ELEVATOR (Part 1) – Learning a Principle of Recovery

Excerpt from
Relentless Grace.
. I hope you enjoy them, and that you’ll encounter God’s invitation to give hope another chance.

Note: This is part 1 of my initial unassisted encounter with an elevator. It’s a great reminder that even the simplest tasks can be overwhelming in the center or the storm.

A hospital elevator appears easily accessible. Smooth floors, wide entrance, clearly labeled controls installed at the proper height. No sweat, right?

I eased up to the call buttons and maneuvered until they waited directly in front of me at eye level. But with my halo brace and lack of stability I couldn’t reach forward to press the button without falling on my nose. I needed another approach.

I backed up, much more difficult than going forward, and turned until I sat beside the buttons.

Uh-oh. Pushing buttons required a new set of movements. My arms still lacked complete control, especially when I reached away from my body. I braced against the armrest, reached out, and—my fingers didn’t work. How do you push a button without using your fingers?

I could use my thumb a bit. Braced again, zeroed in on the “DOWN” arrow, and stabbed. A few misses, and then—SUCCESS! The button illuminated. I heard the mechanism, responding to the call of my wavering arm and barely controlled thumb.

Two chimes signaled the elevator’s arrival. Unfortunately, it wasn’t the car in front of me. I heard the doors open behind me as I struggled to back up.

The elevator waited a few seconds, declared a false alarm, and moved on. I turned just enough to see the doors slide shut.

I rested a few minutes. Moving the chair quickly made shoulders burn and arms ache. While I waited, the elevator returned, and a man in hospital scrubs emerged. Do you need a hand? Hold the door for you?

No. I didn’t want him to watch me struggle. I flailed my arm to wave him on.

Ready for another attempt, I rolled beside the controls and stabbed at the button. My fumbling thumb hit the “UP” arrow. Oh, well.

Quick! Back and turn. I heard the car moving. Back a little more, and I was in position directly front of the doors. The bell chimed once, but the other set of doors opened! I hadn’t anticipated that possibility. I turned and pushed forward, but as the doors closed I sat several feet away.

Why are these elevators so hard to use? Why don’t they wait longer? I’ll never get off this floor without help! This isn’t fair!

I decided I’d have to press the button, choose my door and push toward it immediately. I moved too slowly to wait and see which car arrived.

I teach math. I’ve made up all sorts of silly probability questions using marbles, coins, dice, buses and elevators. Who cares? Well, now I cared. Which one would arrive next? The score was two to one. I’d ask my students to calculate experimental probabilities, graph the data, and make a prediction. Which one should I choose?

As I stabbed at the button again I decided to bet on the car in front of me. Each door is equally likely, and I could get there faster because I didn’t have to back up.

The DOWN arrow lighted again. First try! I rolled forward, turned, and faced the doors. The signal sounded. I looked up and the other doors opened, waited those few miserable seconds, and closed.

With any thought at all I would have just stayed where I was. Someone eventually would have emerged from that car, and I’d have been ready to jump through the doors.

Unfortunately, stubbornness and frustration supplanted clear-headed reasoning and problem solving. So I struggled around in a half-circle and prepared for another try. The score stood three to one. Should I change my bet?

I decided to stick with my initial guess. I probably wouldn’t reach the alternative anyway because of the backing-up thing. I was becoming a fairly proficient button-pusher. I pressed and scrambled to turn, the car arrived, and now it was four to one. The doors opened and closed. They probably just appeared to smirk as they eased together.

Now what? What are the odds? As the wrong car appeared and departed once more, I slumped in defeat. If I hadn’t been so angry and frustrated I might have chuckled at the thought of students dutifully taking notes while I assured them that elevators don’t know the odds and can’t remember the five to one tally.

I wasn’t changing, committed now as a matter of either principle or stubbornness. Besides, I would really feel stupid if I switched and my original choice appeared.

Turn, stab, light, scramble. I heard the whir of machinery, but which one would appear? I stared at the lights, expecting another failure.

A double chime signaled an arrival and a victorious adrenaline rush accompanied the parting of the shiny silver doors before me. I couldn’t stop to rejoice. I rolled forward, prepared to celebrate my triumphant passage through the winning portal.

Instead, I encountered once more a basic principle of my recovery process: no important gain would ever happen easily.

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Copyright 2009 by Rich Dixon, All Rights Reserved. Used by permission.
Rich is an author and speaker. He is the author of:
Relentless Grace: God’s Invitation To Give Hope Another Chance
. Visit his web site www.relentlessgrace.com

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