Recently, I've been thinking about fear and when I've been really scared. These are the four scariest situations I've been in.
4. May, 1973, east-central Indiana. I was in Indiana hitch-hiking from California to Ohio. A warm, pleasant morning turned violent in the afternoon — lots of big fast-moving clouds. Some rain, then clear. My previous ride had dropped me off near an exit on I-70 heading east. I had heard on the radio that there was a "tornado watch" for east central Indiana which is where I was. I had been trying to get a ride for about 20 minutes.
Then I saw the dark skies get closer and closer. I was out in the open. I thought to myself, "Something is about to happen, and I'd better get some cover." I ran to a concrete underpass. Maybe 15 seconds later, I saw a tornado funnel drop down only a quarter-mile from where I was. I could feel my heart pounding. It was eerie: this was all happening right in front of me. And then it moved away. Shortly thereafter, I got a ride to Columbus. I was relieved to be heading away from the storm.
3. October 17, 1989, Atherton, California. This was the 7.1 Loma Prieta earthquake in northern California. I've lived in California since 1970, and over the years I've felt many earthquakes. The 4.5s and 5.0s get my attention. The 5.8s and 6.2s make me nervous. But this quake was very scary. It was a little after five o'clock in the afternoon. I was in my office on the second floor of my house. I was standing up at a drafting table doing a design layout. I felt the floor roll, and I thought, "I guess we're having an earthquake." And then it kept rolling, and I thought, "I better get in a doorway," which I did.
After a few more seconds, I felt more shaking and rolling, and I thought, "This is big. I better get out of here and into the open," and I ran outside to my front yard. My heart was pounding. I went next door to see if my elderly neighbors were okay. And then I went to the local soccer field where my wife and young children were participating in a game. We came home immediately and moved all the mattresses into our bedroom. Our power was out. It was a long evening with a number of 6.5 aftershocks. Fortunately, we had little damage to our house.
2. April, 1989, Portland, Oregon. It was late afternoon and I was aboard a 737 airplane. I had done a one-day creativity seminar for a client in Portland. The weather was stormy, but the pilot got the go-ahead to take-off. He said that it wold be a bumpy climb, and he didn't exaggerate. There was lots of turbulence. I could see lightning flashes in the distance.
And then, at an altitude of about 9,000 feet, I heard a very loud explosive "Pop" and the plane shook violently. And then I saw what appeared to be a ball of light travel the length of the fuselage. I looked at the face of the woman across the aisle: she was white. My initial thought was, "Is this it?"
About 30 seconds later, the pilot came on the address system, and said "Don't worry folks, the plane was struck by lightning, but we're fine." After we landed in San Francisco, I stopped to talk with the pilot. He said that a plane getting struck by lightning isn't that rare. The main dangers are: 1) losing your on-board radar; and, 2) having the pilot get temporarily blinded by the light.
1. February, 1986, Washington, D.C. I was in the middle of a 10-city book tour for my second book, "A Kick in the Seat of the Pants." It was about 10 in the morning and I was in my room on the fourth floor of a downtown Washington hotel. I was doing a call in radio interview with a local radio station.
In the distance, I could hear the sounds of sirens from fire trucks. The sounds kept getting louder and louder. Meanwhile, the radio host and I kept talking about my book and creativity in the workplace. Finally, I noticed that the fire trucks had stopped right in front of my hotel. I thought to myself, "This isn't good; I better get out of here." I ended the interview and grabbed my carry-on.
I opened my door to the hallway and there was a lot of smoke in it. I ran for the stairs. The stairwell was smoky as well. I ran down the stairs. In my excitement, I went one floor too far to the basement. When I tried to open the exit door, it was locked. This was scary. Finally, I realized what I had done and went back up one floor. This door did open to the outside. I went out to the street and hailed a cab that took me to Alexandria, Virginia for an 11 o'clock appointment at USA Today. Since that day, I've always made sure I was aware of where the fire exits are in the hotels I stay in.
Of course, each of these situations provided me with a huge rush of adrenaline. But I'd say that the one common feature of these experiences (and others where I've been scared) is that they really cleared my mind. Any mental cobwebs or petty concerns I had were swept away. I felt as though I had survived something, and in the ensuing hours, I experienced a kind of mental clarity.
Question: What has scared you? How did it affect you?