Wednesday, October 21

More Than a Flesh Wound

Remember getting that awful splinter when you were a kid? It hurt like hell but damn the devil who wanted to extract it. We’ve all had at least one unassuming shard slide beneath the skin—and puncture our soul, its intrusion barely obscured by the rice-paper like transparency of a few layers of skin. Wood derivative or metal, it didn’t matter. Nor did size correspond to pain potential. Some splinters were large enough to use as kindling; others could not be seen by the naked eye. The small ones, come to find out, were more detrimental than their larger counterparts, kind of like scorpions and rattlesnakes,

Unfortunately, getting a splinter was often the result of a good deed, like helping your parents spread bark or cut fire wood or hurriedly scaling the tree-house ladder to hide your friend’s wine coolers. So in a way, moral responsibility equaled punishment—not an encouraging correlation.

Details about size and source aside, intrusions demand attention. Our bodies will likely respond before we are aware. Increased adrenaline, inhibited digestion, increased heart and respiratory rates are just a few potential reactions. Because the autonomic nervous system operates largely beyond our awareness, these “splinters” interrupt our body’s homeostasis more than we know. The longer the corruption, the greater the damage. As kids, we don’t care about this. Instead, we believe—with every cell in our body—that removing a splinter will be far more traumatic than leaving it.

It’s not that our 6-year-old intellect does not want that “stupid thing” gone; we are afraid of what will accompany the removal. Will it hurt more than when it went in? Will it bleed—forever? Will the finger fall off? When air contacts the remaining poison, will it explode? Creative freedom gives license to such preposterous outcomes.

Instead of outgrowing unwarranted fears, however, they compound. The splinters mutate into concepts, belief systems, and notions. They become so imbedded they can no longer be seen—there is nothing for the tweezers to grab hold of. These gigantic monsters create more imbalance, pain, and fear than the worst childhood splinter. And yet, we don’t want them removed. We project the gravity of their absence. “What will happen to my identity? My financial security? How will this change affect my relationships?

We get accustomed to tolerating that which does not serve us. But if you leave a foreign object in long enough, it becomes part of you and therefore impossible to extract. In remembering that particularly painful splinter as a child, we can also recall a sense of relief once we—finally—rid ourselves of it. Experience has taught us that removing a splinter, no matter how gigantic, is never as scary as the scenarios our imagination creates.

I encourage you to grab hold a set of tweezers this week and extract something that no longer serves you. You won’t believe you waited this long.