I must admit that I’ve neglected my blog for the last several days. With family in town for the holidays and a King’s ransom in leftovers to eat it’s been hard to find the time. However, a reflection occurred to me last night as I was talking with my niece that seemed worth sharing.
First, a bit of back story:
On January 25th of 1987, I cut my left index finger off. I recall the date exactly as I managed to do it about halfway through the Superbowl. My father was forced to miss the last half of the blowout to escort me to the hospital so that I could have the newly liberated digit reattached.
I suppose that if I were in the habit of fixing blame I might fault my grandfather who took it upon himself to buy my brother and I a set of wood carving X-acto knives for Christmas. While I can see the appeal in gifting a 10 and 12 year old with a myriad of various razor-sharp cutting utensils, it does seem a tad careless by today’s standard. I might also toss a little blame into my father’s corner since he allowed my brother and I to keep said knives in our bedroom even after he cut his hand with them so severely that he had to have several stitches.
Of course, the lion’s share of the blame belongs in my own lap. The slip of the knife occurred while I was trying to whittle away just enough of a two by four to make it possible to easily karate-chop it in half later. The plan was to mesmerize my friends by presenting them the uncut side of the board before I head butted it into two equal halves.
In retrospect, I’m not sure what this was meant to accomplish. I suppose that it didn’t occur to me that these friends would almost certainly want to see an encore afterward and I had no intention of boring out several boards.
Luckily I didn’t have to concern myself with that outcome. Midway through the project the knife slipped and dug into my poorly placed finger, cleaving it nearly in two. I calmly screamed and ran through the house spurting blood in a telltale trail of careless stupidity behind me. By the time I reached the living room I’d managed to scare my sisters into joining the chorus of horrific cries.
I recall watching the last quarter of the game from the hospital waiting room while I poked at my finger and marveled at the fact that I couldn’t feel a thing as I did so. I recall the surgeries that I underwent in order to reattach all the nerves, sweat glands and blood vessels. Two surgeries and a series of smaller and smaller casts were to follow, as were decades of grief from my father for having had to miss the last half of the big game.
Once my finger was successfully reattached I had no feeling in it whatsoever. In an effort to prove this to my friends, I held it against a stove burner for a few minutes while they winced and yelled. I was so devoid of feeling that I didn’t bother moving my finger until I actually smelled burning flesh. Of course, the following morning I had a blister on my fingertip large enough to call another finger.
The other side effect, of course, was a serious loss of fine motor skill in that finger. Even now I favor my left middle finger (I typed finger without using the affected finger at all, for example). Among the many things my doctor recommended to counteract this loss of coordination was that I take up some new hobbies that would involve fine movements of that digit.
My mother insisted that I followed the doctor’s recommendations and after a bit of debate I elected to learn to play piano, to touch-type and to juggle. At first these seemed like chores, but as with any talent, once I developed a bit of proficiency with them they were the source of some of my fondest distractions.
At the time and for years to come, it seemed that the act of unwittingly hacking off my finger was all bad. It is easy to imagine myself confronted by a genie in my youth and using one of my wishes to go back in time and transform my X-acto knives into silly putty. My finger is kind of grossly deformed now and to this day poor circulation leaves it freezing in even modestly cold temperatures. I spent several months in a itching, stinking, uncomfortable cast and spent far too many weekends in doctor’s offices or recovering from anesthetic.
All that being said, as I look back on it now, it is likely the most significant action in my life. Had I not whacked off my finger, I’d likely never have learned to play piano, which is my favorite emotional outlet. I may never have developed the typing proficiency that I have now, which might have robbed me of the joy of writing. I almost certainly would have never learned to juggle, which is how I’ve made my living for the last ten years or so.
Some have accused me of being too cynical in this blog and I suppose that’s a fair assessment. While I reserve the right to return to my disparaging ways in the future, today I want to reflect on how much good can come from a bad situation. In the moment it is useless to try to value the events around you. Without the perspective that only time can provide one might mistake a blessing for a curse or a curse for a blessing.
Like many of the errors and mistakes we make in life, cutting my finger off at the age of 10 defined me as an adult. It opened my eyes to things I might never have otherwise seen. It brought me to the three greatest sources of joy in my life (that I’m not married too) and it saved my father the trouble of watching the horrendous blow-out that came in the second half of Superbowl XXI. As cliché as it sounds, I can’t imagine who I would be now had it not been for this single, accidental and horribly stupid act.
While I certainly wouldn’t encourage anyone to cut off their fingers, I feel that we could all stand to be reminded from time to time that the greatest outcomes can arise from the direst circumstances. Many of us sat around on Thursday and talked about the many things we’re thankful for and I might be the only one who said “I’m thankful I cut my finger off when I was 10.”
There are two morals to the story, of course: Firstly, blessings often take the guise of tragedies. Secondly, always cut away from the fingers…
And I promise to get back to being unabashedly cynical in the next entry.