I know a guy whose annual income is in the millions. I don’t think he enjoyed last Wednesday’s snowstorm.
You see, this guy is used to being in control. After all, he’s the boss. Even when the temperature plunges below zero all he wears when he leaves the house is a suit and tie. His chauffer has the car heated in advance, and the longest time he is ever outside is about five seconds.
It’s the same thing in the summer, when the temperature soars to 90 degrees. When he leaves the house, he wears a suit and tie. His chauffer has had the limo AC on for 10 minutes before the boss gets in, and he’s dropped off at the door of his downtown office building, which is also kept at a comfortable 70 degrees. The guy is never out of a controlled environment for more than five seconds.
He hasn’t shopped for groceries in years. His domestic assistant does that. He doesn’t even know what size shirt he wears. His personal assistant does all his shopping for him. He is in charge, because he has the money to buy control – of his environment and the many people who work for him.
So Feb. 2 must have come as a shock to him. He couldn’t get to his private jet for the important meeting in New York, because his limo was stuck in a snowdrift with the chauffer frantically trying to dig it out for fear of being fired for not being able to “make it happen.” And even if he had been able to get to the airport, the runways were all shut down.
The guy’s blood pressure must have gone up a hundred points.
As I watched people react to the area’s third-biggest storm on record, I saw some become enraged. I don’t know who they were angry at: Tom Skilling, God, the snowplow guy who was late getting to their condo parking lots? It was like they took the storm personally. Didn’t “someone” understand that their businesses would lose money, and that their kids being home from school was a big inconvenience?
It’s like their sense of self-importance and need for control made their internal storms as furious as the one outside with fifty-mile-an-hour winds and almost two feet of snow.
And then I watched others who bundled up, grabbed their shovels and set out to help their neighbors dig out their cars and clear the alleys so people would have a fighting chance at getting to the hospital if there were an emergency.
I heard a lot of joking and banter from these people. Somehow they weren’t thrown off balance by an act of nature that ruined their plans for a day or two. In fact, they seemed to enjoy the temporary change of pace – like it put their lives in perspective and made them appreciate the simple things in life, like coming in from the cold to a steaming cup of hot chocolate and a cookie.
Feeling in control and having a sense of self-worth are essential to our mental health – to a degree. The storm last week was diagnostic. As I watched myself get frustrated because I couldn’t carry out some of the plans I made, my idle time also allowed me to reflect on my own sense of self-importance and need for control.
We have control over some things in life, like leaving the house on time to go to work. We have no control over other happenings: the traffic jams on the Eisenhower or February snowstorms. What we always have control over – if we choose to – is how we respond to what happens to us.
The storm wasn’t an act of God. It was a natural occurrence. The acts of God happen when people responded to challenges given to us by nature with grace, energy, patience and a deepened awareness of who we are.
Tom Holmes has worked in Forest Park since 1982 as a pastor and as a writer. He is grateful that his children grew up in this town and finds inspiration in the personal relationships he has developed with so many.