Some summers my nephew and niece visit us. The kids picnic and put on puppet shows; they fish and swim and sleep outside and get bit up. They stay busy–all on their own–and they love it.
One year, my daughter was recovering from a cracked elbow. She had a doctor’s appointment so I planned to take them all for some fun along the way. We would stop at the lake and climb the water tower-turned-observation-deck. They would be, I knew, delighted.
They were not delighted; they were busy making their own fun in the pond and groaned a few complaints when I called them in. Still, they were willing and got ready to go. As we pulled out of our lane I noticed a dark spot in the distant southern sky.
We turned east and drove the few minutes to the tower where I doled out quarters and the kids raced to the turnstile. They trotted up all 170 steps and looked around. Now they were delighted.
Well, all but one was delighted. That one didn’t look around at all. In fact, that one, my nephew, asked to go back to the car. I didn’t want anyone to be that far away–it wouldn’t be safe–so I told him he would have to wait until the others were ready to go. He asked again and maybe even again before it occurred to me to investigate what was bothering him.
He lifted his arm and pointed. “That,” was all he said.
The dark spot in the southern sky was distant no longer. It was ours now, and close enough to show us its churning clouds. I should have seen it coming.
It was time to go, to get off of that tower, and into the car.
My nephew took off like a gazelle and stationed himself beside the vehicle before the rest of us were half-way down. We piled in and started down the lane toward the highway. The stop sign gave us a chance to stop and see, for just a moment, the disturbing clouds that would race us to town.
We stayed ahead of it until we hit the city limits. As we crawled past the town square the clouds caught up with us and transformed day into night. Cold, splatting drops of rain began as we scurried from our spot in the clinic parking lot.
Just after we checked in, an alarm sounded. There was a warning of some sort, not a tornado, but serious enough that were all shepherded to the basement. It sickened me to realize that just moments ago I’d had these precious little people standing on a tower, oblivious to the approaching storm, all in the name of something I wanted to do.
Our strong memories of that day are all different. Most of the kids don’t remember the storm. They remember the scream that they—and everyone else in the cavernous waiting room—heard when my daughter got a shot. My nephew remembers the scream but also the storm, which in his mind was a tornado. I remember that I was so busy attending to my plan that I missed what was right in front of me–clear signs of a brewing storm.
I hope memory serves me well and launches me straight to lessons learned. Pay attention. Evaluate the plan in light of the moment. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
How about you? Do you pay attention to the warning signs or do you wait for the storm to be nearly upon you?