In the middle of the night
“I think I understand
Fear is like a wilderland
Stepping stones or sinking sand”
– Joni Mitchell
Early in my career during a whole-house renovation, it became clear that the Victorian carpenters did a less than adequate job supporting the center structure of this house; the floor was not level and the difference grew greater the higher up we went.
This was a BIG house; the floor beams could not span foundation-to-foundation. The ends of the beams rested on a series of girders and posts – eventually sitting on inadequate footings in the basement. These footings were nothing but a few stacked stones in the dirt floor.
The owners had decided to build a garage in this basement; to do so required the installation of steel girders and posts on a new, properly proportioned foundation of piers. AND they made this decision AFTER we had COMPLETED the upper four floors. Needless to say, we could not crack the finished, painted walls.
Whoa! I had never done anything like this before.
I called the local steel fabrication company for help. The engineer arrived, made calculations and prescribed the solution. I ordered the steel … but there was a hitch. We needed to temporarily support the entire load of the house on 4×4 posts sitting on top of bottle jacks. At the time, I had some very talented, but equally inexperienced help. We proceeded with great care to study EXACTLY where the loads fell.
“Overkill” is the word I would use to describe our preparation. Eventually we installed at least twenty temporary posts and beams on plank bases, tightening the bottle jacks and bracing everything we could think of. We dug and poured the new footings in preparation for the steel delivery the following week.
This whole process was nerve-wracking, challenging my confidence as a young builder.
Late one sleepless night, my concerns reached a fevered crescendo.
I got out of bed, got dressed, told Annie I’d be back. I cranked up the van – and with flashlight in hand – went down to Old Vic to check it out.
Going down to the basement I found everything exactly as I’d left it. What a relief! I tapped on the 4x4s – adjusted the tension on a few – just to put my blessings on the house. I then stood listening to the predawn silence.
This wasn’t the last time the night fears have hit me.
All professionals know this mid-night state of mind. In the growth cycle of learning, we expand our knowledge and experience by taking on new challenges. It comes with the territory. I have learned to use herbal and flower essence remedies to calm my mind and sooth my restless spirit as it wanders in this wilderland. My confidence, competence, and most importantly – my track record – empower my actions with certainty as I travel down my path.
Fear is a cumulative phenomenon.
I wrote this essay as a Category One hurricane bore down on the entire east coast. We knew “Sandy” was coming for five or six days in advance based upon the statistical models of the storm track. Here at home we lost power for seven days and publishing this article was not possible.
We nestled into our warm, safe house. We took down our wind chimes, put the summer furniture away, chopped some firewood, purchased some extra canned goods. We sent a prayer to those less fortunate …
As I sat at the table looking out at the yard, I could see that the squirrels, birds, and chipmunks knew a storm was coming. It is their natural way to hunker down and ride it out in their nests and burrows.
The map of Hurricane Sandy clearly called for thoughtful preparation. Yet, I don’t necessarily believe everything I hear in the news. We are assaulted by an endless barrage of fear propagated by mass media; I liken it to a form of mind control designed to keep our fight-and-flight adrenal response in a constant state of readiness. What do you do? Perhaps, believe a small percentage of the news and let your intuitive, experience-based inner guidance embrace your emotional state with a veil of calm.
Rational, healthy minds control knee-jerk response by careful, thoughtful, knowledgeable action.
At Old Vic, I needed to get up in the middle of the night and go SEE the posts in that basement to begin to learn to trust my instincts. There was no pill to substitute for the real thing: knowledge.
I tell the young carpenters “forewarned is forearmed.” I do so not to stress them out but rather to teach them to think ahead, keep their minds on the goal, be competent, but not paranoid.
If I had become paralyzed by fear, that steel girder would never have been successfully installed … at least not by me.