Don't drop the torch
Sadly, it’s been my experience that most of my learning experiences have been made effective because of a certain amount of pain. For example, as I’m typing this, I’m looking at three fresh blisters on the back of my left hand.
There’s something wrong with this picture. I didn’t need the lesson, but I got the pain anyway. What’s up with that?
We’ve been having soup suppers before our LentenServices. Last week my wife and I were in charge of chili and grilled cheese sandwiches. We made the chili in one of those great big electric roasters, the kind with a removable pan that floats in a water bath so the food doesn’t scorch. When it came time to move the roaster to the serving area, I grabbed a pair of potholders, picked up the thirty pounds of chili and headed across the kitchen.
I took about two steps and felt some discomfort. I took another step and I was feeling pain. It seems that the water bath was splashing on the sides of the roaster and was being converted to steam, which then came rolling out the sides of the roaster, exactly where I was holding on.
I thought about screaming and dropping the whole thing, but there were about fifty people looking for supper and I didn’t think they’d want to gather in the kitchen and scrape chili off the floor. I mean, it is Lent, but there’s a limit to the sacrifices your average church member will be willing to endure.
My options were limited. I could scream and drop or grit my teeth and walk faster.
I walked faster, set the chili down where it belonged, and then ran cold water over my hand while saying some words under my breath that were most likely not church-appropriate.
Everyone had time to eat before the blisters really puffed up, so I was able to escape without any witnesses. On the way home, I stuck my hand in a snow bank for a little while which helped quite a bit with the pain.
The whole thing made me think of a James Michener story I read about twenty years ago. One of his characters was in a building next to a tall radio antenna during a hurricane. Part of the antenna broke off during the storm and was flailing around. The worry was that if the antenna broke off completely, it could sail downwind and land in a populated area, with deadly results. The alternative was for someone to climb the tower with a torch during a lull in the storm and cut the last shreds of connection so the errant steel would drop straight down and cause no further damage.
The person who got the job was telling the story to a buddy and the buddy looked at him and asked, “How in the world did you keep from dropping the torch?”
He answered, “If your job is to cut steel, you damn sure don’t drop the torch.”
We do that all the time. As individuals, organizations, and as a country, we’re always dropping the torch, going through enormous amounts of work and difficulties, but not completing the assigned task.