I once heard the story of a man whose house caught on fire.
He sat solemnly with composure as the awareness of his misfortune grew.
I’ve also seen tears expel from a twentysomething woman amidst an accident who only broke a nail.
Some have reacted in utter despair while picking up the pieces after the loss of a lover, while others have projected a similar reaction over the loss of a credit card.
I, myself, have been guilty of unruly behavior in moments that weren’t the slightest bit extreme. I’ve also been accused of being eerily calm in situations that were nothing short of disturbing.
When our panic button is pressed, the alarm won’t always produce the same modulation.
There’s an episode of The Twilight Zone that has really stuck with me. A man is having a party, and it’s interrupted by the warning of an impending nuclear attack. The man had worked with great effort to build a shelter to support him and his family during a time like this—he was prepared. Although he had warned his neighbors to do the same, they never listened.
Panic emanated amongst the neighbors, and they begged the man to let them stay in his shelter. He explained to them that the shelter only had enough oxygen and supplies for him and his family. They refused to accept it and proceeded to break into his house and his refuge. Finally, there was news that the attack was a false alarm.
The neighbors were ashamed and embarrassed and repeatedly apologized for their actions. One even offered to pay for the damages.
The man replied with much devastation,
“Damages? I wonder if any one of us has any idea what those damages really are. Maybe one of them is finding out what we’re really like when we’re normal. The kind of people we are just underneath our skin. Many of us are a lot of naked, wild animals who put such a price on staying alive that they’ll claw at their neighbors just for the privilege. We were spared a bomb tonight, but I wonder…I wonder if we weren’t destroyed—even without it.”
These words from Rod Serling are something that is worth noting, especially amidst the chaos witnessed every day.
The next time our panic button goes off—when we rush to say that we were triggered and our actions were fully justified—when we find ourselves reacting similarly to that of the neighbors in the story, let’s try to remember those words.
Let’s attempt to heal who we truly are (or are capable of becoming) underneath the skin.