This afternoon as I finished preparations for the work week, I spend significant time at the paper cutter. Reading the warnings about the danger of the sharp blade reminded me of the years through elementary school when we were expressly forbidden to use the paper cutter unless we had direct permission from the teacher. The ban and the warning seared the image of generations of school children missing fingers.
That image continues to dominate my mind each time I go to the paper cutter. Using the paper cutter now, I realize they were very careless generations of school children missing fingers! Nevertheless, I focus the entire time I have that blade under my control.
Just as I can remember the lyrics to almost every top-forty song in my high school and college years, the memory of the warnings of the dangers of paper cutters stuck with me across the years. Those memories bring both mirth and wonder: did I actually believe the teachers when they said I could chop my fingers off? Judging by where I place my hand in relation to the blade, yes, yes I do.
Regardless of the quality of those 80’s lyrics (the best music EVER) or the honesty in my teacher’s warnings, those memories touch a deep part of my personal identity. Just as my footwear helps define me, the experiences of my childhood and youth also shape my identity. We are blessed to be more encyclopedia than periodical. No matter how we seek to shape the perceptions about us, our core being absorbs every aspect of our experience.
We cannot control all the events around us, but we can control our response to them. Controlling the response does not mean we are not affected by the event, just that we adapt to it or we let it define us. As an adult, I know there are not generations of schoolchildren missing fingers from paper cutters, but I still keep my hand well-back from the blade while slicing through the stack of paper I have fed into the mechanism. Those years of warnings have built a healthy respect for things with sharp blades; they shaped me. I vigorously dice, chop, and shred while cooking; they did not define me. Experiences cannot be undone, but the can be managed.