3 Questions for Alarming Times

Last week, I had my first in-person meeting since the pandemic began. I’m a writer in Montgomery, Alabama, and I headed downtown for article interview. Everything went fine until I returned home to discover that my house alarm was blaring.

The problem was compounded by the fact that I could not turn it off. The keypad didn’t work. This was a full system breakdown, and I didn’t know how to pull the plug on the alarming noise filling my home.

Clearly, the writing assignment would have to wait.

I called my security company for help. The over-the-phone recommendations didn’t help. The rep pulled a tech off another job and sent him to my place to deactivate the alarm.

So my cat and I were there in the house for about 30 minutes while the alarm blared. These moments were stressful. I couldn’t think straight. My cat was confused and concerned. All I could do was wait.

When the tech arrived, he was polite, helpful, and efficient. I was relieved that he was there. He detached the wires, but the system was shot. I would need a new one. He returned first thing Monday morning – again, polite, helpful and efficient – and installed my new system.

Naturally, I can make an analogy to being a creative entrepreneur in this era of pandemic.

Sometimes the situation is like standing in the house with the alarm blaring, and I’m looking at the cat and saying “I’m sorry, sweetie, this isn’t easy for either of us.”

In this mode of panic, it’s hard to think straight. It’s hard to be creative. Later, when the house was quiet again, I had an idea: I could have gone to the electrical panel and shut off the power to the circuit that wired the alarm. I didn’t think of it at the time.

That’s what the first weeks of quarantine were like … “I can’t get my hair cut? I can’t go out to lunch? Church is closed for two weeks? I have to cook?”

All of which boiled down to this question: “How will I survive?”

Sometimes the pandemic is like an eternal window of waiting for a service technician. (“We have you on the schedule, and he’ll be there sometime between March and August.” Or: “I wanted to let you know he’s been slightly delayed so it might be January. Sit tight, and we’ll keep you posted.”)

What do you do while waiting? Well, you look around. You ask, “What needs tending to? How can I make use of my time.”

My question moved from “How will I survive?” to “How will I thrive?”

The latter is a better question because it brings more energy. It comes at the problem with more optimism and allows for creative thinking. I did make some choices: publish a novella, launch a podcast, increase my content production and paint my interior walls – all of which have provided a feeling of thriving even as I wait.  

Then there’s the third question.

Sometimes the pandemic is like, “I’m so glad that technician was able to help me.” He was polite, he wore a mask, he gave me plenty of space. And he made the house quiet again. Even in this strange time, he served at a higher level. He did one thing, in fact, that was quite extraordinary. He noticed that the plate for my front door knob had been installed backwards, which meant that I had to turn the knob to close the door.

I hadn’t thought about it. It never occurred to me that this plate, installed last year, had been placed backwards. He offered to switch it around, and I said, “Sure.”

That act represents how I moved to my third question. I’ve gotten through “How will I survive?” I have asked, “How will I thrive?” But the one going forward?

“How can I help others?”

With creative thinking and the energy that comes from a new question, I’m looking forward to discovering lots of new answers.

How about you? What questions are you asking today? Do they allow for creative thinking and renewed enthusiasm? If not, how can you change those questions?