From 1967 to 1971 I was in the Navy where dress shoes had to be spit-shined to a mirror finish. Quite often I would shine my shoes on Saturday night for the following week, and one Saturday I thought, “There has to be a faster way to do this.” Eyeing the can of black wax, and the stove, I thought, “I know! I’ll warm the wax so that it will spread on easily and make a nice even coat.” So I put the opened can on the stove burner and turned the flame on low, watching as the wax began to melt. I thought that I must be a genius for having thought of this approach… until the entire can of melted wax ignited, sending flames all the way up to the hood over the stove! Panicking, I grabbed a pot, filled it with water and hurled it at the can; when the water hit the hot wax it all just sort of exploded, sending streamers of flaming wax all over the stove, the wall, and the floor! So many years later now I don’t really remember how I finally got the flames extinguished; what I vividly remember is that it took me hours to clean up the stove, the wall and the floor. And the shoes were still not polished! The episode taught me that some choices can be short-sighted and have unintended results!
In traditional Japanese art the pleasure is in the restraint; in non-Japanese art the pleasure is in the abundance, both of which aspects remind me of a couple that I knew some years ago: Jack’s approach to things was very understated, very Japanese even though he wasn’t, while Patty’s was over the top. I often wondered what drew them to each other since they seemed so dissimilar! I hadn’t seen them in about 6 months when, in a highly agitated state… so unlike himself… Jack came to see me and said, “I’m drowning in her chaos!!!” He wasn’t just being melodramatic: Patty had tried meth, and its addictive character had linked up with her desire for more More MORE! By the time Jack came to see me she had run through their savings, she had sold everything of any value, and bills had not been paid in months, including rent, so they were now living… if you could call it that… in the basement of an abandoned building! Eventually Jack forced her to go into rehab. When she came out she was ecstatic to be clean and free, and just knew that life would be better. And then Patty discovered… I don’t know how… that the desire for meth was still alive and well inside herself. That was when she became aware that her first carefree choice to “try” meth had robbed her of ever again not knowing what its demonic high was like, which memory meant that now every one of her days was a struggle to stay stopped.
Even while the choices that we make eliminate some other choices, the ones that we do embrace take us somewhere. No choice is without its consequences, even those we make in a carefree frame of mind. Even though Patty has now been clean for some years meth still holds her hostage every day. Because of my episode with the water and the wax I learned to ask myself, “What will happen if I do this?” Because of Patty’s experience of being a helpless hostage to meth’s hell she has learned to ask herself, “What will happen if I don’t do this?”
Is this your life?