The Burned Hand Teaches

The little one was screaming.  At the top of her lungs.  Her brothers continued their play.  They assumed that as usual, she had been frightened by some bug or that she was angry about a toy she wanted, but couldn’t have.  Her big sister, on the other hand, had seen what happened and ran to get Mama.  “She hurt her hand.  I think the metal thing is hot.”

Sure enough, the little tyke had burned her hand on the galvanized tub we use for bathing the black monsters in the back yard every week or so.  The dogs are bigger than she, so today when one headed toward her, she thought that a higher vantage point might be helpful and attempted to clamber up on the upside-down tub, laying her hand on the metal surface which had been sitting for hours in the bright sunlight.  With temperatures in the low one hundred degrees, it was hot enough to sear her palm in seconds.  Mama quickly brought the screaming little girl in and attempted to run water over the hand.  She never got it near the water as the screaming got louder.  No amount of imploring could convince the girl that the water not only wouldn’t increase her pain level, but would make it better.  Her grandma, the Lovely Lady, quickly packaged up some ice in a plastic bag.  No dice.  She wasn’t holding that in her hand!  Grandpa tried to get her to put her hand on the side of an iced tea glass.  Still no luck.  She was sure that if she touched anything at all, it would hurt worse than it already did.

I burned my own hand pretty badly just a few weeks ago.  I immediately turned the faucet on and ran cool water over my hand, graduating to holding an ice cold glass for the next hour until the pain subsided.  Because of my experience, I, along with every other adult present, tried to convince the little tyke that the cool water would help the pain go away, but she would have none of it.  After long, agony-filled minutes dragged out, she was finally convinced that it wouldn’t hurt to hold a cool, wet dish rag in her hand.  When she headed for home, she was still crying.  It will take a while for the blisters on her little hand to heal.

In the meantime, as she was being tended to, her siblings were sent outside to play again.  I went out to be with them until time for them to leave.  I walked out of the back door to find her older sister, the one who had witnessed the accident, on top of the overturned tub herself, jumping up and down on it.  “I’m not touching it with my hand.  I can’t get hurt!” she bragged.  In my mind, I could see her slipping and falling onto her hands and knees any minute, or worse…with the backs of her legs coming to rest on the blistering hot steel, so I insisted that she get down immediately.  She was not happy.  Sure, her sister had been hurt, but this girl wasn’t going to touch it with her hands.  She pouted as she headed for the swing set to participate in some less daring activity.

You know, I see adult truths in the shenanigans of my grandchildren time and time again, and the events of this afternoon were no exception.  Through no fault of her own, the sweet little girl had burned her hand.  The bigger problem arose when she refused to accept a treatment that would have saved her much anguish.  I don’t tell the story to fault the little girl.  She doesn’t know any better yet.  I am however, aware of a good number of adults who do know better, but who won’t listen to sense when they need help.  You don’t need me to give any examples.  Look around you.  You might even want to take a look in the mirror.  We are stubborn people, demanding our own way, and taking it at great personal cost, refusing instruction and aid, even when we could benefit immeasurably from them.  You can certainly fill in the blanks here.

The other lesson I gleaned this afternoon was from the second girl, as she gloated in her invincibility.  She had immense faith in her physical prowess.  There are times when that faith is well founded.  She is a healthy, agile child.  Most of the time.  That said, I saw her fall off her tricycle just moments before the whole affair began, with no one nearby to cause the mishap.  Accidents do happen, and to tempt providence is never a safe course of action.  She knew that her sister was in terrible pain, but she still was willing to risk that pain herself while placing faith in her limited abilities.  Of all the adult attitudes this puts me in mind of, the quote comes instantly to mind, “That could never happen to me.”  We see others discovered in foolish positions, or caught in catastrophic behavior and we think that we can “play with fire” so to speak, without any chance of falling into the same trap.  There’s a warning in the Bible which fits quite aptly here, when we recall that it tells us, “Let him who thinks that he is standing, be careful that he doesn’t fall.”

I think the little one is going to be okay.  It will be one of many such lessons she will have to learn as she grows.  I would love to be able to help protect her from the pain of lessons like this.  I would love to be spared the tears I shed as I thought again this afternoon of her anguish.  But, if she truly learns by her errors, she will be better off.  We too have Someone who is touched by our pain and who desires nothing but good for us, but who still allows us to suffer in the hope that we will learn and grow. 

I’m pretty sure that it would be a good thing if we could avoid both the error and the arrogance of each little girl, respectively.  I’m also just as confident that I’ll probably be jumping on the upside-down tub soon, myself.  If you see me doing it, you might at least warn me of my danger.

You never know;  I might listen…this time.

“Gato escaldado, del agua frìa huye.” 
(“If the cat has been burned, it runs away even from cold water.”)

Pride goes before destruction,  a haughty spirit before a fall.”
(Proverb 16:18)

© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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