A few days ago, I was on a camping trip with my partner and kids, sleeping in our tent, and a 1,000 lb oak tree branch fell onto the tent. Miraculously, no one was even bruised.
It’s difficult to process what happened. If we had been in almost any other position, if the tent had been set up a few inches this way or that, would would have been severely injured. If, in the seconds when the cracking sound started to wake me up, I had stood up, it would have been much worse. If our friend who heard the branch start to break and had time to shine a flashlight and watch it swing and fall, if he had tried to get us out, he would have been severely hurt.
The most amazing thing about this experience is that we were safe before we knew to be afraid. We had people from all the neighboring campsites immediately there checking and helping. We had our dear friends tearing open the tent, helping to pick up my kids in safe arms, and whisking us into their tent before the crowd even knew who we were.
We had a nurse in the next campsite run with her phone until she got enough reception to call 911.
It’s hard to describe what this safety means. I was safe in the very moments when it was dawning on me that this was traumatic, that our lives were more important than my first petty thought: “Why are people ripping my tent it’ll cost me $300 to replace!!!”
I had my friends helping me with what was most important to my kids. That my toddler have a safe place to stay asleep. That my daughter not be surrounded by a crowd of strangers, but instead whisked into privacy and safety with her friend by her side. She felt safe and comfortable so quickly that she is really okay, inside and out. So safe that she is 100% in favor of camping again as soon as possible.
I have been working hard, especially in the last several months, to listen to my body. To honor my feelings of safety or of fear, to do what feels right. To fill my life with people who feel safe, who are kind. Which means that when something like this happens, I can handle it because I have support.
There was a family nearby us. They seemed to be having fun overall, but one member of the family had been pushy and disrespectful since our arrival at our campsite the day before. He set up tents almost in our site, and then when I asked him to give us space he declared that the invisible line he had decided on was the end of our site. I didn’t want conflict, so I let that go.
This disrespectful person was quickly at the scene when the tree fell, and helping. But then he wouldn’t step back. He told us to get checked by a medic, and even when we said we would and the medics were arriving he kept pushing this. I had to summon up energy to stand up to him, in the middle of not being able to process what happened, and tell him to go away so that my daughter would not have to have a crowd witnessing her medical exam. Even then he talked over me and I had to say it again with even more strength.
But that was it. That was the only time I had to grab hold of extra energy to stand up to someone and deal with someone else’s fear and aggression. Because otherwise we were with our friends who are safe.
I am so glad that I have learned to set boundaries, so that for the most part I am surrounded by people who feel safe and kind and lift me up. I am so glad that my energy can go to reflecting on what happened, appreciating my children’s vibrancy and laughter, and holding on to my partner. Because of the self-help and healing work I have done in the last several months, I will be healthier in the long run. I will be better able to handle emergencies.
We have so many ways that we are told we “should.”
We should stay in close contact with our family of origin–even if they are emotionally abusive. People say, what if you need them someday in an emergency? But I found that in this emergency moment, I needed the people who hold me up. Who fill me up. Who know me and respect me. Who fully respect my kids and already know how to help them, so that in an emergency I don’t have to also be an advocate for my kid.
I have been working hard the last several months on learning about emotional abuse, on therapy and healing, on learning on how to be a kinder person in the world. And I am so glad.
Before this happened, I had spent the day reading Joanna Macy and Anita Barrow’s translation of Rilke’s Sonnets to Orpheus and Duino Elegies: their book In Praise of Mortality. At the end of their introduction, Barrows and Macy sum up the kind of Buddhist approach to mortality they found in Rilke with these beautiful words:
In the face of impermanence and death, it takes courage to love the things of this world and to believe that praising them is our noblest calling. . .It is a courage born of the ever-unexpected discovery that acceptance of mortality yields an expansion of being. In naming what is doomed to disappear, naming the way it keeps streaming through our hands, we can hear the song that streaming makes. Our view of reality shifts from noun to verb. We become part of the dance. (23)
My goal now is to feel the sand streaming through my fingers and hear that song. This experience was an immense and reverberating reminder to feel and listen. This tree was majestic and I’m glad I spent some time gazing up at it’s reach.