Sunday, 8 May 2011

Nails in the Fence

Change is an intrinsic ingredient in the human survival recipe – with every passing moment I change, you change, times change, so on and so forth. So it's odd that though we’re aware of the non-permanence of everything around us we claw for something intransient in life. When sudden changes occur we can feel misplaced, mistreated because we had no prior warning. I feel I’m speaking in riddles – my point though is actually very simple. I want to share a story with you. I’m at a place in life where everything is changing very quickly without my consent. I can’t say my initial reaction has been particularly composed either. I’ve lashed out, frustrated with my lack of control on my life and exchanged bitter words with those who've hurt me. It's taken six long months to realise though that no matter what I do, no matter how I react, things will go on changing. It’s in hindsight I know that the only option is to accept and then adapt to change.

At the tiny age of 7 years old, I recall sitting in the school sports hall, legs crossed, on the floor for morning assembly. Different classes sharing their latest art projects, singing hymns from the overhead projector and above all, listening to short stories (remember The Good Samaritan for example?) read out by the teacher. And it's one such story that was so very poignant, it remains fresh in my memory even today -

There was once a little boy with a very bad temper. His father gave him a bag of nails and told him that every time he lost his temper, he must hammer a nail into the back of the fence. The first day the boy had driven 37 nails into the fence. Over the next few weeks, as he learned to control his anger, the number of nails hammered daily gradually dwindled down. He discovered it was easier to hold his temper than to drive those nails into the fence. Finally the day came when the boy didn't lose his temper at all. He told his father about it and the father suggested that the boy now pull out one nail for each day that he was able to hold his temper.

The days passed and the young boy was finally able to tell his father that all the nails were gone. The father took his son by the hand and led him to the fence. He said, "You have done well, my son, but look at the holes in the fence. The fence will never be the same. When you say things in anger, they leave a scar just like this one. You can put a knife in a man and draw it out. It won't matter how many times you say sorry because the wound will still be there."

It’s a story with a very practical message but one that’s so compelling it prevents my sometimes dark thoughts from reaching my tongue. Of course sometimes giving people a piece of your mind is essential but expressing a viewpoint doesn’t mean lashing out left right and centre to inflict as much hurt as is possible. So I thank my primary school teacher, Mrs Taylor, for these words of wisdom because truly, the spoken word can never be retrieved.


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