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Meditations on (the Authenticity of) an Emergency by Jen Schneider

Meditations on (the Authenticity of) an Emergency


In the same week Merriam-Websters announced

authenticity as its word of the year, I was pressed

to look up the meaning of emergency, a term

used so ambiguously, only to be left, each time,

pondering its verifiability --


I put my phone on speaker to dial the office

and say I’ll be late, but the phone system

is down or automated or one of those assembly

lines I’ve always tried to avoid. 


After a string of Barry Manilow songs, a robot

I do not recognize recites an alternate

number to dial but only in the event

of a true emergency.


Sadly, the bot never defines the term

and I’ve been conditioned to deliberate.


I’ve never understood how truth can be debated,

but now I know it can be contemplated.


Does running late suffice?

Does it matter how the destination delineates,

consumes, or conspires with and against time?


I’m hard wired to be on time, but time often gets twisted

like the balloon animal maker who creates elephants, wizards,

and giraffes on demand and as tonic for emergency conditions –

a child’s cry, a question why, a final wish before one dies.


I couldn’t have predicted the fender bender 

three cars ahead. All views obstructed and blended.

Nor the school bus with blinking

red lights. Not the police cars at the diner,

the unidentified object lying curbside,

or the geese and their babies crossing the street,


I think of Lemony Snicket and his Series

of Unfortunate Events.


Focus a crossing guard scolds with her right hand,

all digits alive and secure in faux-leather gloves.


I try (stopping always at a yellow light)

as the red glow turns green and the digits

on my Honda’s clock move ahead.  





Waze makes waves  

and sheds a few minutes.

I feel gratitude for the technology,

then bemoan its limits. If only

Weight Watchers was equally



The blur of lights, so irritating a few seconds

prior, is pretty in the rearview mirror.

The stress of the day carries on like the storm clouds waiting overhead. 

AccuWeather did not warn of an unexpected ice/fog emergency.


Slow down, I say to Father Time, a figure I do not believe in,

as my cough intensifies. I struggle to breathe. To rush

is an artificial construct of modern times, anyway.


I am the most critical of me. All I hope for is simplicity –


A full night’s sleep

An uninterrupted song

A shower with no threat of harm


Simplicity, a scrambled eggs on toast metaphor

for a welcome, though unanticipated expectancy --


A raspberry sucker

A lime green slicker

A surprise snowstorm 


Of course, those, too, would stress

the already congested brainwaves. 


It is easy to feel stressed. Even easier to stress I suppose.


I’ll approach as if there is no need to worry.

All elements compressed as emergencies

divulge their reliance on principles of relativity.


I twist the phone charger cord

around my pointer finger. Emails ding –

each beep clings to some frame or tense of hope.

The line between open and closed as confusing

as one-way streets.


I leave a message for the doctor,

and then carry on. Silent Night on the radio.


I press the gas pedal. The engine (g)rumbles.

My stomach answers in turn. I’d been told not to eat.

And so what if I’m lateAren’t we all?

Time never ours to own. Everything borrowed before we fall. 




In the parking lot, there is an open spot.

I take it but fail both to appreciate the asphalt’s indifference

and to anticipate the receptionists’ own constructed ambiguity.


At check-in, we exchange greetings.



They’ve defined the emergency and have stitched it, on their own terms.


Women behind the desk

negate glances over tortoise rims and bifocals with shaded lenses.


You were too slow.

I called.

I phoned.

I am here.


Only a few minutes past my scheduled time.  


No. Your seat is gone.

You missed your turn.

We’ve had several emergencies today.

His next available isn’t until sometime next year. 




I retract and retrace steps.

My internal clock still

wired to conform. My wires

in internal debate. Emergency

a curious term.


I arrive early to my next (ir)regularly scheduled event.

A holiday concert in an auditorium dutifully warmed.

Just before the opening set,

as the overhead lights dim to warn,

a man in the wheelchair, his face frozen

in a perpetual grin, rolls in.


A family member, son or son-in-law I think,

biology blind like him, pushes him (and himself)

into a seating area designated for those with special

mobility needs.


All adjacent seats are taken.

All surrounding attention is suddenly, quickly diverted,

like the unexpected traffic on Route 5, to the unfolding emergency.


I watch. I wait – for the stroke of time.

I do not meditate, for fear I might make a sound,

from the comfort of my plush seat. Ten rows to the back and to the right.


The man is visibly shaken.

The evening an anticipated reprieve.


What now. What next. What’s wrong.


He had thought the two hours it took to dress,

feed, and prep his comrade would be enough

to quell emergency’s relentless bait.


No one moves a limb.

The curtain pulls.

Necks straighten.


An electron connects. We’ve met.

It’s been at least ten years since I’d seen him last.

The body both a time bomb and an eternal blessing.


As the kids on stage play Silent Night,

I recall his starring role on stage.

I wonder about fateThe band director keeps his remarks

short, in stark contrast to his usual form. 


He wears the same suit as in years’ past.

Its buttons are stretched, as are his arms.


I’ve had an emergency at home.

The stomach bug is an unexpected guest –

greetings on his right arm.


If I run, you’ll know why.


The audience laughs, grateful

that the emergency is his and not theirs, I suppose.


The director chose a piece

titled Through the Storm, as a way

to commemorate its composer’s loss.


The kids play with incredible control,

all while those in the audience with years

to toll make note of the fleeting nature of our next notes.




The nearby exit has a sign –

Open Only in the Event of an Emergency


I’m tired. It’s time.

For what, someone I do not know replies.


I’ve been reading about the many

ways to say goodbye.


I can’t remember my wedding song,

a beginning and an end at the same time.


When I send a text to tell my husband,

he is unconcerned.


I wonder,

if that’s not an authentic a true emergency,

then what is? 


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