Spontaneous Dents and Walking Plates

“Usually, when we speak of ‘dents’ in an instrument, we are speaking of damage which has been done by someone, Ma’am.” I had taken a quick break to eat a very late lunch and, wolfing down the last bite of my PB&J sandwich, was headed for the sales area in the music store, when the patient voice of the Lovely Lady spoke the words. Actually, I heard just a hint of frustration, but that would not be evident to anyone else. The lady with whom she was speaking was adamant. “No. The dents are just appearing. She doesn’t know how. There are just more of them all the time.”
I kept my mouth shut (miraculously) and let the conversation play out. The lady agreed to bring the horn by soon for us to be able to assess the amount of damage and offer our opinion on why the dents “just keep appearing.” We have had these conversations before. The child stands and shrugs as his/her parent asks, “How did this happen?” Normally, before the discussion is over, the truth comes out. The horn has been mishandled, or had a chance meeting with another child’s instrument, or once, even been smacked over a little brother’s head. There is always a reason, always a culprit. Never have we discovered such a thing as a spontaneous dent. It just does not happen.
Day after day, they come in. Parents. Requesting a new book for their child to use in the band class. “Someone stole little Jackie’s.” Hah! It’s never, “Jackie lost his book again. He has no sense of responsibility, because I refuse to hold him accountable.”The latter is much nearer to the truth than the former, but I have never heard it said.
As I write, I can’t help but hear my Mom’s voice, out of the dim and far-distant past. “Well, it certainly didn’t grow legs and walk up here by itself!” She had been missing a dinner plate for several days; a circumstance very close to a disaster in our family. With seven people who ate at each meal, there weren’t many extra dishes. She needed that plate. And, wouldn’t you know it? The plate was found under my bed. “I didn’t put it there!” came the plaintive cry from my lips. It was a futile attempt, I knew. Mom’s reply cut through all the argument which could have ensued, pointing out the obvious. It was my bed; the plate was underneath it; the responsibility was mine.
I won’t waste your time with all the subtle arguments and distinctions which could be brought to bear here. Sure, there might have been more to the story. A brother might have slid the plate over under my bed with his foot as the search was in progress. Or he might not have. It makes little difference. The fact is that someone put it there, as my mother said so perceptively. Things like that don’t happen in a vacuum.
It is imperative that we take responsibility for our actions. I won’t moan about the latest generation and their lack of accountability. It was true in my generation also (and in yours). We did our best to wriggle out of blame for anything which we had done. Never mind that we knew that “confession is good for the soul”. Even though we had learned that lesson the hard way again and again, the next time we were caught in a fault, it was every bit as difficult to extract a statement of culpability as the time before.
As it turns out, every generation for which we have a written record has reacted in a way which attempts to deflect responsibility to someone or something else. Adam blamed Eve and, indirectly, God. “The woman (whom You gave me) tempted me.” Wow! Not my fault. Hers. Yours.No wonder we have gotten so good at it.
Did I say that confession is good for the soul? I don’t want you to think that if we suddenly start to follow our conscience and admit out faults, it will be smooth sailing from then on. Confession requires restitution. Oh boy! Now I did it! I should have issued the disclaimer first! Here is the disclaimer then: I am not talking about God’s offer of salvation; not disputing grace, which comes through faith, and is not of works. I am speaking of how life works, of what is required for us to claim to be responsible people. It is a practical thing, not intended to address our spiritual condition (although in many aspects, our spiritual condition will govern our responses in this area).
In our dealings with friends, and family, and any other person in the world, we are required to follow up a statement of confession with actions of restoration. “I broke it. I’ll pay for a new one.” “I stole that, and I accept the penalty.” “I hurt you. I’m sorry and will work to restore our damaged relationship.” Statements of confession without intent to restore are empty and void. They mean nothing, just as if we had denied responsibility altogether. Speaking words with our mouth does not absolve us of the necessity to make amends with our actions.
Dents don’t appear by themselves. Plates don’t grow legs and walk upstairs. We are responsible for our own behavior, and integrity of character demands that we confess our faults and make restitution to the best of our ability. If we don’t help our children to see this and live this, we rob them and doom them to a life of blaming others and rationalizing their every action.
It’s how we grow, how we mature. I just wish I hadn’t had so much experience in saying, “My fault.” Oh well, if confession really is good for the soul, mine should be getting quite healthy by now.
I wonder after all, where those dents did come from?
“None but the well-bred man knows how to confess a fault, or acknowledge himself in an error.”
(Benjamin Franklin~American Statesman, philosopher, and inventor~1706-1790)
“When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long…Then I acknowledged my sin to You and did not cover up my iniquity…”
(Psalm 32:3,5a~NIV) 
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2012. All Rights Reserved.

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