La Coup de Grace

(When Disater Strikes)

by Martin Overby

Life is filled with many surprises and few disasters. Surprises, both good and bad, come in a regular steady stream. Well organized people may experience fewer surprises, yet we live and work with such a mix of people and influences - that our shared existence exposes us to a wider circle of influence than we often recognize. Imagine there was a serious fire at your office, studio or store. The building and contents were lost including business documents, customer references, and the project you spent the last half of the year working on. Insurance covers the equitable losses, but the loss of projects, documents and accounts means layers of work that need to be reconstructed. The disaster is such an upheaval, you are left standing wondering what to do next - life as you knew it is over. The routine you followed is no longer appropriate.

The first sensation of shock and unbelief is common, and the sense of it all being a bad dream is a natural sensation. Like the death of someone, there is no returning to the familiar patterns we expected and unknowingly found comfort in. We may look for someone who could share the experience in some way or to interpret it and address the why of it all. Our nearest and dearest remind us that we ourselves have survived, and possibly point to someone else who has weathered a storm like this before us. Those comforting thoughts sustain us in the long run but are hollow with the immediacy of the event. We yearn for there to be a meaning and, consciously or unconsciously, look for one. Our thoughts revolve around the great loss of it all - recalling all the care, sacrifices and uncounted minutes of our work - perhaps even our passion - erased at a stroke. We are out of our depth and there may not be a friend's solace that can give us perspective. If we think of God, we wonder how He allows this evil to touch us, or perhaps we suspect we deserved it for some unknown reason. We ask God Why?!? - accusingly - and neglect to pause, humble ourselves and listen quietly. Does He oversee all and is there a divine permission in the things we experience?

The drama of the moment overshadows the stress and shock we've experienced. Yet the hidden workings of such a blow may eventually surface in exhaustion or tension. The relief we seek isn't found in escaping the situation through medicine ( aspirin, tranquilizers), travel or distraction ( food ,TV, books etc.). We've experienced a shock that's called into question the basis of our lives, and the value of them. It's not an easy question to answer, nor does it go away though we might cover it by activity. It's important to acknowledge and tend to the physical and psychological suffering that come with disasters, and also be prepared for the greater personal question of who we are - without the things we once had.

We must eventually accept the situation and realize time waits for no one. The responsibility of picking up the pieces comes next and it is often a job few can assist us with. Although no one would wish for a disaster to occur, there is the positive side of rebuilding again with a new foundation. With a blank slate before us and our experience at hand, there is every reason to expect things to be better than before. We can make practical changes in work arrangements, our schedule, the lay out of our business - all positive movements. There will be more work than we expect - consulting with builders, insurers, suppliers and the banker. Rebuilding what's lost will also take longer than we thought. Our question "Is it worth it all?" is tempered by "What are the alternatives?" The worlds' history is filled with besieged peoples starting over again after some great tumult.

The significance of any disaster is the deeply unsettling notion that moth, rust, theft, fire or storm can consume anything. We begin to see that man himself and all his achievements are vulnerable - even frail in the face of dramatic events. Yet what remains after the worst has occurred? - we stand alone as we were when we came into the world. Our greatest achievements might be erased at a stroke, we may leave little inheritance for our offspring and the sum of all our strivings might mount up to nothing at all. If the sense of our temporality leaves us with a feeling of emptiness, we also might sense that somewhere behind it all there is meaning to life we don't fully understand. We are frail but still have a conviction there is something everlasting about life. It may seem like strong medicine, to experience disaster before we begin reflecting on the ends and means of our lives. If disaster with all its troubles brings us to a moment of lucidity in our lives - it's a price worth paying.

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