Disaster will never happen to me

Two monsters were wobbling down the hallway toward me. I was six years old and had just woken in the middle of my first earthquake. The world was blurred and sloshing. As the monsters came into focus they morphed into my parents.

The sound I remember is the loud sloshing, like water. I assume it was from a hot water bottle tucked at the end of my bed, but for several years I was convinced that all earthquakes sounded like hot water bottles. I wondered why people looked at me funny whenever I mentioned it.

That’s my only earthquake story. The likelihood is one day I’ll find myself in a proper earthquake, but until then I continue to assume disasters only happen to other people.

It’s weird how we think we’re immune to life’s big events. “It’ll never happen to me” is something we tell ourselves about pandemics, earthquakes, car accidents, health problems, house fires … pretty much everything.

“It’ll never happen to me” keeps us driving on the open road late at night when we should probably pull over for a rest.

It stalls us from clearing the drain that is likely to flood our garage in the next big dump of rain.

“It’ll never happen to me” is the reason I haven’t yet put our important family documents into a container that I can grab if we ever need to leave quickly.

It’s the attitude responsible for the fire alarm battery that I still haven’t replaced.

It’s easier to just hope we’ll get by on the day. Maybe we will get by, but surely not as well as if we’d been a bit more prepared.

Life is a hodgepodge of good and bad surprises. The most surprising thing is how surprised we are when life actually happens to us. We gasp and say, “You mean one of the many things that could possibly happen to people who live on Planet Earth actually happened?”

It can be traumatic. I never thought I’d enjoy a Vin Diesel movie, but then Fast & Furious Five happened.

I never thought I’d find myself writing a weekly column in the Bay of Plenty Times, but here I am. I got the surprise of my life when they stopped me in the supermarket and said, “You, the guy holding the bananas! You’ve got the face of a columnist!”

I said, “Me? I always thought I had a face for poetry.” They said, “No, definitely a columnist. Go ahead, smile like you secretly know your opinion is more valid than mine … Yes, there is it. A columnist.”

That’s exactly how it happened. Honest. They picked me for my honesty and also for my ability to stick to the topic.

This week’s rock’n’roll in Wellington is a reminder to stay focussed. Get our emergency prep sorted out. It shouldn’t be that hard, should it? We just need to sit down for a bit and ask some simple questions. Like, what’s the plan for the kids if something happens during school? What kind of supplies would we need if the power and water were out for a few days? What if there is no one to save us?

Make a list, start assembling things. Ask our Christchurch and Wellington friends what they learned from their experience.

It can be daunting trying to think about this stuff. It’s much easier to shove the problem into the “it’ll never happen to me” basket of denial.

The dice will eventually roll against us, one way or another. Just look at where we live. It’s our own beautiful fault with a generous selection of natural hazards handed to us on a tectonic plate.

Makes sense to be at least a tiny bit more prepared. Maybe it’s time to put a new battery in that fire alarm too.


First published in Bay of Plenty Times 26 July 2013. Reproduced with permission.