Impressionable

Posted on March 31, 2011 by

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Cause and effect is one of the most underrated principles of human existence.  It works for machines, it works for nations, it works for waistlines.  Yet somehow we only seem to get it either when the effect end of the bargain kicks us in the teeth, or when we are looking into the lives of others.

When I was in my late childhood years I spent a few years woodcarving.  I never had been that great with my hands, but it didn’t really take that much to turn out toothpick holding boots and rudimentary toy horses.  While there are numerous analogies to be taken from woodcarving, in retrospect there are at least two that seem to reach up through those tumultuous years and poke me in the backside like a finely sharpened ‘v’ tool.

In it’s basest form, woodcarving is made of two must-have elements:  the wood and the knife.  One without the other leaves you with either a completely worthless, not to mention, misshapen block of wood, or a ridiculously sharp knife of incredibly impractical shortness.   One of the first things you realize in woodcarving is the skill of thinking ahead.  Even as a rather dimwitted, 11-12 year old I realized that once I had gouged the eyes out of my wooden horse, there was no putting them back.  Wood was wood, and it didn’t exactly go back together no matter how much glue you poured over the mess. Every shaving and stroke of the blade was irreversible.

In a lot of ways that is what our lives are like.  Every word that goes out of our mouths, every action we take, every minute we spend, is irrevocably imprinted upon our existence.  There’s no taking it back.  Just like the carving, there are a lot of times, when this is a good thing.  On the other hand, most of us don’t seem to realize we’re gouging the eyes out of our horse until it’s far too late.  Especially as young people.  The bits and pieces of our lives we give away, can’t really be glued back.

Of course we really couldn’t do any of this damage unless we had the knife, no?  The basic carving knife is short, no longer than two inches generally and exceedingly sharp.  Anyone whose ever carved wood, sawed logs, or cut bread knows the importance of a sharp knife.  (Given, there are moments of bloodstained agonies when every woodcarver says things they shouldn’t regarding the sharpness of their tools…) There’s no going anywhere unless the knife has an edge and that edge has to be just right for the task we’re doing. Knives aren’t born sharp.  They are sharpened and honed using something harder than the steel of the blade itself.

If you think about it, a carving knife is a lot like our belief system.  It’s not born sharp.  It’s forged in the belief systems of our parents, ground to a point by the culture and education we imbibe, and finally sharpened by what we ourselves allow into our lives.  Every book we read, every song we hear, every image we view, has the effect of sharpening the blade which we then apply to the wood block of our lives.    Ever tried whittling with a serrated knife?  The result usually looks somewhat akin to a freshly plowed field or a bad parody of Jamaican cornrows.  Unfortunately that is exactly what most of us are doing.  We sharpen our blades with the gravel of the world, it’s vision, its philosophy, it’s entertainment nicking the blade, scratching the protective finish and every once in awhile, going so far as to permanently blunt the edge.  When we apply this blade to our lives, the results are no less predictable than carving with a breadknife.

When was the last time we stepped back and took a good solid look at the wood block of our lives?   A recent set of family events forced me to do just that, and the results were, frankly, disturbing.  My woodblock, while of course not the worst bit of work out there, (it never is) was raked to a beleaguered pulp.  Worse yet, my siblings, for reasons entirely their own, were modeling their carvings after mine, wrecking their own knives in the process.    The term ‘sobering’ was a massive understatement.

So let us never forget: No man is an island.  No second is alone.  All lighting has its thunder.  Every fire has its ash.  Every life is short and destined.    Every risk has its reward.  Action, reaction. Cause and effect.  Oh to God that he may lead each of us in the redemption of such things and forgive me the destruction I have so unwittingly effected, in myself, my peers, and the generations to come.  May my blade find its edge on the wet stone of eternal truth, my carving its form in the master of destinies.

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