The NASHVILLE TORNADO; How Dr. Pepper Saved My Life

Having lived over a decade of my life in the Mid-West, I had heard all sorts of stories about the odd happenings during a tornado; the “freight train”, whole houses lifted intact and sat back down, playing cards splicing half way into light poles, etc. So, when my family moved back to Tennessee, I just thought that was all behind me, we were no longer in “Tornado Alley”.

Twenty years ago today, I recall I left a little early to make it to a per-marrital counseling session with my pastor and fiancé, now my wife, Hannah. As I left the State office building in Nashville where I worked, I noticed how gray and bleak the skies were. I didn’t think much of it, because it wasn’t raining… how bad can it be? You will realize in this story, just how slow on the uptake I was that day.

Nashville-TN-Tornado-4-16-1998I got in my car, put in a CD, and left the State parking lot on Charlotte Avenue to make my way back to Murfreesboro. As I pulled under the I-40 overpass, I noticed the red light was swinging violently in the wind. The idea of a tornado never crossed my mind; after all, it was Tennessee! As I sat there, I noticed several other cars lining up behind me as we waited for the light to change. Then I watched as a plastic box fly by which was followed by a tree branch about four feet long. I still had no idea what was happening but remember thinking; “Wow, this is going to be a really bad wind storm, I better protect my car”. Realizing other motorist would like the relative safety of being under an overpass; I ran the red light, bypassed the on-ramp, and gunned it to the gas station across the street. No way was I going to have flying debris hit my car on the interstate. I would go to the convenient store, get a Dr Pepper and just wait it out.

I parked near the carport to protect my car from this “wind storm”. As I opened the car door, I was struck by how hard it was to open my door. I STILL didn’t understand this was a pressure issue, I just thought it was heavy wind pushing against my car but when I got out, I was stunned at how little wind there actually was. I noticed there was a lady who was apparently trapped in her car next to me. I went over to her and pulled on the door handle as she pushed. Together we were able to get her out. I stated “I don’t blame you for waiting out this storm”. Apparently, she was actually listening to the news on the car radio, because she gave me a funny look.

We went in the gas station and there was a man who appeared to be of Indian decent ushering us into the back storeroom. I asked him, “Do you think it’s going to be that bad and can I get a Dr Pepper first?” To which he replied in a thick accent; “Get in the storeroom!” I had stopped here for a soft drink several times before and this reaction was very uncharacteristic for him, so I responded “Okay”. After all, I didn’t want to upset him more than he was already. I guessed his fear was broken glass from tree branches and other debris hitting the windows.

The shopkeeper and I were the last to enter the narrow cinder block room, where to my surprise there were about half a dozen other people all facing forward. I guess a lot of other people had the same idea I had. It was deathly quiet in the tiny space, except for me humming and rolling back and forth on the balls of my feet, waiting this thing out. It was a lot like being in an elevator with strangers waiting for the doors to open. Then the lady I helped out of the car asked “Did anyone hear WHERE the tornado was on the radio?” Several people shook their heads in silence. “Tornado, where?” I thought. This was Tennessee, we don’t HAVE tornadoes. “There’s a tornado in the area” I asked her. She nodded in silence.

Then out of the silence, I heard a hum NOT from me. Roarrrr, roarrrrr, roarrrrrrrr. It’s a cliché, but I could hear the whistle of a freight train blowing in the distance at different intervals. Having a better understanding of the gravity of the situation from those who were listening to the news a few minutes before I made a profound announcement; “I hope the tornado doesn’t hit that train.” Two or three people looked over their shoulder to me and gave me a look as if to say; “You moron!”

Once the “train” had moved on, we all made our way out of the small storage space. As I041698map stepped into the main room of the filling station, I could see all the chip bags, candy bars and aspirin bottles had leaped from the shelves and were now on the floor. The windows however, were still intact. No explanations for that other than odd happenings occur in a tornado. I realized the poor store clerk would be cleaning up this mess for hours, so I felt it was a bad time to ask for a Dr. Pepper.

Fortunately, my car was not hit by any of the storm debris but the shop across the street was a mess. As I drove up the interstate on-ramp, I looked over to the other side and saw not one, but two semi trucks knocked over on their sides. Several other cars were pushed into the ditch. It was complete mayhem. That’s the point at which it finally stuck me; I was actually IN the tornado! Had I not been in that little storeroom, I could have been killed.

Each year on this day, I run the scenario over again. Though my car and a soft drink were the only things on my mind, I behaved pretty well. I did at least have consideration for other motorist behind me, I helped a lady into the store and had empathy for the shopkeeper. I’m not patting myself on the back; all I wanted was a Dr Pepper to wait out a storm. But what if I had listened to the weather report instead of the Stone Temple Pilots that day? How would I (or any of us) have reacted if the exact same conditions were under the banner of “natural disaster”? Labels can make people react in funny ways. Would I have told the shopkeeper “Don’t tell me what to do”? Would I have helped the woman out of her car? Would I have taken the attitude of “I was here first” for the cars not under the overpass? I guess in my situation, ignorance is bliss.

 

 

Where Are Your New Year’s Resolutions?

Well, how have you done so far? We are well into the year. Are you well into  your goals? Do you even remember what they were? Be honest. No, my intention is not to pour salt into an open wound, but merely to pose a very simple question; Where are your New Years resolutions? We put a lot of stock in our dreams, and we give a lot of significance to the plans we make for achieving them, but do those plans actually move us closer to where we want to be in life.

According to a recent article in Forbes Magazine, only 8% of Americans actually achieve their resolutions. Yikes! Statistically, speaking (92% to be exact) I will NOT achieve my year-end goals. Now what? Anything but admit defeat! I know… I can “kick start” my goals anew. Re-energize my vision. Re-discover my purpose. Re-align my chakras. Maybe get in touch with my inner child?

What is a “goal” anyway? It’s a dream we write down on a piece of paper to make us feel like we have accomplished something, or that we’re at least on our way. It’s something we can tangibly hold in our hands in lieu of the actual situation. And as soon as that ink on paper becomes a reality, we’ll be happy. We post it on our bathroom mirror to remind us of it every morning, or better yet place it in our purse or wallets so we can review it a few times a day.  In short, we get a certain short-term satisfaction for having done something positive that day. We begin to take charge of our lives! Sadly, reviewing our little wish lists, is NOT taking action.

A world-famous motivational speaker once said “set the type of goals that excite you to get out of the bed in the morning”.  Of course, you could scrap those goals all together, and simply BECOME the person you want to be. That’s right, simply take on the disciplines and behaviors of the top sales rep in your company, act as if you were already regional manager, or someone who has already lost 50 pounds. We can incorporate the aspects of a positive personality TODAY, and that will get us to where we want to be a whole lot faster than a slip of paper. In order for us to redesign our lives, it’s going to take… wait for it… CHANGE. If we’re being honest with ourselves, the average human, not coming out of some sort of traumatic experience, simply does not want to change. There’s too much work involved, and we have to look at the not so positive habits currently in our lives. I think we avoid change not only out of complacency, but more the fact that change today is to admit we were WRONG yesterday.

Thomas Edison didn’t create hundreds of inventions because he ran on a treadmill, made solid hedge fund investments, nor because he got out of bed any earlier. In fact, he was well known for taking naps. He made the world a brighter place simply because he was, well, Thomas Edison. He accomplished all he wanted not by wishing on a star, or waiting for his ship to come in, or win it big in the lottery. He just did what the inventor of the light bulb WOULD do to achieve success. He failed hundreds of times just on this one endeavor, but he continued to change, alter, and modify the process. He was flexible, and not afraid to admit he failed along the way. There was a passion inside who he was that he would never find on a sticky note.

Where are your new years resolutions? If they are nowhere in sight, don’t worry, you can essentially achieve them today. You just have to become a little better version of yourself and do things outside of your comfort zone, that includes admitting failures along the way.  If you’re in the magic 8%, far be it from me to pour cold water on your endeavors. Go get ’em!  But you better hurry, it will soon be October, and I will ask you the same question again.

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You Are Out of Control!

This past year, a recurring theme in the Sunday School Class of my wife and mine, has been that of “control”. At no point have any of the lessons contained the word in its title, but in analyzing the root cause for relationship issues, lack of humility, unhappiness at work, or just plain being a curmudgeon, the “C” word keeps popping up.

I’m a self-confessed ‘control freak’, just ask my wife, or the other two people in my family to which I issue commands. It’s not that I think everyone should use their turn signals each and every time they change lanes, but rather that they just need to stay home if they don’t intend to do so. That makes perfect sense to me; freedom of choice. Abide by my way of how things should be done, or stay at home! In fact, the world would be a much better place if every inhabitant subscribed to my rules of the road, believed the way I do, joined my Political Party, and enjoyed Indian cuisine. Yes, six billion clones of Blaine Little would make the world a better place… for me.

Awakening from my dream-state, I realize that will never happen. I will never have the honor of issuing an edict providing for the backs of hands to be smacked by a ruler should they not pull the little lever on the steering column. Children will never stop doing things that embarrass their Controlparents, and parents will never stop doing things that embarrass their children. Though, I do savor the opportunities to make my kids cringe.

What we are all chasing, that to which we all feel entitled, is control. Control of society, the political process, our family, our work, and even from time to time, God Himself. Oh yes, we like to espouse what God would or would not do. Well, it’s a good thing none of us are Him. Corporate CEO’s, Generals, and Doctors all look good in their respective articles of clothing, but none of them are in control. They just want you to think they have it all figured out, which is the reason for suit, uniform, and lab coat. The harsh reality is none of us are in control. We never were. I will not even go so far as to say we are only in control of ourselves… because we’re not.

Attempting to gain control is a futile exercise which ends in anguish. It’s a workshop on self defeatism. Putting our hands on those things in our environment in order to change the course in which our circumstances lie is like teaching a cat to fetch a stick. Well, have you ever tried it? All you do is wind up aggravating yourself; I have the blood pressure pills to prove it.

What we really want is; peace, love, happiness, and a certain amount of satisfaction in our work. Here’s the irony; we don’t need control for ANY of those things! We can find peace by knowing God is in control, and living the way He would truly have us to live our lives. We can start by “loving our neighbor”. Some will even love us back. We can find happiness in our family, so long as we are willing to accept all their imperfections. We can feel satisfied by taking the right attitude into work with us.

Good things will inevitably come our way, but if we hold on so tight to things in our present, we will completely miss the opportunities of the future. The sooner we stop trying to gain control, the sooner we can just start living. Perhaps they just didn’t make turn signals on that model of car.

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