An impassioned rant by a grandchild included these words. “Opa, why are you not dead yet?”
The comment regarding my deserved death connects to a story, a recent event in my life.
I had been asked to do some welding on a large metal frame at the local ball diamond. When fully completed, this structure will become a batter’s cage, a place where ball players can practice hitting balls inside a meshed space that will limit the distance the ball can travel. The frame needed some repair high up, about four meters off the ground. A local contractor offered me the use of his telescopic loader, colloquially known as a “zoom boom” to lift me to that height.
The day that my portable welder and I scheduled for the job was a Monday. Joe the contractor and his zoom boom were not going to be available on a Monday, I decided. It was the beginning of the work week. Yet, I was ready and eager. “I can do this off my tall step ladder,” I told my wife. “How hard can it be?”
Holly seemed concerned that it could be at least a little hard. “Okay, but I’ll come along to steady the ladder. It’s very windy out there!” So it was that we found ourselves setting up, windy indeed, on ground where the snow had only recently disappeared. Besides the wind, the ground was also pretty soft. One more thing, there was a mat of dead dry grass covering that mushy ground.
Up I climbed. A little wobbly, perhaps, but there was welding to be done. I was feeling pretty good about my progress, but then Holly shouted at me that she could no longer steady my ladder because she was fighting fire in the grass below me with a shovel. I glanced down long enough to be assured that she was doing that efficiently, that great danger to the town was being mitigated, and went back to work. At that point, there was suddenly no more step ladder under me, only two meters of air.
I went down hard. I was, I thought, uninjured, and within a few minutes, was on the ladder again, finishing my project.
Three days later, my single functioning eye developed an internal bleed. For close to a week, I was mostly unseeing, driven and led to specialist appointments, lying on my couch, cared for and scolded by most everyone in my life.
I have little doubt that the tumble and the eye issue are related. I have little doubt that if I was in fact more patient, more careful, more cautious, that my eyes and my ears would have had a fair chance of serving me well till the end of my days. When I try to deny that, some become short with me.
There’s a story in the Gospel of Luke about Jesus teaching a group of folks on the edge of the Sea of Galilee. The crowd surges, and Jesus is squeezed toward the water. He asks that a fishing boat be brought alongside, and he finishes his preaching from on deck. The episode ends with a great fishing episode as well.
As I picture that story, I tell myself that it wouldn’t have played out so well if Jesus had decided to wait for the weekend for Joe to bring the zoom boom. There is a time for urgency, there is a time for simply getting it done.
As I consider my decades, I acknowledge that I have a unique gifting of qualities, as we all do. That quality of urgency, sometimes defined more as impatience, has often been derided as harmful, negative, as opposed to a patient approach. But I challenge that assumption. Every quality that you or I embody, every one, have both a bright side and a shadow side. Every quality, as it is acknowledged in our makeup, every quality needs to be carefully portioned out in the right moment. Every quality must be continually evaluated, was this the most effective approach, the most useful, the most faithful? Do we create blessings, or do we create harm?
You can argue, with some validity, that climbing that ladder in the ball park was decidedly not effective, useful, faithful. Yet sometimes, the determination to simply charge forward and “get ‘er done” can embody holy qualities.
In the end, I’ve got a great story to tell. Plus, most of my vision has come back.
Ed Olfert is a retired clergy person who continues to find glimpses of holiness in every step. These days, his steps wander further into the world.