Judy and I have been watching The West Wing for the last couple weeks. (I so love this show. Witty and tight dialogue, characters you love even when you hate them. It's, seriously, the best. And all seven seasons are at your disposal on Ye Olde Netflix. ... Not a paid advertisement, but for real. If you've never seen it, you should. And if you have, you should probably watch it again. I should know, this is my third time through the series in the last year and a half.)
Anyway, Judy and I have been watching TWW, and this afternoon, we hit Episode 20 of Season 5, in which Bartlet and some of his staff come into contact with a powdery pathogen and have to go into lockdown, and it reminded me of the time that we had to evacuate the building at work because we happen to share an office complex with a US Senator who isn't... uh... beloved, exactly, and had received some hate mail with white powder all over it.
I'd left the building earlier that morning to run down to Walgreen's and had just come back with a box of tampons (I thought about cleaning that fact up for the internet, but it's a true story) and a three lb bag of Hershey's kisses. (Also, true. I remember that there was a massive Hershey's display at the register, and a bag of kisses that was the size of a throw pillow? Sign. Me. Up.) I remember pulling up to the bank, walking in through the back door, setting my purse - and my kisses - down on my desk, and... the emergency lights going off inside the building at the same time we heard sirens screaming outside. Staff immediately rushed into the offices with windows facing the courtyard, and we watched as people with hazmat suits walked down the sidewalk and into the main entrance of our office complex.
I remember sitting down at my desk and popping open that bag of kisses, while the blue lights flashed, and chain-eating bite sized pieces of chocolate while we waited to hear what to do next.
Because it was a potential airborne toxin situation, the building shut down the power and killed the AC. For a few minutes, we had to stay on site. (In case of exposure, they needed a headcount of everyone who'd been in the building. You know, in case we all had to get shipped to the same hospital for treatment.) Once the envelopes had been cleared, the bank evacuated employees to our emergency location and we waited for senior management to determine who would be resourced to another office, versus who was able to work from home.
I remember sitting in a plastic chair, with my bag of chocolate in my lap, while my coworkers struggled. Once the immediate threat was gone, people had calmed down. But still, there were a lot of tears. The adrenaline rush was something else, and we had easily a dozen people who were currently displaced. Because the threat had been to a senator's office, we had been asked not to communicate and/or share details with friends and family until such time as the news could break. It was super surreal. Men and women visibly shaken, very emotional, which totally understandable, considering the roller coaster of the morning.
And I just sat there, eating my chocolate.
I was one of the few employees sent to another office for the rest of the day. I remember that afternoon, an employee who worked out of the other branch - the branch I had been temporarily assigned to - came to my desk and asked how I was. I was fine. I was stressed, because I was one person doing the departmental work of four, and I'd lost a couple hours that morning to all of the hullabaloo, but I was fine. She stared, and asked me if, really, I was okay.
And... I was.
I had a bit of a stomachache from all of the chocolate (I ate the entire three lbs in that one work day), but I was fine. I had been fine, all day. I just hadn't realized it until I was pressed for an answer that afternoon.
Because, here's the thing... I already knew that life is fragile. I already lived, every day, knowing that I have very little control in how or when I die.
It's funny. I don't think of that day very often. It's usually an episode of TV, or a movie with some weird hazmat/airborne toxin situation, that takes me back. But that was a defining day, in that it was a day in which I realized that I'd come to terms with how little control I have overead death. ... Not that I want to die, or would walk right into it, because I don't, and I wouldn't. But I'm really glad that I had that super surreal day at work, for the knowledge that I was okay that day, with whatever came next. (I mean, I had three lbs of chocolate. And I'm sure that helped. But still.) That day, I was given a gift, in that I was able to recognize and actually see how living with cancer has helped me roll with the punches. It's not always easy, and it's not - on any level - constant, the acceptance that I have next to zero control in how matters of life and death play out, but I'm grateful for moments in which life (the universe, the Lord) hold up lessons I've already learned and remind me that I'm smarter than I was.