Last week, very, very early, a fire alarm went off at our place in Winnipeg. Since we live on the 20th floor and Clarence had just had surgery, this was worrying. What if it wasn’t a drill? The elevators were locked so I started down the stairwell to check things out.
I had reached the 3rd floor when a voice came over the intercom. ‘Please stay in your suite,’ it said firmly. ‘Remain in your suite until further notice.’ Oh, the timing. My legs were shaking from leaping out of bed and rushing down 17 flights of stairs. My heart was tight from lack of exercise and panic. There could be a fire. And the 20th floor is unreachable by ladder.
I headed back up the stairs, holding onto the rail and feeling like a ninety year old. At the sixth floor it became apparent that a cooking fire had set off the alarm. My sense of relief morphed into bitter self pity. Pulling myself upward, I cursed my ill luck with some colorful language and small bird like sounds of exhaustion. Clarence was still awake when I stumbled into the bedroom.
He said, ‘I told you not to go.’ While technically true, this is exactly what a person who has taken one for the team does not want to hear. But the words, ‘ I told you so,’ are an unavoidable part of most relationships. That does not mean I took them in the right spirit.
‘But there was a fire,’ I said. ‘On a stove in an apartment on the sixth floor.’ I was on the defensive, presenting my own version of, ‘No, I told YOU so.’ I went back to bed, feeling very hard done by.
A few days later, one of my sisters had an accident, breaking her wrist and bruising herself badly. Later, when I was in the middle of retelling my story, “I can’t believe I climbed ALL those stairs,” it suddenly hit me. I’m a cry baby. There was my husband, the staples in his stomach catching on the fabric of his shirt. My sister, her small wrist wrapped in a cast, supporting herself with the help of a cane while gazing at me sympathetically.
‘Fine,’ I muttered to myself, feeling the weight of my own shame. It was time to re-embrace the gratitude mantra. After all, Clarence had had a successful surgery. My sister would get better. And I would take my physical fitness more seriously. Especially since, part of the time, we lived on the 20th floor.
This small life lesson is like a mirror. Instead of good intentions, it revealed me as a self indulgent mini martyr. And if I’m too thick minded to see the error of my ways, I suspect another lesson might come round again. It may not involve twenty flights of stairs, up and down. It may be something even more formidable. So I’m saying right here and now that I get it. There are a lot of people having a tough time. Most of them are stoic individuals silently bearing all that life throws at them, and still greeting the day with a smile.
They are my heroes. And I will run up and down many flights of stairs if I can help them in any way. I just might have to duct tape my mouth shut afterward.