Stairway to Haven

Monday, May 30, 2011

Since my return from Vegas, I wouldn't exactly say the hand I've been dealt has been a pleasant one.  As happens many a time when you belly up to the table of life, the cards aren't the ones you hoped for and there's no ace in the sleeve.  Instead, you have to toss your hand, nod to the dealer and cut your losses.

But losing my chips has left me a bit blue-deviled.  I'm not an inherent risk-taker, but when I decide to take one, the consequences of failure tend to hit me like blunt-force trauma.  I don't recover well.

A funny thing happened, though, this last losing hand.  Even as I bemoaned my losses at one table, I was racking up winnings elsewhere.  Other hands played suddenly came through like windfalls aplenty...and though my pockets in one moment seemed empty, the next they were filled with other treasures.  Proffered Kleenex.  Hugs.  YouTube hilarity and brownie breaks.

Centerpiece at The National
On Thursday, I found myself lunching at The National with friends. The air inside was cooled by the cinderblock exterior; the colors were soothing, muted, peaceful.  The food was exceptional; the company even more so.

I was feeling well and refreshed that evening as I sat across the desk from E and chatted about this and that.  Realizing the lateness of the hour, we both agreed to pack it in for the night.  Outside, the wind picked up and the rain, which had been falling steadily, began an earnest, violent downpour.  We lamented our umbrellalessness as we pushed out the office door into the second-story stairwell landing.

Through the windows, we could see a tableau: the Athens skyline against an eerie greenish-white sky split above by a malevolent looking black cloud, its edges curling and twisting like it might give birth to a tornado at any moment.  And just as we took in the scene, the power died; emergency lights cast bleak white light on the stairs, various sirens and alarms sounded through the building, and we headed for cover.

That's how E and me found ourselves huddled together under the concrete stairs while the wind howled and tore at the trees.  The rain pummeled the building.  And as we both looked up the radar on our iPhones and messaged homebases for advice on what to do, we concluded from the bright red doppler cells and the wisdom of our phone-a-friends to stay put.

Wall Stairs by Aaron Tang
It was dark under the stairs.  A bit musty and dirty.  From time to time, the voices of other inhabitants in the building would echo through the stairwell.  But E and me stayed put, our little legs stuck out in front of us so that the only thing visible to passersby were four well-shod feet.  But our voices - and more importantly our laughter - made it clear that we were there weathering the storm.

In 20 minutes - maybe 30 - the wind seemed to be more of a raspy rant and the rain dripped rather than dumped and E and me emerged from our stronghold as people under the stairs.  Outside, the eerie lighting remained, but the worst seemed to be over.  As we stood at the bottom of the stairs and conferred over whether it seemed safe for us to make a break for it, E said, "I'm glad you were still here."

"Me, too," I said.  "And from now on, we'll just think of this as our 'Stairway to Haven.'"  We laughed again, filling the empty stairwell with our cackling.

As I pulled away from the parking lot - E behind me, safely in her car - I thought of how lucky we were to have averted disaster.  And I realized, that, even though it doesn't always feel like it, I do have an ace up my sleeve...and that when the chips are down...when it seems like the only choice is to fold as a loser...that I've actually always got a trump card: that those dear ones who surround me will be there during the storm.  And though we may not come out winners, we'll at least hide under the stairs together until the worst of it passes.


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