Question: Have you ever had a scary experience that opened your eyes about something or that taught you a valuable lesson?
My Answer: It was November 15, 1980. A date I can easily remember because it was my sister P’s wedding day. It was a Saturday morning and I was having to go to Western Kentucky University that day to take the VAT (Veterinary Aptitude Test) which at the time was a required admissions test to get into veterinary school (now I believe they take the GRE). They were calling for snow that day in Bowling Green and my dad decided he was driving me to Kentucky just in case the roads became slick and hazardous. Even though I was 21 years old, he was still very protective of my sisters and me and didn’t want us driving in inclement weather. I recall it flurried on most of the drive up and the closer we got to Bowling Green, the harder it snowed. We got to the campus to a near empty parking lot and it was blustery cold with gusts of wind blowing snow in our faces as we walked to the building where the test was to be administered. The campus and building seemed deserted. I remember even wondering if perhaps the test had been cancelled. We found the building unlocked and my dad and I got in the elevator to go to the floor where I was to take the test.
The doors to the elevator closed and we no sooner started moving, then bam! TOTAL DARKNESS. All became deathly quiet. All I remember is how very dark it was in that elevator. I literally couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. We had lost power. I was already nervous beforehand – nervous that the weather was going to keep us from getting back home. Nervous I was going to miss my own sister’s wedding of which I was her Maid of Honor. Nervous as all get out about this VAT which was notoriously difficult. Nervous that if I performed poorly on this test, that it would keep me out of veterinary school. Now this! All I could think of when the power went out, was that my father and I were stuck in a building with very few people (if any) in it, with no heat and in a snow storm. For how long? Would we not be found until Monday morning when classes resumed? My father, being the calm and collect jet pilot that he was, kept his head on his shoulders. He calmly pulled out a matchbook from his pocket and lit one match. It provided enough light for him to be able to find the emergency button on the elevator panel. He pushed it. Nothing. He pushed it again. Nothing. So much for THAT emergency button! That’s when I panicked. My heart was pounding and my respirations were rapid. I wanted out of that elevator and I was going to get out and I told my father so. I felt for the “seam” of the doors with my hands and with all my might, I began to force the doors apart. I vaguely remember my dad telling me to just calm down, that everything was going to be okay. My adrenaline must have been really pumping, because I got those doors open. As luck would have it, we were stuck between floors. We called out for help, but there was nobody. We waited a while. It seemed we were the only two people in the building that day. It was just so quiet and scary. And dark. My dad hoisted me up and out and then he was able to get out himself. We were free. I went on to take my exam without incident that day and the power didn’t come back on until about an hour after I had started. It was still snowing hard when we left the campus. My dad had been pretty quiet on most of the drive home. It was when we were about halfway home, that he really “let me have it.” He scolded me for how I had “lost my cool” in the elevator. He gave me a lecture I will NEVER forget about the need to remain calm in an emergency situation, how panicking gets you absolutely nowhere, blah, blah, blah. He told me in the future that I MUST stay calm if I ever find myself in a similar situation so that I can rationally think things through. At first, I felt a little defensive (well, o.k…. a lot defensive). While he was chiding me, my little brain was thinking, “Well, EXCUSE me for not having the emergency/fighter pilot training skills that all jet pilots (like yourself) have gone through!” But luckily I stopped myself and really listened to what he was saying. At that moment (thankfully) I saw the situation for what it truly was. Here was a loving parent who was trying to teach his daughter who he cared about, a valuable lesson about life. And he was absolutely right. I HAD panicked and yes, I HAD NOT been able to think calmly and clearly.
I think of that cold November morning when I was stuck in that elevator with my dad a lot. That was one lesson that I have never, EVER forgotten.
What about you? Care to share a story about a scary time that taught you something very valuable?