No Through Traffic

“It’s no use.  You have a mental block.”

The skinny kid blinked his eyes and grimaced in frustration.  His aunt was, no doubt, a fine school teacher, but she hadn’t been able to get through to him on that winter afternoon.  He couldn’t comprehend the first thing about the algebra problems she had tried to explain to him.  


And now?  What in the world did she mean, mental block?

Mental block–him?  He didn’t even know what that was, much less whether he had one or not!

An hour earlier, they had finished one of their infrequent family meals at his Grandma’s house.  Somehow, as they talked at the dinner table after they were all stuffed, the boy’s Mom had let slip that he was having trouble in algebra.  A veteran math teacher at one of the high schools in a big city nearby, Aunt Jane was confident she could help.  She jumped at the chance to clear things up for him. 

It was a nice plan, but it hadn’t worked out quite so neatly.

Crossing the street to the old two-story frame house he lived in with his family, they sat down to the ancient nicked-up dining room table with his school books, along with a pencil and some paper.  From the outset, she had been patient and gone through the steps of the equations one by one.  She even reminded him gently of the rules each time he got hung up on one thing or another. 

The skinny kid had tried, really he had.  But, somewhere along the way, her voice, gravelly and rough from the years of speaking at high volume to her high school students, became nothing more than a grating and meaningless noise in his ears. 

His aunt explained again and again, but all he heard was the buzzbuzzbuzz of a Peanut’s comic strip adult, with a few intelligible words tossed in here and there.

“Wah wah wah-wah-wah.  Wah wah wah-wah.  Wah wah understand that?” 

The boy nodded his head each time the question was asked.  It was easier than admitting he didn’t.  The only problem was, she believed him, and kept going on to the next step of the problem.  He certainly didn’t understand the next step, nor indeed, any part which had preceded the question before the step.  Finally, she saw what was happening and made the statement you read in the first sentence above.

He wasn’t dumb.  He just subconsciously put up barriers to understanding what she was saying.  Until he made himself concentrate on the issue at hand, no progress could be made.

The boy is forty years past the event now.  While the memory of that study session remains crystal clear, he can’t remember if he ever got rid of his mental block to the algebra assignment. 

He is certain he still has problems learning other lessons he needs to remember.

As short a time as a year ago, he distinctly remembers some life lessons which were made clear to him.  He is sure he was paying attention.  As frequently happens, he even wrote down the gist of what he learned, so others could benefit from his experience.

There was something about second chances.  He is sure of that.  Perhaps, he even suggested that obedience in serving others is a sweet aroma that arises to Heaven.  The memory is a little fuzzy, but that seems to be what he talked about.

He wrote the words himself. 

One would believe he has grasped the precepts firmly.  It might be expected he would be clearly applying them on a daily basis.

He does not. 

Perhaps he has a mental block.

Perhaps he erected the mental block himself.  Maybe it’s easier if he doesn’t have to travel that road again.  Some experiences aren’t all that pleasant.

The ancient old luxury car turned into the parking lot almost fitfully the other day.  It was almost as if the driver wasn’t sure this was where she wanted to stop.  It wouldn’t take long for me to decide I shared the driver’s feelings.

They took their time getting out of the old vehicle.  The first person through the door was an odd young man, decked out in jungle fatigues, with carabiners (clips used for rock climbing and rappelling) attached all over.  The floppy-brimmedboonie hat that matched the fatigues hid his eyes, but not his wide, chubby face.  Close behind him trooped an old couple, crippled and leaning on canes, as well as two heavy-set younger women, one of whom appeared to be mentally challenged.

I smiled and welcomed them, asking if I could be of service.  Two things happened almost simultaneously.  First, they all began to talk at once.  Within an instant of the immediate hubbub, the stench hit my nostrils.  If I have described noxious smells before, this surpassed any of those.

I almost gasped with…


I read what I have written above and I shudder as the words hit home again.

Months ago, I wrote the following, leading you who read my verbal wanderings to believe that I had learned the lesson:

          “Why, even the stench of the self-righteous filthy rags the religious people of this world are
           dressed in would make my friend’s condition feel like the freshness of a spring day in comparison.
          And yet, we think nothing of demanding His touch, His caress, His embrace, as our right.
          I have to wonder: how do we smell to Him?”

Do you see why I shudder?  Do you understand I have returned to the exact state I was in before my epiphany from months ago? 

You couldn’t have missed that as you followed my mental assessment of the customers in those paragraphs above.  I was careful to note the flaws, the defects, in fact, every way they were different that I could discern.  And, after I established they were nothing like me, I delivered the knockout punch. 

The cardinal sin–the ultimate offense against humanity!

They stank!

In my mind, I hear the old school teacher’s gravelly voice, patient and calm, but accusatory nonetheless.

“It’s no use.  You have a mental block.”

But no. 

I am working to shove the roadblock aside.  The road closed sign is not a permanent thing. 

I did hurry those folks out that day, but they came back the next week.  I had had time to remember by then.  Just a couple of days ago, the phone rang and I learned that they would be back again this week.

I’m glad.  They are people who need to be loved. 

I’m confident He doesn’t object to the same odors I do.  I’m still trying to learn to love the same things He does.

It seems likely to take a good part of my lifetime.

I’m just glad that algebra doesn’t seem to be high on His list. 

That, I’ve still got a mental block to.

“Sometimes it (the tongue) praises our Lord and Father, and sometimes it curses those who have been made in the image of God.  And so blessing and cursing come pouring out of the same mouth.  Surely, my brothers and sisters, this is not right!”
(James 3: 9,10 ~ NLT)

“We must learn to live together as brothers, or perish together as fools.”
(Martin Luther King Jr ~ American preacher/civil right leader ~ 1929-1968)

“In real life, I assure you, there is no such thing as algebra.”
(Fran Lebowitz ~American writer/humorist)

© Paul Phillips.  He’s Taken Leave.  2014.  All Rights Reserved.

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