On October 8, 1871, the great Chicago fire was ignited. Due to dry conditions and wind, the fire became unstoppable, lasting over 3 days and smoldering for weeks. All told, over 17,000 buildings were destroyed, and 300 lives lost in a 3.3 square mile area. This devastation left over 100,000 people homeless.
But Chicago was too important to the commerce of the country to pack up and leave, and as humanity would have it, we learned and innovated through this circumstance. Architects and engineers put their minds together and concluded that rebuilding with wood and brick would not suffice. Something stronger and with less risk of catching fire needed to be constructed. As fate would have it, around that time, the price of steel began to fall. This made the idea of constructing with a non-wood component more affordable. And with that, the first skyscraper was built.
Completed in 1885, the Home Life Insurance Building became the world’s first skyscraper. Towering at 138 feet (hey, they had to start somewhere) the building was supported using an iron frame skeleton and a lot of cement to hold it all together. In the end, it was an architectural marvel and also had the benefit of being more flame retardant that it’s wood-based predecessors. Soon, architectural competition would ensue. The goal: Who could build the tallest structure? The problem: Wind. You see, the taller you go, the more surface area there is for wind to blow against. This boggled the minds of many engineers as they dreamed of building taller structures that wouldn’t topple due to the sheer force of the wind.
Just like tree branches need the ability to rustle in the breeze so they don’t snap off, so too they found, skyscrapers should sway in the wind as well. Their steel construction allows for normal swaying without endangering the building’s structural integrity nor the occupants inside. Today, most skyscrapers are designed to stand against 100 mph winds. For example, a 1,000-foot-tall building can sway several inches on a day with normal winds. But on days where there are 50 mph winds, a tower that tall can move about six inches back and forth. At the extreme, the 2,722 foot tall Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai sways about 4-5 feet due to wind disturbance in that part of the world. While some may find it unsettling to notice a tall building swaying in the wind, this natural movement is no cause for concern and actually means the skyscraper is working as designed.
At the time of this writing, over the weekend our area had an afternoon of sustained 30+ mph winds. My son, Everett, and I went outside to try to run against it, then we turned around to run with it. Everett’s mighty 11-year-old frame had a rough time making forward progress. But boy could he fly running the other way! Then, we stood still against the wind, but our normal standing posture proved futile. We had to lean forward at an acute angle so as not to lose our balance.
Wind. Storms. Things that inhibit our path and impede forward progress.
But what if we swayed? What if we, like the mighty skyscraper, learned to bend but not break? The gale force winds are formidable. The winds of addiction, depression, fear, and isolation. The gusts of emptiness, low self-esteem, failure, and finances. Squalls of strained relationships, health issues, comparison, and worry. The tempests of tragedy, guilt, doubt, and shame. These forces and more seek to topple you, to tear you down, to depose you into a pile of rubble.
But it doesn’t have to be that way…does it? Can’t we learn to sway? To roll with the punches? To realize we often suffer more from imagination than reality? It doesn’t have to be so bad. Sure, winds will come. Yes, there will be strong gusts. But you can prepare yourself. You can be mentally ready. Your battle plan in the storms of life can include the idea of swaying, not snapping. Bending, but not breaking. Be flexible to change. See things as they are, and be ok with the things that you can’t change. Give in to the cycle of give and take…ebb and flow…in and out…breathe.
Sway so you don’t snap.
Bend so you don’t break.
What gale force wind are you facing today? What storm must you face?
Suit up. Get your game face on. Face it.