Panic!

Gone!  The shop-owner frantically scanned the area, lifting items on the counter to peer under them, shoving others aside feverishly.  He didn’t neglect the trash can nearby, but the lost article was nowhere to be found.  He had it in his hand just a moment ago!  It couldn’t have disappeared!  Desperate, he called out to his wife in the office.  “Have you seen that piece of paper I had up here?  It had all Dee’s credit card and address information.  I can’t ship her order without it!”  The pretty red-head left her stack of work and came to his side, making suggestions and lifting articles on the counter, taking a second to dig through the trash.  He snapped at her, “I already looked there!”  They continued to look, but with or without his ire, it was not to be found anywhere.

The shopkeeper admits that he doesn’t deal with stress well.  In these moments of emotional upset, he loses touch with reality and grasps at straws.  This event was no exception.

But wait for just a moment, will you?  We can’t go past that phrase “grasp at straws” without taking a short trip down a rabbit trail.  The word-nerd in me must lend some clarity to the old saw.  Why would one grasp at straws?  The image in my head is that of my grandson, coming around the corner with his little hand grasping a quantity of soda straws.  Of course, an argument is about to break out, since each one wants the blue one and there is only one of those.  There are plenty of yellow ones, but there is no demand for that out-of-vogue color. To settle the argument, we’ll…What’s that?  Oh, my apologies…I find myself following a completely different rabbit trail than the one we started down initially.  Where was I headed?  Oh, yes.  The young lad’s hand grasping the straws.  No, it just doesn’t fit.  There must be another explanation.

I search for the etymology of the phrase and learn that there is an old proverb, traceable all the way back to the fifteenth century author/monk/politician, Sir Thomas More, who wrote that “a man in peril of drowning catchest whatsoever comest next to hand, be it never so simple a stick.”  The phrase evidently became a well-used proverb, but was next quoted (that we know of) in the eighteenth century as “a drowning man will catch at a straw”.  The picture of this drowning man being swept down the roaring current of a swift river is a vivid one, as he desperately grabs at the reeds or grasses along the edge, knowing that none could possibly stop his passage.

And, now, rabbit trail followed, we find ourselves back at the shop-keeper’s dilemma.  To put it plainly, he panicked.  Probably a customer had picked it up from the counter top along with his or her purchase.  He racked his brain, but came up with only one whose name he could remember.  He made a desperate call to her brother, leaving a message on his voice mail to have her call the store.  Then he let his mind run rampant, unbridled and uncontrolled.  What was he to do?  He had lost important information.  That credit card number, coupled with the billing address on the same paper, would give anyone access to make charges with the card.  What a disaster!  He would have to call Dee and tell her to cancel her credit card.  Her son wouldn’t receive his Christmas presents.  She would never do business with him again.  His reputation would be ruined.  His mind spun the wild imaginations out dizzily.

After some time, cogent thoughts began to return.  Yes, he would call Dee if the paper couldn’t be located.  Yes, damage would be done.  They would face the consequences.  But first, they needed to go through the events of the last half hour to see if anything had been missed.  Amazingly, in his mind’s eye, he saw a notebook which had been on the counter before the last customer came in.  He immediately did the logical thing and found the notebook.  Opening it up, his eye fell instantly on the paper he was so desperately seeking!  He had closed it up when he moved the notebook aside.  It never really had been lost; there never was a genuine disaster.  The reprieve was almost too much for the man.  He simply sat down at his cluttered desk, running his hands through his hair and muttering to himself, and took a breather.  What a relief!

And we leave our pathetic shop keeper for a moment, as we attempt to make another point to this rambling tale.  Recently, the senseless death of children in Connecticut has grabbed the attention of our country.  Our reaction has gone beyond shock and sadness.  Many are desperate for answers, even questioning God.  But more than that, I see, all around me, people who have other problems too…big problems.  Jobs have been lost, serious illness has struck, relatives have passed away.  Many believe they are drowning.  Panic abounds.  Straws are grabbed at as unworkable solutions are suggested and argued.  As we rant and lament our fate, we just know that the current is carrying us to certain destruction.  What to do?  What to do?

I wonder if we stop to think that the foundation under our feet hasn’t left us at all.  I wonder if we actually believe that our Creator has no immediate interest in our circumstances.  Yes, the current of life is pushing us downstream, but there is still a river bed beneath us.  Curiously, when water runs fastest, it is usually the shallowest.  Experts recommend putting your feet down and finding the bottom when you are caught in a fast-moving current.  You may not be able to stand against the relentless torrent, but your feet dragging on the floor of the waterway can act as an anchor, slowing your progress (a lot more than those reeds at the edge will), and giving a chance to get your wits about you, possibly making your way out of the current to a more stable place.

 The silly shop keeper understands that it is foolish to give up hope before the disaster actually happens.  Many find, as they renew their trust in a God who cares more than they can know, that the overpowering current is just moving them to a better place.  Am I foolish enough to forget that some people actually do drown?  No, I’m not.  Loss is a part of our existence on this earth.  But after loss, we who are left go on.  We can allow ourselves to be paralyzed by past circumstances, or we can learn from them and turn to face what comes next.  It does not mean that we are not sad for our losses, that we do not mourn, but we remain resolute nonetheless, as we press on to the goal.

How about it?  Are you ready to quit grasping at straws like a drowning man?  I think it’s time we work together at keeping our footing in the swiftly moving current of life.  It’s bound to be a little tricky, but I’m confident that we’ll make it just fine. 

I’ll take the anchor over the straws any day… 

“If you fell down yesterday, stand up today.”
(H.G.Wells~English novelist~1866-1946)

“We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll,
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move,
Grounded firm and deep in the Savior’s love.”
(Priscilla J Owens~American school-teach/hymn writer~1829-1907)

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



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