Conversations For Transformation: Essays Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

Conversations For Transformation

Essays By Laurence Platt

Inspired By The Ideas Of Werner Erhard

And More

A Visceral Twinge Of Fear

Bel Aire Plaza, Napa, California, USA

October 8, 2019

This essay, A Visceral Twinge Of Fear, with Still Standing Still and Enlightenment In The Danger Zone, is the sequel to a trilogy on the North Bay Firestorm:
  1. What You Can't Live Without
  2. Flames In My Rearview Mirror
  3. Repainting Life On A (Suddenly) New Canvas
in that order.

If you've ever stared close-up in shocked disbelief at the flames and the gigantic, sooty cloud of smoke a wildfire produces (the "Carr" fire of July 2018 in Redding California became known aptly as a "fire-nado", given the jaw-dropping spectacle it generated in the sky), you know what it is to have experienced a visceral twinge of fear  (if not abject terror, depending on your proximity to it) that's automatic for us humans when our survival is really threatened (and even imaginarily threatened).

It was the much closer (right on my doorstep actually - literally)  North Bay firestorm of November 2017 that changed many things for me, which is to say it prompted me to re-assess many things - from how much "stuff" I own, 50% of which I subsequently discarded (derived when considering what I should select to save, given that in the worst case scenario, I would not be able to save it all) to whether or not I should own a house again (derived when considering the possibility of the one I rent being consumed by fire). But even all that eventually passed, and for the next two years life continued on again as normal and as ordinary as it could possibly be.

And then one day last week, almost two years to the month later, I was up at one of my favorite outposts in the Napa Valley atop the north east hills, when I looked south down the valley, and saw that unmistakable ominous cloud of smoke from a new wildfire, rising and expanding rapidly into the blue sky of a clear day.

My first thought, tinged with sheer incredulity and disbelief, was "Oh (expletive deleted), here we go again ...". Again, that visceral twinge of fear, again that automatic, autonomic response to danger, to threat, to survival that's endemic for all human beings. Fortunately that particular fire was stopped even before it really got started, given the readiness of the now always alert fire-fighting teams who've learned the bitter consequences of not being pro-active enough, from the North Bay firestorm and the "Carr" fire and other infernos. Then about a week later PG&E  (Pacific Gas & Electric) the local utility company, shut off power to hundreds of thousands of customers in the San Francisco Bay Area out of an abundance of caution: tree-lashed power lines could spark wildfires in the windy, bone-dry extreme fire conditions.

Was that the best solution? Was it even necessary? Who knows?! I don't know. The debate rages on. A few things became clear to me though, the first of which is how civilization pivots on readily available electricity and running water (and given my water comes from a well which deploys an electric pump, no electricity means being without running water too). Without electricity and running water, it's readily apparent that civilization as we know it, would never have become what we now know it to be. Nonetheless, if shutting off the power is indeed a valid safeguard against wildfires, I would gladly do without a month's worth or more of showers if it means even one family's home isn't reduced to ash (in contrast, all the three-day-long outage imposed on me was being without WiFi and having my icecream melt).

And then there's the value  of the situation. Yes, the value - if you can bring yourself to see it that way. You may have no control whatsoever over 50-foot flames threatening to sweep over your neighborhood. Yet the the extreme nature of the situation also serves as a reminder of your choice of who you're going to be  in the face of such disastrous circumstances. Like a coin, it's two-sided: on the one side is a visceral twinge of fear; on the other is who you choose to be in the face of it.

Two years ago the North Bay firestorm erupted just as I was about to fly to Cancun Mexico to be with Werner in the Leadership Course. I envisioned the very real likelihood I would arrive in Cancun in blackened jeans and T-shirt, reeking of woodsmoke, passport in hand, and nothing else. When I did eventually arrive in Cancun, I actually did have fresh clothes to wear. In Cancun we spoke leadership, not the firestorm which I'd left behind me, to be seen only in my rear-view mirror. But I didn't have to speak about it in Cancun. Its remnants and aftermath would, I knew, be waiting for me to manage when I returned home.

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© Laurence Platt - 2019 Permission