Monthly Archives: February 2009

Pain is a Good Teacher

Do you ever wish you could end a day while it was going well? Five minutes before disaster strikes, just push “pause”? Of course, that only works when you can see it coming. It would be safe to stop everything just when it gets good.

Sam got his two middle fingers smashed in a door hinge tonight, at the end of a glorious day.  We had sailed out of the river and under the Skyway Bridge, enjoying a sunny and brisk afternoon in the blue-green waters of Tampa Bay. We came back at dusk and walked to the little Italian place on Main Street, enjoying some very sweet family time together. It was as near a perfect day as they come this side of heaven…until that wild hour right before bed, when Mom’s doing interior and Dad exterior boat clean-up and kids are supposed to be jammying and brushing teeth, etc. Which brings me to another question: why do humans always have to learn their lessons the hard way?

I want to preach, “How many times have we told you not to play with doors? Now just look what has happened!”  Okay, I actually do preach, but I feel a tad-bit hypocritical doing so.  (I also sound alarmingly like my parents!) “How many times,” I must ask myself, “have I told me not to say every little thing that pops into my head?” Pain is a very good teacher, but not the only one.  Why must we wait until something terrible happens to become wise?

Here, in fact, are some lessons that we have learned on our boat—the hard way—and these are only the first of many, I’m sure.  Investigate every suspicious smell until you find out exactly what’s causing it, as quickly as possible, since it could be something flammable or already beginning to burn, like electrical wire or fuel.  Check to make sure that the dingy you are towing is not only attached to your boat, but also untied from the dock, before you depart. If you do forget to untie your dingy and begin to depart, just untie it from your boat’s stern cleat, or stop the boat, instead of standing there freaking out.  At the very least, make sure the dingy is the Porta-Bote and not the Walker Bay, because at least the Porta-Bote is flexible and won’t be (completely) destroyed. If you decide to make turkey noodle soup for lunch, check to make sure that the electric skillet has little rubber feet so that it can’t slide off the counter when the random super-wave hits the boat. Better yet, put the leftovers away completely, no matter how much the boat is rocking and you don’t feel like it. Last, but not least, when departing on the first day of your voyage, choose a route with which you are somewhat familiar. If it is especially windy and you are going really fast, don’t risk running hard aground or dismasting by taking an unfamiliar shortcut when a familiar, safe one is just a bit out of the way. If the visual cues don’t match up with the chart, do be suspicious and rethink your plan.

I wish I could say that the mistakes we learn the painful way stay with us and prevent further mishaps, but even the ones I’ve learned really well (like, don’t talk to your friend while using the meat slicer…ouch!), don’t seem to apply to a new situation, like, don’t talk to your friend while you’re trying to find your way onto the interstate. I hope that my children will not pinch any more fingers in door hinges, but danger is all around and the lessons are often non-transferrable. It is by God’s grace and no small amount of training and/or preaching that no one in our family has fallen out of a tree or run into the street after a ball. 

There’s no pithy moral at the end here, unfortunately, just an observation that it seems to be man’s fate to learn the hard way.  Occasionally, we might learn from other’s mistakes, but that seems to be the exception and not the rule. If only we could stop ourselves while things are going well!

The In-Between Place

I've been reading through the Bible with the children, a chapter each morning. We’re in Exodus now, just leaving Egypt. The Israelites have just raised their first complaint. They establish their whining pattern: “Why did you bring us out here to die? We were better off as slaves in Egypt.”  The application to my own life did not occur to me until I listened to these lyrics sung by Sara Groves:

I’ve been painting pictures of Egypt leaving out what it lacks
The future feels so hard and I want to go back
But the places that used to fit me cannot hold the things I‘ve learned
And those roads were closed off to me while my back was turned

She sings about wanting freedom, but feeling afraid to go forward once the opportunity presents itself. Hmmmm. Sounds familiar.

I don’t want to leave here
I don’t want to stay
It feels like pinching to me either way.

Big things are at our doorstep. We have some big projects to do before we can go very far (keep your eyes peeled for Jay’s repair updates), but a long trip is in store for 2009, Lord willing, and I feel change in the air. Even the ever-patient Jay is saying that packing up and coming down every weekend is getting old. 

As far as I can figure, as in swimming, there are two ways to approach major life change: jump in, ignoring water temperature, or ease in one body part at a time until you’re used to it.  With the first, you leave yourself no exit option. There is no in-between place; you are either dry or you are treading water. You still have to adjust, but you do it and get it over with all at once.  With the latter approach, you can back out at the first sign of goosebumps or sharks. You might decide you didn’t really want to go swimming after all and miss out on a great adventure.

In the beginning, a slow transition seems like the best way to get used to major change. But the in-between place has its own dangers—there is a point at which transitioning becomes stalling, and the longer you wait, the harder it gets. We’ve gotten pretty comfortable with the discomforts of going between two places. The warm shower and all its related land-based comforts wait at the end of every trip. And sea-faring adventure waits at the end of every regularly-scheduled week. Sometimes I think it would be better just to jump in, sharks or not.