July 24, 2013

It was either late May or early June of 1970. I was 3 months short of my 17th birthday and working at a gas station about a mile from my home. I pumped gas, fixed tires and did a few other odd jobs around the place. It’s hard to believe that at the age of 16 I was there alone four nights a week! On one memorable occasion a young woman pulled in and while her tank was being filled she asked me to check her radiator. (If Ellen were writing this she would tell you that this young woman was particularly attractive and I was… well… distracted.) I didn’t really know much about cars at the time. It didn’t occur to me that on this very hot day there might be some pressure built up in the engine and radiator. This was years before they put the plastic reservoirs in cars for adding water and antifreeze. Without thinking about it I pulled the rag from my back pocket and twisted the radiator cap.

You’ve seen the videos of Old Faithful from Yellowstone? Well a geyser of hot, scalding, steamy water came up out of that radiator and hit me square in the face and splashed all over my chest and arms. It didn’t occur to me right away that I might be burned. I guess I was in shock. I remember going to her window and saying, “Well, you need water now.” I grabbed the bucket and filled the radiator. When I went to her window again for her to pay for the gas she gasped and said, “Oh my God, your face!” I reached up my hand and my entire face was one huge blister. It was about that time the pain began.

I called my boss but he lived an hour away. I continued to wait on cars while he was on his way to relieve me. It must have been a horror show as I went to the customers and said, “May I help you?” I called home for someone to come and get me. My stepmother came down and we waited for the owner to show up. By the time he arrived I was almost out of my mind with pain. I had been standing in the garage between cars pulling in for gas with a spray of cold water on my face. Nothing seemed to help.

The hospital was about 30 minutes away on a normal day. Naturally on this day however we had to wait at the rail road tracks for the longest train in history!!!

At the emergency room they gave me morphine and using a tongue depressor they smeared something the consistency of Vaseline all over my face. It hardened over the next few days and eventually crusted off.

The final toll was 2nd degree burns on my face, chest and arms. The doctor told me I would have been blind if I had not closed my eyes. It took several weeks for the burns to heal and months before the redness went away. It was years before I wasn’t sensitive to the sun on my face. Thankfully, outside of a mark on my arm that faded after a couple of decades, I have no scars from that event. Well, no physical scars anyway. And that’s really why I wrote this.

All of us have had our share of physical pain… broken bones, dislocated this or that, operations, cuts, burns… you name it. And with the exception of those who suffer from chronic pain we get over the pain of injuries. I remember being in severe pain because of the burns, but I can’t really “feel” that pain any longer.

Emotional pain on the other hand is difficult to get past. It seems to stay with us WAY longer than physical pain. As a matter of fact, sometimes folks never get past difficult events. They are debilitated by emotional pain. And tragically too often they don’t even know it.

So, what do I remember about my 3 days in the hospital? Mostly what I remember is that my dad did not come to see me. Nor did he call. I don’t know why. Maybe he was busy. Maybe he was angry with me for doing such a moronic thing. Maybe he didn’t want to see me like that. Maybe he just didn’t know I needed to see him. I never asked. Whatever, it’s the scar that took the longest time to mend. Maybe it’s not quite gone yet… I’m not really sure.

I do know this however… without forgiveness, scars never heal. Oh, we can stuff our emotions so that no one… even ourselves, see them much… but our hurt is still there. Or maybe we self medicate… drugs, alcohol… Like a volcano our emotions are just sitting below the surface… sometimes very deep… boiling, brewing, waiting for the “right” event to cause them to blow to the surface. Or maybe we are really “strong” (a total lie) and we keep them from “blowing”. So they manifest themselves in ulcers, cancer and any number of other ailments.

I write a lot about forgiveness and I preach a lot about forgiveness… maybe it’s because it’s an issue for me? Or maybe because it’s an issue for all of us? Or just maybe because Jesus thought it was important? I do know this… if Christians practiced forgiveness as we should; if it oozed out of our spirits; if it spilled out of our pours like sweat on a sweltering day… If it became so common to us that we didn’t even have to think about it… well, we would change our world. Maybe not the whole world, but the world that we live in. The world that we work in and play in. The world where our families live. I know of no better way to change our lives and the lives of those we love than by being known as a forgiving person. What do you think? That is not a rhetorical question. Seriously, what do you think? What part does forgiveness play in your life? What part does it need to play?

I could go on and on about this most important doctrine of the faith… and I likely will at another time. But let me end by quoting Forrest Gump “And that’s all I have to say about that” —today.


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