Suzanne Tobias

In a crisis, you just have to keep on swimming

Unless you're camping beside a scenic mountain brook, rushing water is not a good thing to hear first thing in the morning.

Nor is it a good thing to tell your husband as you rouse him awake at 6 a.m.



"There's... uhh ... a bunch of water ... umm ... spewing from the side of the house. And ... uhhh ... HELP?!!"

A pipe had burst and sent a geyser into the yard beside the kids' rooms. It was still dark when I went outside to fetch the newspaper, but the mysterious squerch-squerch underfoot told me to shift quickly into crisis mode.

Unfortunately for me, crisis mode usually involves pacing like a caged monkey, rubbing my temples, groaning and occasionally cursing.

I'm horrible in crises.

I have friends who deal swiftly and calmly with emergencies — storms, floods, accidents, injuries, all manner of bad news and trying times. They shift into gear. They know numbers to call and crucial bits of information, such as the location of the main water shutoff from the street.

When I broke my leg a few years ago and the medics asked if they could call someone for me, I couldn't remember a single phone number. Not one. I blamed it on shock and pain — or perhaps what they gave me for the pain — but that's not wholly accurate.

Faced with a crisis, I want to roll up, cover my ears, rock back and forth and chant, "Make it go away!"

You know, figuratively.

All right, literally.

But the morning of the flood, I didn't. Not when the water rose past our ankles. Not when the main shutoff failed to shut the water off — DEAR GOD, IT DIDN'T SHUT THE WATER OFF!! —and we had to search the yard for another valve. Not when our friend Jeff dug through the muck to help, or when the kids woke up in a panic, asking what was going on.

Oh, you know, I told them: When it rains, it pours!

I called the water department. I said thank you and please hurry. Then I made breakfast. I put my daughter's hair in a ponytail. I started the coffee. I made my son's lunch.

The alternative, I realized, was to kneel down and sob in the middle of our swampy lawn, envisioning repair bills and bemoaning our rotten luck. That didn't seem helpful.

I know people dealing with truly awful circumstances: illness, job loss, the deaths of loved ones. These friends endure with persistence and grace. They press on.

Like Dory the fish in one of the kids' favorite movies, they just keep swimming.

The water guy arrived and found the valve. A few swift turns of his wrench, and the geyser stopped. The sun rose. We drove to school and work.

We counted our blessings. And kept swimming.