A Moment’s Attention

I came down the basement steps into a sea of garbage.

“Oh, Blake …”

When a 70-pound dog shreds two bags of trash, the results can be pretty spectacular. Especially when you’ve just cleaned the kitchen the day before. I sighed and set myself to picking up torn cardboard and old yogurt cups, faded rose heads and used Clorox wipes, aged contai…

Wait a minute. Clorox wipes?

Uh-oh.

“Honey, he eats wipes!” my wife Heather said when I relayed the damage. True; it had been just a couple of years before when he’d gotten into my sister-in-law’s baby wipes, briefly turning himself into the world’s most disgusting Kleenex box when her husband had to eventually pull them from the other end.

Off to the vet.

“Oh, Blake …”

That was the main theme. But the counterpoint in my head was just as energetic.

“Scott, you idiot …”

See, I was the reason those trash bags were down there. Two checks of Heather’s had gone missing during the cleanup; I’d brought the bags down so I could see if they’d been thrown away by mistake. Thankfully, I hadn’t been that clueless … not then, anyway. But I’d forgotten to tell Heather the bags were still there when I scrambled off to another round of flood coverage at the newspaper.

Which meant she had no reason not to put Blake in the basement as usual while taking Missy bowling.

Oh, Scott.

He’s OK, as it turns out. But a moment’s inattention almost proved very costly indeed.

We all know stories like that one. The lumberjack whose dropped cigarette sparked the great Yellowstone fire of the 1980s. The girl paying more attention to her text messages than her walking, who stepped into an open New York manhole. From the famous to the mundane, there’s plenty of examples where distraction had quick consequences.

Thankfully, the opposite is true, too. Attention can pay off big.

A lot of us found that out over the last several days.

Three years ago, the city of Longmont changed its flood map. The methods had gotten better; so had the tools. And on the new map, it was quickly obvious how much more of the city would be inundated in a so-called “100-year flood.”

Hint: a lot. But you knew that already.

It would have been easy to ignore, to say that the disaster was too unlikely, the measures too costly. By definition, that sort of disaster has only a 1 percent chance of happening in any year; other needs could have easily been seen as more pressing.

But someone – probably several someones – saw the consequence of a miscalculation. And began setting up new flood control measures.

It wasn’t perfect. Had “The Flood” come two or three years later, it would have found the city even more ready, with two major bridges over the St. Vrain replaced and maybe another stretch of Left Hand Creek done.

But I visited a lot of flood-stricken neighborhoods after the water hit. And I heard a lot of people sound the same chorus: the work that had already been done  kept a bad disaster from being worse.

“Whoever decided to OK that plan is well deserving of some major congratulations.,” one neighbor told me.

Focus pays off.

We’ve seen that since the flood hit, too. Most days, this city can be … shall we say, argumentative? While not necessarily a bad thing – it does mean people are getting a chance to say their say – it can also put a lot of grit in the gears when it comes time to take action. Any action.

But for at least five days, this area was almost supernaturally focused. A threat had come that didn’t care about sides or factions, and it found all of us ready to step up and meet it. And boy, did we.

Now that’s attention.

Distractions will happen. Mistakes will happen. We’re human. But if we can remember what attention saved and what focus allowed us to battle – well, maybe we haven’t stopped doing the amazing yet.

Sometimes the cheapest thing to pay is attention.

And I have the vet bills to prove it.

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