Friday, May 30, 2014

Thirteen Steps to Disaster

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I was only trying to help. Mastering thirteen stairs from the door to the street to the door that opened into our apartment didn’t seem that difficult. After all, I was a “big” little kid. I could handle it, couldn’t I?

During the ‘50s, the man in the white suit with the neat little black bowtie came once a week to the street door, which was always unlocked. (The ads in the magazine always pictured him dressed this way though I can’t honestly say I remember our own deliveryman dressing to that height of haute couture.) Mom left the glass bottles just inside the door. There were big ones for the stuff I was most interested in and, sometimes, short stubby ones or short skinny ones, for other things that ended up in some delicious concoction on the kitchen table at mealtimes.

The deliveryman drove a funny looking stub-nosed truck. At least that’s what I remember, though I could be thinking of those magazine ads again. I could see him from the living room window, which looked out over the street.

That’s where this story begins.

I saw him drive up, step down from his truck, reach back for his little wire basket. It had six divisions and each division held a full glass bottle. I knew the ones mom had left just inside the door were empty. I waited in eager anticipation for the exchange.

The outside back door creaked open on squeaky hinges. The inside back door stuck a bit and the deliveryman had to give it a push to get it open. I heard the clank of the bottles as he put his basket down on the bottom step; then the rattle as he lifted the full ones out and exchanged them for the two empties that mom had left.

The outer door squeaked and I saw him get back into his cute truck with four full bottles in his basket and mom’s two empty ones. He headed off to the next house on his route.

Now it was my turn.

I can’t remember what mom was doing. She had to have been at home. After all, I was only a little kid and she never neglected us. Sometimes she left me with Myrtle, the landlady, who lived in the bottom part of the house. Anyway, at this moment, I was on my own and determined to help.

Getting down those thirteen stairs was easy. The objects of my quest were sitting quietly just inside the back door. When I reached them, I lifted one, and then the other. They were heavier than I expected. But, with all the confidence of a true child helper, I started up the stairs.

The first few steps were easy. No one has ever accused me of being a math whiz, but I swear to this day that those thirteen steps multiplied themselves into thirty-three. By the time I got near the top, I was breathing hard, and those two bottles seemed to weigh as much as the animal that had produced their contents.

I reached the second-to-last step. Then the unthinkable happened. Both bottles, wet from the beads of moisture that had formed on their outsides because of the heat of my hands, began to slip from my grasp. There was absolutely nothing I could do.

Glass doesn’t bounce.

By the time all the crashing, smashing, and splashing, was done, all thirteen stairs were covered in glass and dotted with globs of white. Less impressive, but just as present, were the beads of moisture running down my cheeks to drop, and mix, with the mess on the steps. Unfortunately, there weren’t enough of them to wash away the evidence of my frustrated endeavors at being mother’s little helper.

During that eternal minute of time, from wherever she had been, mother appeared. If I had been a spectator, her wrath would have been an impressive sight to behold. As it was, I not only beheld it; I felt it.

Not every effort we make to help is going to be appreciated. Sometimes our best attempts are dismal failures and we are tempted to despair and to quit. Those are the moments when we need to remember that we are no longer under mother’s wrath, but under God’s grace. He tells us to never get tired of doing good, and to never give up.* It’s the doing of good that counts, even when the results make a mess on the stairs.

*Galatians 6:9, 10

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