Some What Ifs Are What Awfuls
When life gets out of control, we get fearful. It’s a scary thing not to know where everything is headed. Because we need direction, we imagine the end of the story — the story is really a plan for disaster. Doing that is human, but it’s not usually helpful.
Imagining disaster is negative. It steals focus. Yet. we all seem to draw and detail disasters at the slightest loss of control,. especially when we’re in unknown territory.
That looming disaster. We worry our “what if” into a “what awful,” and the worrying makes it horrible. In no time, we have a visual with a film on television news at 11. Often we plan what to do when the disaster happens. Our plans are sometimes violent or vengeful, negative actions. Negatives get the wrong body chemistry going. Charged up, we’re likely to cause a minor disaster of our own.
In such situations, for me, it’s almost automatic to think of one man. I didn’t know him. Once, long ago, he replaced a worry with a comprehendible vision, and he put my world back in my control. It happened when I was no more than five years old.
My dad and I were at the carnival grounds of the Illinois State Fair. Lights were colorful and everywhere. My father’s hand was in my own. He walked me three stories up to the top of the biggest slide I could ever have imagined. No. Bigger. Taller . . . and more frightful.
From the top of that slide, I could see the whole carnival. It was so high, that it had to turn and turn going down to fit in a reasonable footprint on the fairgrounds. A steel canopy covered the top one third, like that on a covered wagon. Standing on the platform at the top. I could see how far down the ground was.
No one else was up there with me and my dad. I was smart. I did the math.
The slide wasn’t wide enough for my dad to go with me. I would have to go alone. The stairs were equally scary. I was a frightened little girl, who didn’t know what scared me.
The carnival man had tattoos on his arms and was dark from the sun. But his clear as water blues were kind against the tanned face they shone out from. His smile showed respect and understanding for a child. He put down the woven mat I would sit on.
I had no courage. I was too shy to explain how afraid I was. He knew just how to frame the situation. I can’t say this is what he said, but I can tell you, it’s exactly what I heard.
“It’s up to you,” he said looking right in my eyes. “You can stay up here with me. We’ll tell stories. But I have to tell you, going down the slide is easy. You just sit on the mat and go. Of course, since you’re an especially smart one, I could make you a deal. . . . If you fall off the slide and break your arm before you reach the bottom, I’ll give you the whole carnival and $15.00.”
Even then, I knew a great business deal when I heard one. After all, I had to get to the bottom sooner or later. I could see there was no bathroom. With this deal, I might get to own a whole carnival. AND every kid knows that no one ever dies from a plain, old broken arm. So I decided to go. We shook hands on the contract.
I was disappointed when I made it to the bottom unharmed. I can’t say which I missed more — owning the whole carnival or the $15.00.
That guy with the blue eyes, the smile, and the respect for a child gave something unforgettable. It was more than courage to ride down a slide. He gave me perspective that has lasted a lifetime.
Now when I start to write my disaster story, I tell myself I’m not the one who was meant to own the carnival. Then I start thinking about how I might have used $15.00 when I was less than five years old.
We can change the world — just like that.
–ME “Liz” Strauss