Breakage

A couple of years ago my then nearly eighty year old father (who is now 81) was diagnosed with lung cancer, despite the fact that he had never smoked a day in his life. Perhaps, it’s the result of his career in the Air Force and his exposure to many years of second-hand smoke, back in the days when smoking was far more common in the workplace than it is now. Or, it could just be one of those things: cancer is not always the result of something breathed or ingested.

He had rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy and ultimately was declared cancer free. It was in the midst of all of that treatment, which involved repeated visits to the hospital, that my parents’ twenty-something year old refrigerator chose to stop working. As seems to be the norm, the breakage of the devices upon which our modern lives are dependent never happen at convenient times. So on top of taking my dad to the doctor nearly every day, my mom also had to find time to go refrigerator shopping. She found a good refrigerator at a reasonable price and the whole affair was taken care of relatively easily.

It’s in the middle of real major crises that problems you otherwise might think of as major crises suddenly drop into their proper perspective. Although a dead refrigerator is an enormous inconvenience, there really are worse things and more important things.

It reminded me of an incident from over ten years ago. My wife and I had just been informed that the lengthy and expensive wrongful death lawsuit against us over the SIDS death of our foster son had finally been dismissed after nearly three years of turmoil. Deciding to go out for dinner to celebrate our victory, we had a pleasant meal, the first one without stress in years—only to have the transmission in our van blow apart on the way home. It was a twelve hundred dollar problem when we didn’t have twelve hundred dollars or much of any money left at all. We wondered if eating out had been a bad idea.

Of course we had no way of knowing our transmission would die. And I was able to keep the problem in perspective. After surviving a 30 million dollar wrongful death lawsuit, a twelve hundred dollar transmission bill didn’t seem so bad.

2011 was an unusually good year for me. In September, my third book, an illustrated hardback entitled, The Bible: A Reader’s Guide, was simultaneously released in the United States and the British commonwealth nations, by separate publishers. On November 1, my fourth book, A Year with Jesus, a a large paperback daily devotional was released by Thomas Nelson Publishing. Meanwhile, my oldest daughter began college and my two younger were surviving high school. My middle daughter had just gotten her learners’ permit for driving and was enrolled in a driving school.

In the midst of all those positive things, I was unexpectedly forced to do my part to help the nation’s economy, all thanks to unexpected breakages.

Oddly enough, one of the things that chose to begin to stop working was my nearly twenty year old refrigerator, joining with my parents’ broken machine. On nearly the same day my refrigerator gave up the ghost, my wife’s sister called her to complain that her refrigerator had also decided to stop working. Apparently, if you are at all related to my family, your refrigerator was going to give up the ghost near the end of 2011.

But that’s not all! At about the same time, the also nearly twenty year old television in my bedroom decided to die in somewhat spectacular fashion. My wife had just turned on the set as we were getting ready to go to bed. I was still in my office when she told me to come to the bedroom and pointed. Our television was displaying a bright thin vertical line down the middle of the screen. As I pondered what that meant, the TV suddenly made a pair of loud pops—and our bedroom filled with the stench of burning plastic. I quickly unplugged the set.

Now, my wife and I had actually been talking about replacing the TV. Some day. As old as it was, it was obviously not a modern flat screen with high definition. But our thought had been to possibly replace it as our Christmas present to ourselves. Or when we got our tax refund in the Spring.

Thankfully, during 2011 our financial situation was healthy enough that we could afford the problems, though frankly I had not wanted to spend all that money all at once on such things–what with the then approaching autumn and winter holidays. But since we had the money, the breakages were not been so inconvenient as such things usually are. And even without the financial resources, I would hope that I could still have chosen to put the breakages in perspective and recognize that they really weren’t so significant given the bigger picture.

Life is a lot more than the stuff that so obsesses us.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm a deacon at Quartz Hill Community Church. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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