Right this minute, however, there is a big fire devouring a forest just north of my neighborhood. It started suddenly this afternoon and blustered out of control in less than two hours, already burning down homes and forcing evacuations and triggering the entire city’s PTSD, because it hasn’t been quite a year since the Waldo Canyon Fire burned more than 350 homes in one neighborhood in our city. I will admit to you that when I came out of the movie theater and spied the smoke, I immediately started crying. We were all traumatized and it takes some time to get over such a thing.
So I came home and freaked out a little. This fire is a lot closer to me than the other, only a couple of miles north, and I thought about the people I interviewed in the months after Waldo. They didn’t think it could happen to them. One man said, “You know, we had four full days. If I’d thought it could really happen, I would have taken more stuff out of the house.”
A couple of miles is not that far. There are two neighborhoods and three really big streets between us and the fire. There are grasslands, where a fire can be contained. I am not in any danger. I know that intellectually.
But there’s the smoke. There’s the experience. I put boxes close to any valuable items we’d want to take. I made sure I remembered where the cat carriers are. I sat down and let in the memory of enormous cinders falling on my car last summer, on a Tuesday afternoon when I went out to shoot the beautiful fire clouds and got caught in evacuation traffic just as the fire cloud fell. I was more afraid for my life than I ever had been, ever. It doesn’t help that I was foolish, that I was being a photojournalist, documenting things because that’s what I DO. It was bad.
Today is not that day. There is also nothing I can do. The fire is burning. It will burn until it is out.
What I do not need to do is leave the television on and check every five minutes to see how many more houses have burned. I don’t need to go to Freak Out Land and live there until the fire is over. It’s only going to make me feel like crap. My fight or flight response will live in overdrive and I’ll be exhausted and wrung out and definitely won’t be able to enjoy anything.
Which would be sad, really, to lose three or four days of my precious days to something I have no control over. The news makes me worry. It also gives me information, but I have control over when and how I receive that information.
The first time I realized I had this control was with the Boston Marathon bombings. I’m a trained journalist. We live for the coverage. Whenever anything happens, I’m there with CNN, hanging on the blow by blow. I’ve known for awhile that it wasn’t getting me anything but an ulcer, but it was a hard habit to break.
We are all so connected these days that even though I hadn’t turned on a television or radio or anything, the minute I signed into Facebook, I saw “Oh, Boston!” The next seven news updates were along the same lines, and I knew something really terrible had happened. I’d lost several days to grief over the Sandy Hook shootings and this time, I decided not to go turn on the television and see what happened at the Marathon. I know a lot of runners. I didn’t want to know. I had control. I could go find something else to do for awhile and let it in when I was ready.
Not that you ever get ready, but still. I chose the time. I decided not to stay with the endless hours of coverage. I found out what happened, turned off the television and cried, and went to bed for a couple of hours. When I was ready to get more of the story, I allowed that in, too.
I have control over my own happiness. Terrible things happen, even in our own lives, but this is also true:
When it’s 95 degrees and I’m cranky, I can take myself to the swimming pool and wait for my turn to get in the cool blue water. I can bring my own towel, since I know the teenagers won’t leave a single one in the locker room. I can swim and swim and look at the blue sky.
Even when there is smoke in the sky, my cats and dog are asleep in the grass. The chives are blooming in their wild purple frenzy. A bird is squeaking somewhere, and a wind—that same wind that fuels the terrible fire—is rustling through an aspen tree. It cools me, sitting in the shade in the backyard.
Tomorrow, the fire might be bigger. The wind might shift and bring heavy smoke my way. I might decide I want to put my journals in a box, just in case, even if it’s crazy. I might go swimming anyway, and when I float on my back, what I’ll see is billowing fire clouds, which are quite beautiful, even if they are destructive. I might cry for a really good friend who might very well lose her beautiful log cabin in the woods, a place I have spent much time. I might take pictures. Maybe I’ll have another little freak-out, and that’s allowed, too.
What tricks do you have for coping with bad days and big disasters?