Imagine 16 people leaving a house party at 2 AM where everyone has had enough drinks to be at least tipsy, and then getting stuck in a 3 m² elevator at basement level with no cellphone signal – what would you do?
It started with jokes and selfies, but slowly anxiety set in as the temperature increased and we realised we were without a functioning emergency button. Would it be too Danish of me to say I expected more from Canadian elevators? Nine different nationalities; Canada, USA, Mexico, Denmark, Jamaica, Ecuador, Colombia, Italy and Tanzania; formed the group of people that got to know each other much better that night in Montreal.
Approximately half of the elevator crew including myself were part of the RecrearMagnify conference that had been kicked off a few days earlier with a 3-day personal development course. The purpose of the course was to carve out a space for participants to take a step back, pause and reflect away from the bustle of their everyday lives. It was also a space to bring us together before diving into a jam-packed program of participatory and creative workshops on youth-led development. The main ingredients of the course were yoga and meditation, a quite challenging cocktail for myself and a couple of other straightforward and goal-driven participants, resulting in a considerable amount of scepticism. Nevertheless, the course ended successfully with an almost surreal sense of bonding among one another, after a mere three days. Even so, I still doubted the impact of the yoga and meditation sessions. How would such “egocentric” practices ever help a culturally diverse group of people come closer together?
However, when I stood next to an, until that night, unknown Mexican girl shaking nervously and saw a confident and experienced globetrotter move out of his comfort zone, I slowly started to understand the value of what had been going on a few days earlier. At this point, the smiles and jokes had vanished from the conversation in what had turned into a sauna. Voiced and unvoiced concerns over lack of oxygen, dry throats and fear of the unknown occupied our tight claustrophobic space and panic began to spread. A loud humming sound that began a few minutes after the elevator got stuck and an alarm sounding off every so often didn’t make it any easier to keep calm. We waited for a response from the built-in elevator customer service that after an initial voicemail, had shown a sign of life, but no signs of action to help us.
The reactions were varied as we considered whether we would have to stay in the elevator for one or ten hours. Some people tried to calm down the rest of the group, some kept quiet, some encouraged a conversation on what to do next and some started making their own moves. One of those action-oriented pioneers was a latino named Ricardo, who suddenly decided to crawl up on the sidewall of the elevator to try, in real hollywood style, and get us out of the elevator through the ceiling. A decision, that led to protest amongst those who thought that he should consult the group first; worried that he would make the situation worse or even hurt himself. However, agreements were had to come by, so Ricardo started the search for the hidden exit, while the discussion continued on below. After 10 minutes there was, not surprisingly, no progress in Ricardo’s efforts, no novel idea or consensus from the group and radio silence from the elevator customer service.
Another 10 minutes had gone and I had just closed my eyes, trying to keep the arguments out, while preparing myself for hours of waiting. Then there were joyous cries. Ricardo had managed to open the roof of the elevator and was now being helped by the crowd to lift himself out into freedom through the small hole. The mood shift was almost tangible as one after one, women first, people were lifted out of the roof until only one person remained. As if our one hour boiling in the elevator were not stressful enough, the last person emerged from the elevator cutting into his left arm as he hoisted himself out. The blood made the scene look more dramatic than it was. Even so, we were relieved when the ambulance arrived quickly; ending our eventful night out in Montreal.
Our minor ordeal in the elevator brought out each individual’s unique reactions and coping mechanisms. As I reflected on the experience I realized I did manage to keep relative calm in the elevator. If that can be chalked up to yoga and meditation sessions, my personality or a lack of any hollywood-esque vision, I don’t know. What I do know is, that during that time in the elevator and even in the days after, I did reflect over the importance of being open to what is new and maybe even uncomfortable at first. It may just be what changes or even saves your life.
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