I am no stranger to suspenseful times at work. They do not always end as I would like.
-I showed up to my work site on 9/11. They sent me home. The fear was that a plane would be aimed at a nearby building and it would fall on us.
-A pizza shop next to my store had a violent incident take place. The blood found its way to our door. As did the trauma.
-A few years ago, protestors (or, depending on who you ask, rioters or anarchists) broke store windows and came in overnight. We learned to watch marchers with a wary eye.
Perhaps I am being coached. Maybe my resistance still needs to be strengthened. More. Let more chaos come to my door.
Recently, my coworkers were about to have our morning huddle. We were going to talk about what was happening that day and how our numbers looked. Before all the crew members had assembled, the supervisors moved us from an almost all-glass space to a different room and shut us in.
We were informed that there was activity nearby. Fire. Police. Gas station. Explosion.
Hardly the words that one wants to hear before the day gets started. My response was to think, “Oh. Okay.” No freaking out. No panic. A simple acceptance of facts. No emotions. Only, “Oh. Okay.”
I had already started pondering what had happened and how it affected me. I pictured a gas station next door, ablaze. I carried things out to the conclusion that people were running from infernos, but our location was still okay.
Ten minutes later, we were called into another meeting. All staff on hand were corralled. We were told that the police department had asked us to not open for business yet. We were confined to buildings with no windows in them. Coworkers that were en route were told not to come. The outside was not safe. We were to go into lockdown. Other job sites nearby did the same.
Again, my assumption was terrorism. “Some people just want to watch the world burn.” “There is no bargaining with terrorists.” Crazy people want to shake things up, set things on fire, and the more people they can scare, the better. I believe that everyone there was picturing destruction and malice on a grand scale.
A boss suggested that we all take a deep breath. We were asked if we had any questions. That was when my Quaker side kicked in.
The big, fancy, Apostle Paul thing to do would have been to pray. Loudly. Boldly. To cast out fear and proclaim that Jesus was Lord of all and that the fires, neither of Hell nor of this earth, could possibly lick at those that were protected by the Mighty Lamb. Amen!
…that is not me. God has not gifted me in that way. I am a follower of the, “Preach all the time; use words when necessary” –school of theology. I pondered the praying for the group option. Another, softer approach came to mind.
“Hey. This may be too personal, but I’m a lifelong Quaker. Church elder. So, if you want someone to pray with or just someone who is calm, you can come find me. I love you all. Just an offer.”
I could feel the awkwardness just about to sneak in. Thirty to forty people that I work with hearing that offer. It was personal. Clearly. And how does one respond to that?
Thankfully, a long-time cohort broke the quiet.
“I had never known that about you, but that makes total sense.”
Apparently, I come across as Quakerly. (And elderly? Hmm.) Then, because my voice is rather spiffy, folks chimed in that I should utter calming things with my voice; delve into some books on tape.
I did not feel needed in that space. I went to where it was quiet. I climbed into an area that is so low, no one ever goes there. I sat on the floor that was almost six stories below the surface. I sat. And I prayed.
I prayed for peace. I prayed for my coworker whose grandfather was dying in a hospital bed several states away. I prayed for peace for my coworkers that felt frayed by the terror around them. I prayed for the mislead person that was setting off the explosions. I prayed that peace would win the day.
Groups of customers started to arrive and others worked to hurry them inside. We kept indoors as much as we could. We went about things in an effort to keep busy. An hour later, the police gave us the all-clear signal.
What had happened was not what I thought had happened. There was one individual. He happened to live near a gas station. He had been playing with fireworks. The fireworks exploded. He injured himself in the explosion. No one else. Nothing else. The gas station was fine. No babies were crying in the streets. No thick grey smoke threatened the horizon. There were no special task forces hurriedly assembled to track down the terrorists. I did not have to be this person, even if I was willing to.
Ten years ago, last Saturday was the Boston Marathon bombing. I have an idea what could have happened around my coworkers. Instead, nothing happened. Instead, it was another normal day, but with an interesting beginning. Instead, I was given peace.
No one came to me seeking counseling from a deathly situation. No relatives had to be called or consoled. I went about my day. In peace.
I do not really care how that peace came about. If it was because God answered my prayer, great. If it was because the world decided not to go down that rabbit hole on that day, great. I prayed for something. I received the hoped-for result. The “how” was not as important to me as the peaceful ending.
The madmen of the world might get me tomorrow. I may find a new situation where fear is a perfectly rational response. And if that happens, I will pray. No matter what, we pray.