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PART 1: OUT OF THE BLUE
It starts suddenly. I am in a panic situation. There is no time to think, all I can do is react. My family is in grave danger. We were just sitting down to eat dinner, when an intruder revealed themselves. I saw the danger first. Without a thought for myself, I shouted "Guys, get in the bathroom! Now!" My wife looked at me confused, but could tell by my dramatic gestures and tone that this was serious. She quickly ushered our daughter into the bathroom. And I was left to face the intruder. Alone.
I was in danger. But at least now my family was safe. For the moment anyway. I was like a papa bear trying to protect his brood without any concern for himself. And now it was show time. Whatever was meant to be would be. But if I didn't come through in the face of this adversity, there was just a cheap, wooden door shielding my wife and daughter from the same threat I was now facing alone. I was wide-eyed and hyper-focused on my adversary. My wife called to me through the door of the bathroom: "Matt, what is it?" There was fear in her voice.
"It's a... It's a..."
I paused for a moment, and subconsciously calculated if it was even safe for me to take my complete focus off of the threat at hand? Could I afford the mental effort needed to try and explain things to my wife?
"It's..." I stammered again.
"It's a bee, honey. It's a bee. We must have left the back door open. And it... it just flew in, I guess."
As I explained this to my wife, my eyes remained locked on the small insect. It showed no outward malice, necessarily, but rather flew haphazardly around the confines of our apartment. Was it confused by its surroundings? Did it want to find a way out? Or was this display of lazy meandering part of a master plan? It wanted me to think it was confused. It wanted me to think this intrusion was just some big mistake. It wanted me to let my guard down, and when I did, I had no doubt it would launch an unholy, stinging assault that would leave me bloody and hurt and broken in some unimaginable way. But I couldn't let that happen. I wouldn't. Not on this day.
When I mentioned it was a bee, my wife asked no further questions. I can only imagine her horror from behind that door. Knowing that my life was in peril, and not being able to see what was unfolding; not being able to help. It must have been torturous for my wife and daughter both. But in those moments, that was not my concern. It couldn't be. I needed to focus on one thing and one thing alone: How could I neutralize the threat at hand? How could I protect my family, and protect myself?
My hands were raised in front me, with my fingers splayed, as the bee buzzed here and there. If it did attack, I figured I could try and swat it away with a bare hand. But in doing so I knew I would expose myself. So I kept my gaze on the bee while I stole a frantic glance here and there, around our apartment, hoping to find a magazine, or maybe a pillow or a towel, or something. Maybe I could use a found implement to sort of guide this tiny intruder out the back door. Or, if need be, to crush the life out of him. But as my eyes darted around the room, I failed to find anything suitable. This battle would have to be waged hand-to-hand. Or rather, hand-to-stinger.
Looking back at this episode, and remembering what it was like to be in that very moment, with more than just my own life at stake, I am reminded of other heroes, in similar situations. Heroes like Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger. He was the pilot that had complete engine failure shortly after take off from LaGuardia Airport in New York City. No pilot would ever want to be put in a situation like that. But on a cold day in January of 2009, Sully was in that situation. And Captain Sullenberger was ready for it. He successfully landed his plane onto the cold waters of the Hudson River and saved not only his own life, but the lives of many others. In fact, no lives were lost on that day. Not on Sully's watch. I don't remember his exact quote, but sometime after good ol' Sully said something like: "My many, many hours spent piloting planes were like making deposits into a bank account. And on that day, when the engines failed, I was ready and able to make a huge withdrawal from the Bank of Experience".
Reflecting on this incident that I now faced, the Bee Incident as it has become known in some parts of Toronto, I very much identify with Captain Sullenberger's assessment of his own act of heroism, and how he was able to make a big withdrawal from the Bank of Experience. Did I have many previous encounters with bees or stinging insects? Well, no, not many. But a few. Or at least a couple. And I seem to stub my toe on a table-leg almost every other week. But this is not my point. The parallels I draw with Sully are the many small challenges and triumphs that I have experienced, in what anyone would have to call a very full and successful life. I mean things like: In grade 3, I beat out five other competitors in a marathon hula hoop contest. I was only bested, after over 10 minutes of intense gyration, by little Katy Pepperpot. But it was very close. (And many speculated she used a professional grade weighted-hoop that gave her some sort of mechanical advantage. I chose not to speculate at the time; I left that to the others. The sorry-ass losers that watched Katy and I push each other to greatness, from way far back in the peanut gallery.)
Another triumph: While spending five days with classmates at the Boyne River Ecology Centre, a rite of passage for Toronto middle-schoolers back in the day, I managed to find a very old copper penny in a creek. When I got back home, I wiped it clean and discovered it was from the year 1939. Many decades before I was even born! In the moment I discovered the one-cent piece, I remember Piggy Patterson telling everyone I was lucky to find it, and that finding a penny was not such a big deal, anyway. I didn't argue. But I saw things differently in that moment, and with the passage of time my childhood convictions have only been reinforced. You know what, Piggy? In life you have to make your own luck. While you and your fat friends were on a hike acting like a bunch of squabbling yahoos, I was on a mission. A solo mission. And I kept my eyes peeled for, well, all manner of stuff: Interesting things, and worthwhile experiences. Ultimately, I found that penny, while all you found was another ham sandwich. And guess what, Piggy? They don't even make pennies anymore!
I could go on, but suffice to say, like Sully when the engines gave out, a lifetime had prepared me for this Bee Incident that I now faced. I hadn't asked for it, but I knew I had to answer the call. For me, and for my family...
- END OF PART 1 -