Fire! Fight or Flight? - Bruce Kirkpatrick
Bruce Kirkpatrick is a contemporary author of fiction and non-fiction stories.
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Fire! Fight or Flight?

I think there’s a third option.

You probably know about the fight or flight syndrome. When first discussed, it explained the two choices our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger.

Like a wooly mammoth or saber toothed tiger.

The body reacts to the clear and present peril and amps up the adrenaline, jacks the heart rate and blood pressure. Gives you the energy to stay and fight or run like an Olympic sprinter.

More recently, experts used this syndrome to describe the body’s reaction to stress. We don’t face ancient animals anymore, but stress can be scary, too.

Like a car sliding out of control on an icy freeway. Or a gun threatening in your face in a robbery. Or fire.

I faced fire this week and instead of fighting or fleeing, I choose the third option. I froze.

This monster inferno, now the fifth largest wildfire in California history and climbing the charts like a bullet, ignited 35 miles away from my home.

Stress level normal to slightly elevated.

In one 12-hour stretch in its infancy, whipped by ferocious winds, the fire roared toward me 9 miles, engulfing everything in its path. 18 miles an hour? Holy…

Stress level noticeably ratcheting up.

One night at 2:21 am, an emergency alert from my cell phone blasted me awake. Mandatory evacuation! It turned out to be false—who sends out an incorrect evacuation order in the middle of the night? Have they been fired yet?

Stress level streaking.

Deer in the headlights.

I didn’t freeze for long. No, I paced. I considered panic. I worried. Those could be categorized as “not freezing”, right?

We all like to think that when the crisis impacts us, we take a deep breath, quickly consider all our options, and immediately jump into a rational approach. Either, I’m duking it out right here, right now. Or, desertion is the better part of valor.

Doesn’t always work out that way, does it?

Indecision has killed many a deer on the highway.

As a Christian, I trust God to take care of me. Most of the time. I know he’s in charge and he won’t give me a whole lot more than I can handle. He may overload me at times, but that usually toughens me up to take on more.

I know if I pray, he answers. But I also know I’m sometimes too clouded by the smoke of stress that I miss his response.

I’m beginning to thaw out from this frozen state. But not completely.

We packed up enough clothes for a week, gathered those irreplaceable items like photos of the grandparents, a thumb drive with my next two manuscripts, and keepsake wine glasses. (You have to be prepared). Ready to evacuate, we waited.

Still waiting.

Our eyes continue to burn from the ever-present smoke, like you swam laps in the pool but forgot your goggles. It permeates everything. We live with doors and windows closed, towels at the bottom of each outside door, blinds closed and shades drawn. It’s feels like dusk all day long.

Your body closes in on itself. Subconsciously, you’re afraid to take a deep breath—nothing good in the air to breathe. We wear hazard masks when we venture outside the home and you want to wear a bandana—like Old West outlaws—even when you’re inside.

My nose continually runs. Probably trying to eliminate whatever gross things have been penetrating its natural defense.

Three days later we are still waiting. Now I’m frozen again. Oh, sure, I go to the gym—with my mask on. My wife buys a few items at the grocery store. But we’re trapped for the most part inside.

It resembles how we live our lives sometimes, doesn’t it? Hesitant and a bit afraid. It’s a scary world out there and you don’t want to face it.

This too will pass—just not soon enough. I know life will be better. I just don’t know when.

I’ve never experienced clinical depression but I’m beginning to understand the feeling of “it doesn’t look like there’s a way out of this.” If we leave town, do we take everything we can, like we’re evacuating? If not, and we’re far enough away when we actually do have to evacuate, we couldn’t make it back in time. So we stay.


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