Friday, July 13, 2007
Who's Got an Axe to Grind?
Back when I was in training for the Fire Department, having gone through mostly academics for four months, we were then subjected to the last six weeks of training. At "The Tower".
The dreaded Tower.
I had worked hard in the academics and rivaled another guy (whose Dad was a Chief) for the top spot in the class. But being a woman, I knew that I could not maintain that position, and this reality was brought home in our first week at the Tower.
They had a setup to include a six story building attached to a two-story "residential" building with a typical Minnesota roof. There was also a specially-built training building which allowed for different floor plans, smoke machines, and propane-fueled flames.
And they had the chopping simulator. This was a one-story building with four cutouts fit for wooden pallets. I remember my first experience and training evolution involving this; we had to climb a ground ladder, step onto a roof ladder, climb it, step out onto the peak, move along it to the far side and climb down the ariel ladder (from the ladder truck) which was extended up to the peak. Then we went to the chopping simulator.
Most of we women just didn't have the strength to grab a pallet, which was more unweildy than it was heavy (although some were very heavy!) and carry it up a ladder, so some of the guys helped with this. It was put in place, and when we could chop through it (by breaking ALL the boards, leaving only the frame, and then chop the frame and push it through the holes to "clear" it from the roof), we'd be done.
I was given a pallet, thrilled it seemed to be very weak. So I swung the ax, which had a dull blade - they all did - and it bounced back at me without a result. Surprised, I swung again, harder. It bounced higher.
Frustrated, I really went to town on this thing, determined that it would not win. And finally a board broke. I rejoiced and continued until the axe flew out of my had from an especially surprising rebound. While a fellow classmate retrieved the tool for me, one of the other guys stopped what he was doing long enough to make a few suggestions, which, at the time, I thought made no sense. The boards were clearly the weakest in the center. I could jump on it and break it...why wouldn't the axe cut through? So I initially ignored his advice, decided I just wasn't swinging hard enough, and redoubled my efforts, resulting only in futile swings, much sweat, much frustration...and a "failure". My coworker just shook his head as I descended the ladder in exhaustion and defeat.
I had to try again later as we went through other training evolutions. And the situation repeated itself. I exhausted myself trying to break the pallet at it's strongest point, which, in my mind, was the weakest point. And no matter how hard I tried, I could not get through the springy wood. It continued to repel my axe. All around me, the guys were turning their pallets into toothpicks...and I couldn't even get through ONE!
Finally the Captain ordered me down, and after taking off the SCBA, the coat, and my helmet so I could wipe off the sweat and pour water on my head in the ninety-degree September heat, one of the guys pulled me aside. Another joined him. They explained to me why my pallet wasn't breaking; it had nothing to do with a lack of strength, but was completely about technique. They explained how the weaker points were really up against the frame, how to hit it so it would break, and that I wouldn't have to work so hard. They gave the same instruction to a couple other of the women, because this wasn't an issue of men versus women; we were a unified group, and where one was failing, all were failing. If not individually, then at least as a team. It literally hurt all of us to see one person struggling, and of course, there was the practical concern; we had to be able to depend on each other. One day, our lives may be in that person's hands, and the trust factor was greatly needed. We had to build each other up and help them overcome their own weaknesses.
I recieved a similar lesson when fighting with the hose one day...I simply could not hold it, advance it while on my knees, and control a straight stream. When I had to hold my position, even on my knees, without someone to support me from the back, the water pressure literally pushed me backwards. It was exhausting.
I wasn't the only person with this problem, and one female coworker provided a tip she got from another firefighter who'd gone through this training the year prior. As it was, I never got the opportunity to test that particular technique, but I have no doubt it worked as others did try it and were able to maintain and advance as they needed.
Does anyone else see a metaphor for "fraternal correction"?
When another member of the mystical Body of Christ is suffering, we all suffer in some way. When that person is struggling, engaging in a futile and self-destructive act, which also may affect us all, we MUST speak up and offer constructive correction. They are destroying themselves and putting everyone else at risk.
In training, we had to focus on saving lives.
In the Church, we focus on saving souls. Can we trust one another with our souls?
If we are not willing to speak up in correction or guidance, we are helping to sever any unity that might exist. If we are the ones in error, we NEED that correction before the axe we're using to beat through our agenda goes flying out of our hands and into an innocent person's back. We NEED to be brought to bear, or we'll go so far off course that the rest of the Body is brought down. Conversely, if we recognize that someone is doing something wrong, we are obligated to step in and provide some instruction.
Ultimately, the decision to listen to truth or to disregard is in the hands of the one in error, yet, when the error is chosen over truth, it hurts everyone, it affects everyone, and we are wounded greviously.
I'll never forget the willingness of my class to come to my aid when I was in error, and I'll never forget how much it hurt when someone failed. Part of our training involved building and recognizing that special unity we had as a team, that special bond between us all, and the understanding the reality that we had to depend upon one another.
It is no different in the Church, whether we are considering our own personal conduct or public conduct when claiming to represent the Church as a Catholic. None of us is perfect; we all struggle with something, perhaps many things. So it is that we are responsible for knowing our faith and doing our best to live it, go to Confession when needed, and accept legitimate correction when we are wrong. Beating a pulpit in futility destroys us, causes schrapnel to fly, and wounds the rest of the Body. And when we see that someone else is engaging in such behavior, be it subtle and known only to us as a close friend, or be it publicly and loudly, we must intervene and attempt to put a stop to the damage being done.
And just to sum it up with another metaphor:
A properly sharpened axe, when used correctly, even though sweat and muscle are a part of the process, makes short work of big obstacles.
Thanks, guys, for taking the time to teach me how to do it right.