Many years ago, my family was on holiday at a cottage owned by an uncle. It was a seaside cottage, with no electricity. Light was provided by paraffin lamps, and cooking was done with bottled gas plugged into a gas oven.

One evening, my brother and I, both recovering from chicken pox, were comparing our shadow sizes in front of a paraffin lamp placed at our bedroom door. I was demonstrating, and he was fascinated by, how proximity to a light source could influence the size of a shadow on the wall.

For whatever reason, the lamp was knocked over and landed on the floor, and the glass, paraffin and flames spread quickly.

My father was there almost immediately, but as it all happened so fast, I noticed before he did that the base of the lamp was right next to the door of another bedroom, and the flames were already licking at the wood.

I pulled the lamp away from the door by its handle, taking care not to cut myself, and my mother appeared with a large blue blanket, which she used to smother the flames. It all must have taken less than a minute. There was yelling involved, obviously, but I do recall an exchange, though not word for word, between my father and I, explaining that I was trying to move the lamp to avoid burning the cottage down.

We were all terrified. Needless to say, I didn’t know how I would have reacted until the actual incident. For many years afterwards, I relived the moment where I saw the fire spread to that door. I still remember what I was thinking at the time: fire eats wood. I was ten, my brother was six, and my sister was two. My only thought was to get the fuel source away from the door. I didn’t even think about the consequences of burning my hand or getting cut by the broken glass.

Six years ago, shortly after moving to Canada, I watched and fell in love with a show on Discovery called Canada’s Worst Driver. In that show, a driving instructor called Philippe Létourneau demonstrated a defensive driving manoeuvre where if you are driving in icy conditions and you can’t stop in time, you can make a lane-change manoeuvre to drive around the obstacle, without applying brakes, which slows the vehicle enough so that the brakes work.

During an Edmonton blizzard, I found myself in a situation where I couldn’t stop my vehicle in time. I called on that memory and was able to change lanes (blind spot, mirror, indicator) and bring the car to a stop, almost level with the car we almost hit. It took about four or five seconds for that entire manoeuvre.

Adrenaline makes you do interesting things. I’d love to hear your stories.

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