It’s been 16 years since I was discharged for the U.S. Army. I never had an opportunity to serve my country. Near the end of my basic training, doctors discovered that I had severe asthma. They decided to discharge me, but that’s a story for different day. Despite my failure to complete training, I am forever grateful for the lessons learned at Ft. Leonardwood, Missouri. Chief amongst them was, “Stay alert. Stay alive.”
I am amid a career change to become a Software Engineer. I start a course in early April, but in the meantime, I spend my days studying at the public library. This morning, as I unpacked my bag to get started, an ear-piercing fire alarm began to sound. Bright lights flashed from all angles. A man's voice came over a loudspeaker saying something like, “This is an emergency. Please exit the building in an orderly fashion while we investigate the situation. Do not use the elevators.”
I immediately scanned the environment searching for possible threats. As I made my way to the staircase, I noticed several patrons huddled near the elevators waiting to hitch a ride. A. man passed me on his way into the library. A librarian stopped him saying, “Sir, we have an emergency alarm sounding. I’m going to have to ask you to leave the building.”
“Oh. I hadn’t noticed,” was his reply.
Hadn’t noticed? Really? “It’s a wonder this guy survived to adulthood with such a lack of situational awareness,” I thought to myself. Then, as I exited the building, I noticed several dozen people leaning up against the library’s external wall. Let’s assume the library was on fire. Is that the best place to plant yourself?
I guess it’s like they say, “Common sense isn’t common.” Perhaps these folks are in a state of Zen where they calmly accept whatever destiny throws their way, but my guess is they’re focused on something other than the present moment. I get it. There’s a lot to pay attention to these days, but if you can’t respond to a potentially life-threatening emergency alarm, do you even notice the little things in life? Are you present for your interactions with loved ones? Are you really doing your best at work?
I could write a long post about mindfulness and meditation here, but I need to get to studying. Let's start small. Stay alert. Stay alive. If you can’t get that right, there’s no hope for life’s mundane moments.