Wednesday, April 14, 2010

On becoming un-stuck

Since our spring break trip I've been thinking about what happened on our first night, and what it might hold for me, for my thought processes.

We got stuck. We were staying at a house at a Methodist camp in the piney woods of Wisconsin. It was late, and dark, and rather cold. We took the wrong road, went past the back of the house instead of the front. And headed straight for the lake. Yikes!

(This is another time we got stuck--on our way out of S.D.!)

The first van stopped on the sandy shore. Sand is not so great a surface if you're trying to back up a rear-wheel drive van. The second van stopped further back--on solid ice. We tried all sorts of things to improve traction in both places: kitty litter, sticks, someone's coat. We dug and we pushed, we rocked the vans. Nothing worked; in fact, things seemed to get worse and worse with everything we tried.

(Maybe the kitty litter will work this time?)

I was not feeling so great, my head filling with anxious thoughts: Both vans are stuck and we're MILES from anywhere. Does Triple-A come out here? Will they have to call a special industrial-strength tow truck because the vans are big? How the heck would such a tow truck get down here without getting stuck as well? How much will it cost? Will we be up all night trying to figure this out? How are we going to tell Triple-A (or whomever) where we are, since we got a little lost on the way here? Have we damaged the transmission already with another 500 miles to drive tomorrow? Are we totally screwed? I need to fix this, I'm one of the "grown-ups" here; what happens if I don't know what to do?

I'm not a person who does really well in situations like this. I wish I could say I am resourceful and calm, a good problem-solver, but the truth is that I'm only occasionally like that. More often, I get nervous. I get scared when I feel like my safety is at risk. And for some reason, that's what it felt like that night.

All that put together meant that I was really talking myself down from a good freak-out. I kept hanging onto being grateful that no one was hurt (yet), and that we would figure out something.

Then somebody thought to call the camp director, who arrived in a few minutes. I thought, okay, at least he will know which tow company to call. But when he arrived, he came ready for ACTION!

He was driving a pickup truck full of good stuff--chains, shovels, a sand spreader--and was wearing a head lamp. Moments later, his staff arrived (staff? I thought nobody was here; it's practically still winter here!), about a half dozen young men and women with Wisconsin accents. And then we witnessed the true miracle of the evening: they were cheerful.

They were not freaked out at all. They were the opposite of freaked out. They kept telling various members of our group, "Oh, this is nothing. We've seen worse. We've seen MUCH worse!" They used the chains, they dug, they coaxed and cajoled and pushed, and in not very long, one van was out--up the hill and onto pavement.

And the whole time, I noticed that no one cussed. Okay, maybe that was the Methodist influence... but they weren't even cranky. No one snapped at anyone else or expressed frustration. No one even implied how pitiful (or worse) we were for getting two vans stuck in the first place. No one had a cross word to say, or even a negative thought, it seemed. They were confident and capable; they were laughing and joking. I was astonished.

(The piney woods of Wisconsin)

Around that time our student leader--who is definitely a problem-solver!--started planning for the next day. I was assigned to sleep so that I could drive the first shift in the morning, which was going to come really early. So I put away my anxious thoughts, and said some prayers to the four directions that the second van would be okay soon and that everyone would emerge from the adventure in one piece.

As I was soothing myself to sleep a while later, I heard a huzzah and knew the second van was out; we were going to be okay. And so I slept.

(The next morning; turkeys crossing the road...)

Every once in a while I think about getting both vans stuck, and I think about the other ways in which I feel stuck sometimes--in my academic writing, in my migraines, in my teaching or learning, in my relationships. And I wonder if I can stop freaking out (or nearly freaking out) and instead pretend I'm one of those people in Wisconsin.

I think about the cheerfulness of our rescuers, how they came in the cold, dark night and not only helped us get the vans out, but helped us feel better.

Is this what it means to get un-stuck? Is this what's possible?

I hope you feel free today,


  1. This is funny to me because when I was in a crisis big enough that the family needed to be notified, YOU were the person I instructed my husband to call because I knew YOU would figure out how to handle my situation with calm and reason and grace. (Thank you, by the way!)

  2. Hmmm... As I remember, after having an initial freakout (which was absolutely warranted by the situation, I would argue), I did actually handle things pretty calmly. But perhaps that was because I was helping someone else in crisis, that it wasn't *me* with the problem. Know what I mean?

    I'm so glad, of course, that everything turned out the way it did... Love you!