The Right Tool…

“Stephen Paul Phillips!  Where are my good fabric scissors?”  Wow…It was a three-namer; a pretty good indication that someone was going to walk away from this storm with a tingling posterior.  I cringed where I sat reading and tried to make myself smaller.  Maybe if I could shrink into the chair, she wouldn’t see me sitting there.  But, it was too late.  Some Good Samaritan, possibly even a sibling with a score to settle, piped up, “He’s on the porch reading.”  Within seconds, the red hair which was attached to the woman I called Mama poked into sight through the front door.  “What have you done with them this time?  I’ve told you time and time again that those scissors are for sewing and nothing else!  You’re not to touch them!”

The jig was up.  I plodded, hangdog, to my room upstairs and brought down the implement in question.  I handed them to my mother, certain that there were more questions to follow.  I wasn’t disappointed.  “The blades are all nicked up!  These won’t cut anything now!  How in the world….?”  The explanation that followed was a little convoluted, but I’ll see if I can help you follow the trail.  Honestly, I used the scissors to cut cloth…at first.  The old jeans had both knees torn out and were frayed at the bottoms, so it seemed logical to make a pair of cut-off shorts, instead of tossing them away.  Those safety scissors in the desk downstairs just wouldn’t do the trick, so I commandeered the scissors from Mom’s sewing machine for the job.  I was carrying them down to put them away, when I remembered a piece of poster board that needed to be cut down a little for a school project.  The scissors were already in my hand, so the job was done in short order.  Moments later, before I had a chance to put them away, I saw that old hair dryer which I had picked up on the roadside a few days before.  There was a bevy of small wires that kept me from getting the motor out of the old piece of junk; really the motor was the only thing I wanted out of the whole contraption.  They were only small wires…Surely the scissors could cut through them like butter…

Yeah…my posterior did ache as I walked away from that encounter.  I think that perhaps I never bothered my mother’s sewing scissors again.  It is safe to say though, that I have frequently used the wrong tool for the job I have done.  Screwdrivers make pretty good pry-bars; pocket knives have taken their turn at turning a screw or two; I’ve even used the claw side of a hammer to chop through wood with middling success.  So, it’s almost comforting to know that the latest generation coming along now is continuing the tradition.

“Son, we don’t ever use a shovel as a knife!”  Lunchtime was over and we were enjoying the full after-dinner feeling as we visited.  The grandchildren were in the backyard playing.  I had noticed one of the children plying a small trowel which the Lovely Lady keeps for them to “help” with when flowers were being planted.  As the son-in-law and I gabbed in the den, the words penetrated the calm.  I could tell it wasn’t their Mom’s urgent “stop-or-there’ll-be-blood” voice, so I just laughed loudly.  I’ll admit that I had a fleeting image of the older boy, trowel held to the neck of the younger one, demanding a turn on the swing set, but if she wasn’t worried, I wasn’t either.  Hours later, the Lovely Lady told me that he had just been using the blade of the shovel in a sawing motion on the rope that held the swing up, so that illusion was destroyed.  It was gratifying to know that the young man has the ingenuity and sense of innovation to attempt the deed.  The tradition of using the wrong tool seems to be in good hands, so far at least.

I have broken knife-blades, twisted the tips of screwdrivers, and shattered the handles of mattocks; all while using them for unsuitable jobs.  I’ve heard the phrase “the right tool for the right job” more times than I can count in my lifetime, but it just doesn’t stick with me.  Constantly, my inventive brain looks for the tool that is closest which will serve.  I have lots of tools.  Chances are, I even have the right tool.  It’s just not convenient for me to stop what I’m doing to seek it out.  So, I break the wrong tool…and wish that I had taken the time to get the right one.

My cautionary anecdotes today may help you to make better choices.  I’ll be surprised.  It seems that we have to forge our own way, making mistakes along the way, sometimes learning, sometimes laughing it off.  In all seriousness, it does seem to me that in the area of our relationships, at least, the right tool is always appropriate.  The sledge hammer of anger and sarcasm simply cannot effect the results that patience and understanding will.  Argument will not serve when listening is called for.  I have often reached for the most convenient tool in these situations and have done more damage than good.  It’s the kind of damage that is most difficult to repair.  And, it’s not a bad idea to consult the Master Builder once in awhile.  After all, His instruction manual is close at hand.

As I go forward from here, this much I can promise:  I won’t be using the Lovely Lady’s sewing scissors to cut guitar strings any time soon, and I’m pretty sure the swing ropes are safe for a little while.  Apart from that, who can say?  Wood chisels and wrenches, beware!

“A sharp tongue is the only edged tool that grows keener with constant use.”
(Washington Irving~American author~1783-1859)

“If the only tool you have is a hammer, you tend to see every problem as a nail.”
(Abraham Maslow~American psychologist~1908-1970)

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