It happened on Tuesday morning. Traffic had begun to build up as commuters tried to make their way to work. Traffic had slowed to intermittent stops as it approached the railway intersection. The time was about 6.15 am, there was still plenty of time for the driver to make the office without being adjudged late. As the car inched closer to the tracks, there was some noise…incoherent at first, and then louder, with an accompanying wave of frantic hands as a couple of pedestrians jogged in the direction of the cars who were trying to meander through fellow motorists to get to the other side of the road.The driver knew such animated gestures could only mean one thing—a train was approaching. Already on the railway track and unaware of just how close the passenger train loomed, she swerved to the left, just a few inches away from oncoming vehicles in a bid to avoid the moving giant machine. Just as she made it to the other side, it whipped past. A man sitting in his own vehicle and who had watched her deft manoeuvre to bring herself to a place of safety hailed her calmness in the face of death. “Well done oooo!” He shouted. She, still trying to comprehend what had just happened, acknowledged his salute with a “thumbs up”.
That driver was me.
As I made the rest of the journey to the office that morning, I kept marvelling at what almost befell me. There had been no warnings—no signature honking from the train, no flashing lights to indicate its presence, no official to direct traffic. I shuddered at the thought of what could have been the aftermath had those good samaritans not been kind enough to alert us of what was coming, but I was more surprised at how calm I had been. It would have been easier for me to panic, especially when I recalled that a motorcyclist and his passenger had been killed under those same circumstances about a fortnight earlier. Instead, I was quick to think and get myself out of the way, hence, drawing the praise from the stranger.
As a believer in God, I am quick to attribute miracles and happenstances to Him. I am confident that I was “saved” because He triggered the presence of mind that ensured I handled the situation well at the time, but I am also well aware that my default calm personality played a role in my reaction. Like the thinker that I am, I began to mull over the numerous plus sides of maintaining calm even in the face of the daunting or scary circumstances. The many times when just taking the time to not get unnecessarily agitated or anxious when faced with danger.
The 2002 Ikeja Cantonment bomb blast came to the memory, that dark day when more than a thousand people lost their lives; most of whom died because they panicked and plunged blindly into a canal. I remembered the numerous occasions people have died during stampedes; either at a football game, concert or even while performing the Hajj ritual of stoning the devil in Saudi Arabia. And even when the circumstances didn’t result in death, panic attacks have had devastating effects on relationships.
Only recently, a story went viral about how a wedding ceremony almost descended into a brawl on account of an altercation between the bride and her mother-in-law. A matter that shouldn’t even have necessitated an argument led to a full-blown raucous because of frayed nerves. How many times have we lost our cool and done or said something irrational only to regret it later? (I know I have had such moments). I also recall instances where I have reined in my anger and chosen to ignore a deliberate slight on my person. Each time I am able to do this, I am proud of myself and would often wish I could maintain that level of calm all the time.
The willpower to maintain composure in the midst of chaos is not a concept everyone is naturally imbued with. However, it can be practised—and it starts from the not-so-serious things—choosing to ignore a troll on social media rather than return their rude comment with one of your own. Yielding the right of way to a reckless commercial bus driver as opposed to attempting to show him “who’s boss” and getting into a needless road rage or actually taking the time to understand what the source of trouble is before electing to make a dash for it.
In a state of calm, one is almost always certain to make the right decisions. They are less in danger of doing something rash, and more importantly, they are less likely to yield to fear.
I can hear someone quip “These things are easier said” and I tend to agree. But seeing how a calm response in a dire situation helped me make the right decision and ultimately saved my life, I intend to make a conscious effort to practise it more often.
I think you should too.