When I was a kid, I spent an enormous amount of time with my first cousins. We were more like sisters. We all congregated at my Granny’s house through the week when school was out and our parents were at work. There were three of us: Rachel, Chelsey, and Emily, and we were all right around the same age. Rachel was about a year older. Remarkably, Chelsey and I were born on the same day, mere hours apart. I’m the oldest, as I so often liked to point out back then. I have a lot of fond memories of that time, of those long summer days spent entirely outside, playing whatever games we could dream up, just daring to get away with tip-toeing on the large, slab-like rocks that surrounded my Granny’s flower beds, and running down the gigantic hill that made up her yard to catch the ice cream truck. These moments are important to me. They are a part of my story and they’ve helped shaped who I am.
The particular memory I have in mind now happened when I was seven or eight. When we were that age, our latest obsession was the family roller skating rink. We loved to go hang out in the attached arcade, eat those nasty concession stand nachos, and maybe, just maybe, get asked to skate in the couples’ skate by the cute boy in the Jnco jeans and the Independent hoodie. Even as I write this, I can still smell stale popcorn and the polish they used on the floor. Anyway, this was a day that we wanted to go and our parents said no. This was just Rachel and me; Chelsey wasn’t there that day for whatever reason. I don’t remember whose idea it was. I’m inclined to say it was Rachel’s, but she may remember it differently. We decided that since we couldn’t go to the skating rink that day, we would make our own skating rink. See, my granny’s back porch was concrete, and when it got wet, it was slicker than goose poop. We were both quivering with excitement as we grabbed the jug that granny kept nestled down next to the big standalone freezer on the porch. We wet that bad boy down and slipped and slid until our hearts were content. It occurs to me now, that it’s amazing one of us didn’t break our neck or at least knock some teeth out. We were lucky in more ways than one that day. Soon we tired of our shenanigans, and like young kids do, moved on to another game off in the yard somewhere without another thought. At that point, we didn’t understand what we had done. We were soon enlightened.
Later in the afternoon, my Aunt Angie walked onto the back porch to light a cigarette and smelled gasoline. That’s right. That jug we found by the freezer was red. We had wet down my granny’s back porch with gasoline to create our own personal skating rink. I think it’s important to point out here, that neither Rachel or me even knew what gasoline was. We didn’t do it on purpose, or rather we did, but we didn’t understand that what we were doing was that dangerous.
Unequivocally, that is the worst butt whooping I ever got. And the punishment befitted the crime of nearly burning down my granny’s house. I deserved it. Truly, I deserved much worse than what I got.
The reason why I share this story with you is because, firstly, I enjoy telling it. It has become one of those stories that we often tell around the holidays when my family is all together and we want to take a trip down memory lane and remember my granny, who went to Heaven several years ago. But I also tell it because I wonder how close and how often we come to inadvertently and metaphorically burning down someone else’s house.
I see stuff like this on the news all the time. A moment of distracted driving results in two cars wrapped around each other, and a daughter or son who will never come home. If only I’d left a few minutes earlier. If only I hadn’t decided to stay late and work on that project. If only I’d told that person about how Jesus died for them when I had the chance. It’s scary to think that some small decision could hurt others that badly. All it would take is the right set of circumstances, like when fire meets gasoline. And to think that we go around making these types of decisions all day.
Some things are chancy and we have no control over them. I understand and have peace with that, even though it’s still kind of scary. But we should be careful with our decision maker when we can. It’s the most dangerous weapon we possess.