I spent the early 1980s in a rural elementary school in Russell County, Alabama. My best friend, D, was the daughter of an outgoing single Mom who drove a trendy red sports car and paid for everything in cash. She also had two older sisters in their teens that taught her how to dress, draw bubble letters and all sorts of other things that made her far cooler than me.
Because I grew up on a family compound of sorts, my little sister & I were allowed to be home alone for the couple of hours between school dismissal and my parents' arrival from work. Most afternoons consisted of two liter bottles of Coca-Cola and television.
One day in the 3rd or 4th grade, D told me about her new candle making kit. As she described it, I wanted it. Badly. I didn't want to wait. I decided I could recreate something like it at home. After school, I set to work with birthday candles and a double boiler.
The trouble was, I had never actually used a double boiler. I didn't realize it needed to have water in the bottom pot. Understandably, the birthday candles in the top pot didn't melt very well without boiling water under them. I did what most impatient 9 year olds would do, I cranked the heat up on the electric range and left it unattended for a while.
I don't recall the exact moment when I decided to go back and check, but I have a vivid memory of the sight that greeted me: bright flames consuming the pot as it melted into the red hot electric coiled eye.
There was a phone within reach. I had a little sister who could have run next door for help. I didn't take advantage of either one. Compelled by my independent streak, my foolish pride and my desire to protect my hide from being spanked I went into action mode.
We did not own a fire extinguisher, but I had this vague memory of hearing that baking flour would put out a fire. I dashed to the pantry, ripped open a bag and poured it onto the flames with reckless abandon. The flames disappeared, but I was left with a real mess.
As I caught my breath, I congratulated myself on saving the house from total destruction. Somehow, standing in the midst of this mess, my juvenile pride was still intact--maybe even emboldened.
With the smell of burnt flour still lingering in the powdery fog, I heard the back door open, the sound of keys jingling and the approaching steps of my mother. Her arrival snapped me back into reality. Suddenly, I no longer saw the room for the tragedy that was averted. Instead, I saw it from the vantage point of my Mom. A melted pot, a ruined stove, a smoky kitchen covered in a white floury mess and the 9 year old culprit standing in the midst of it all.
"WHAT ON EARTH HAPPENED HERE?!?!"
It was a valid question.
How had a childish effort to get what I wanted turned into such a total disaster?
Ask Manti Te'o.
Ask Lance Armstrong.
Ask the woman who just wanted to feel pursued again.
Ask the man who just enjoyed feeling like someone thought he was interesting and didn't always have a chore list waiting.
Ask the person drowning it debt as a result of the things they thought would make them feel more accepted.
Ask the friend who thought they just needed that substance to get through a tough time--they could stop whenever they chose.
Not one of them set out planning to get in over their heads.
It is so easy for human beings to walk into the aftermath and survey the landscape while judgmentally asking How the heck did it ever get to this point?!?
I am guilty.
It takes going back to the places in my life covered in 'burnt flour' to be reminded how we get there.
Desires left unchecked.
Independence fueled by pride.
A refusal to ask for help.
Believing the lie that 'we got this.'
A wise counselor told me years ago that I had allowed myself to believe people were either independent or codependent. In doing so I had missed the beautiful in-between of interdendency.
People need each other...
to care enough to pay attention.
LOVINGLY keep each other in check.
to admit when we could use a
hand, or an ear or a shoulder.
It is the wise person who realizes the power of confession when temptation starts, and the fool who continues to shout, "I got this" as his world falls apart around him.