Tuesday, July 31, 2012

The Unthinkable

I'm addicted to books. Which is an expensive addiction when you live overseas and don't have a local library. But, now that we're back state side you can find me at the library scouring the new arrivals shelf and hoarding armfuls of books. I'm particularly enamoured with non-fiction, especially anything about psychology or sociology. A couple of weeks ago at the self checkout, which is deceiving, because my youngest insists on completing this full-service-not-self-service-checkout-task for me, I spotted an intriguing title. The Unthinkable: Who survives when disaster strikes and why. Intrigued, I had to pile it atop my already looming stack.

I didn't think about it at the time. How timely reading this book is after the Waldo Canyon Fire. Maybe because I hadn't make that connection yet. So, it was put in its place in the reading queue in my head. Which happened to be right after another book on writing. But, before I got to it, the unthinkable happened. The Aurora shootings. Unfortunately, reading this book had gotten even more timely. And I re-prioritized it.

After the flames crested the ridge in the Waldo Canyon Fire and we were evacuating, I was struck by something. The complete lack of panic. There were people who weren't evacuating at all, but instead climbed on their roofs in the pseudo-night sky the smoke created while it rained ash to catch of glimpse of the inferno. And to take pictures. The traffic exiting out of neighborhoods threatened by the flames was overtly polite and orderly. And I remember thinking how completely bizarre it all was. Surely, this wasn't a typical reaction to an impending threat such as this. But, as it turns out, I was wrong. It is.

It's one of a few powerful coping mechanisms humans have. It's coping's powerful first responder. Denial. Not that I would know anything about denial. Because I was lounging at the pool without any bags packed staring at the crest of the ridge when it happened. Taking the picture at the top of the post. That was before fear set in and I realized I had no gas in my car. Yikes. I didn't know it at the time but, but statistically fire is by far the greatest threat and claims more lives than any other disaster. Yeah, I didn't know either. In a world full of other more blockbuster-worthy threats, who think fire? And though there seem to be so many cataclysmic events the world over, your chances of actually being in one? They're extremely small.

But knowing what to do in the event that tragedy does strike close to home is good because it actually decreases your stress. Again, I know. Counterintuitive right? And even though we can't predict what our behavior will be in crisis, as that's far more primal than we may realize. Having a larger hippocampus in your brain naturally increases your risk of survival. If you don't happen to know the size of your hippocampus or what the hell it does, you can increase your chances of surviving a disaster by reading the book. (And by not wearing high heels.)

But I thought the greater point to the whole book was this.
In a world where there are so many things beyond our control that stress us out, why do we have blinders on to the really imminent threats of our mortality?

1. Heart disease
2. Cancer
3. Stroke

Statistically, these are the 3 things most likely to kill you and the ones you love. And you can reduce your risk to all 3 by eating a healthy diet, exercising and not smoking. Slap on some sunscreen and you've got 4. Don't let the unthinkable happen to you.

(And don't deny it, yes, I'm talking to you.)

Recommended reading: THE UNTHINKABLE by Amanda Ripley

Next in the reading queue in my head: COSETTE'S TRIBE by Leah Griffith


Leah Griffith said...

Wow, denial. Who would have thought;) I'm trying to imagine you lying by the pool while the world turns to ash. I imagine the moment when the little light bulb above your wet head glows with the realization that you have no gas and that in order to escape—you need gas!

LOL! I remember when I was living on the Island of St. Croix and Hurricane Hugo, a strong cat 4, was bulldozing through the Caribbean islands. What was I doing? Making potato salad and chatting on the phone. I had no fear or urge to flee. The next day we crawled from the belly of our demolished shelter, so grateful just to be alive. Our home was gone, but then again so was most of the island. That experience taught me a lot. It continues to teach me.

I need to wear more sunblock;)

The Loerzels said...

Wow! What a story! Oh, I finally got your book in the mail today. I'm so excited to read it!

Blissed-Out Grandma said...

I need to learn more about the hippocampus. I've heard it really shapes our world view.

Cerebrations.biz said...

Loved the post, the direction- and the mission. Thanks for sharing...

Chantel said...

Adding to my reading list....and very grateful I don't wear heels!


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