When life collapses
When life seems to collapse like a falling tower.
Life is like a tower. Great when its standing.
Most of the time I don’t notice what I’m building. I don’t realise the number of floors I’m standing on top of. The floors created by the everyday decisions I’ve been making. We stand on the top of the life we’ve built and everything seems stable enough. Until it doesn’t.
Have you noticed that when something goes wrong, it’s usually not just one thing? I call this a collapse. I had a couple of collapses this past week.
We’d begun our must anticipated holiday. Five days to get away from it all with the family. Here we go! First, a situation out of our control: the trigger for the collapse. We arrive and find out check-in is delayed due to a cleaner shortage. Fine. We’ll fill in the time. Check back. More delay. More time to fill. Choice: get ice-cream for the kids. Fun.
Except my eldest is complaining of a sore stomach. Note: my wife advised me that perhaps this wasn’t the best time for ice-cream. Initial problem solved, we can check-in. 2.5 hours late.
Second small issue out of our control: We drive 20 minutes from check-in location to our apartment and can’t find carpark based on the instructions given. The kids are getting restless in the back. It’s getting late. A few laps of the block and a few laneways later and we find it. After a short wait for the cleaners to leave from our allocated carpark, we park and release the kids from their cramped quarters. Upon being freed, the first thing my eldest does is show us the extent of his stomach pains by involuntarily freeing his ice-cream from his stomach via his mouth. To heighten the situation, just at that moment, a man walks past yelling the f-word repeatedly at the top of his lungs. Nothing to do with us, just strange and unnerving. Vomit dealt with, we get into the lift.
We insert our key in to get up to our floor. Unfortunately, it doesn’t work. We test out a few buttons and discover we can go to the floor above ours. We go up and then use the fire-escape to get down to our floor. We hold our breathe to see if the key we’ve been given fits our room. Gratefully it does. Then comes the awkward trips up and down using a mixture of the lift and fire stairs to bring our luggage up. In the process I knock my watch and it breaks. My eldest is in bed. We see my youngest grab his water bottle and take a big suck. Looks like he won’t be the last to feel unwell!
It was certainly a dramatic beginning to the week. All to the soundtrack of four kids aged one to eight. There were a couple of other events that I won’t go into, but they all fit into a series of events that I’d refer to as a collapse. The extent of the damage came down to what we’ve been building by our choices leading up to, and in the midst of, the situation.
First lesson: listen to your wife when she says that she doesn’t think ice-cream isn’t a good idea. (Taking this lesson onboard saved us later in the trip when a few more of us got sick. I initially still wanted to go ahead with our special dinner on the last night).
Lesson number two: it can always get worse! Always. Staying calm under pressure goes a long way. As does having good people around you. This helped with the second mini collapse of the week. This time mostly of my own making. I should have checked beforehand. I should have arrived earlier. I should have communicated better. Again, one problem started it. Then a text came in with a completely separate problem. Then a reminder of something I’d forgotten to do, and I’m left wondering what is going on! All my weaknesses laid bare in such a short space of time!
Collapses are a good test of character. They certainly the expose any weaknesses we try and cover over. I think of a tower of cards. If the base is strong, you survive with a mini collapse and you only lose a layer or two. What you want to avoid is the whole tower coming down.
Lesson three: Be humble. Say sorry and take responsibility. Avoid the temptation to shift the blame onto someone else.
It makes me think about the daily choices I’m making: - When I let things slide because it’s easier. - When I don’t communicate the full situation because it’s awkward. - When I don’t put time and effort into the important things because no one else seems to notice.
If life is like a tower, the taller we build, the more careful we’ve got to be. We can get away with haste and bad habits when we’re on the first floor. But that’ll only lead to one outcome when we’ve built higher- a dramatic collapse!
Final lesson: Learn the lessons and keep building. You can’t build high without experience and there’s no better way to learn where you can improve than by reflecting on life’s collapses! …and I’d recommend building a tower sometime. It’s a great metaphor for life!
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