Thursday, November 20, 2008

The Voice of Experience

Learning from your mistakes. Increasing your knowledge. Benefitting from the experience of others. Isn't that what makes going through mistakes worthwhile? What good are trials if I'm not better on the other side. Or smarter. Or something.
I try to learn the lessons of life and benefit from mistakes. But see, one of my problems is when I try to help my children learn from my mistakes. Somehow they don't seem to grasp the lessons that were so clear to me. I am constantly amazed that they know so much in their teenaged wisdom. I tend to vocalize my surprise as well. "Fine. Don't listen to me. Never mind that I'm twenty (something) years older than you are. Never mind that I was once a teenager. I'm sure I have nothing to offer in this situation that would be of any benefit to you at all."
Sarcasm suits me.
One of the reasons I don't get their extensive knowledge is because I never thought I had that at that age. I was afraid to go against advice and experience for fear I would regret it. I was fairly certain that in any given situation, almost everyone knew more than I did.
I can remember one time--actually it was in my adulthood--that I didn't listen to the voice of experience. And I regretted it. That was when we were on our survey trip to Uganda, East Africa.
We had spent a three-day weekend at the Rock Hotel in Tororo, visiting some villages there and holding services on Sunday. We were on a scouting trip, looking for a place to begin our future ministry. During that weekend, the hotel only had electricity part of the time and they did not have running water. We ended up taking basin baths and by the time our weekend was over, I was definitely feeling less than clean.
We headed back to Kampala--seven of us--in a five passenger Isuzu Trooper. Over dirt roads. Without air conditioning. It was a four or five hour trip, and I was not looking forward to it. One of the missionary wives with us pulled a long scarf out of her purse and draped it over her head, tucking in all her hair. She offered another one to me, but I declined. I was filthy already. I was hot and I didn't want something wrapped around my head and neck. I wanted to feel the wind (hot and sticky that it was) in my hair.
As we got closer to our destination, I envisioned taking a relaxing shower and changing into clean clothes. The men had promised to take us out to a nice restaurant that night, and I was looking forward to enjoying a few comforts I had always taken for granted. (Electricity and running water, for instance.)
On the outskirts of Kampala, I discovered that we were headed directly to Fang Fang's. One of the most elegant Chinese restaurants in the country. I quickly whipped a brush out of my purse and attempted to pull it through five hours of tangles. Dust billowed out with every stroke. (I am not making this up.)I finally managed to tame most of it down into a headband. I wasn't even going for well-groomed here. Just reasonably tamed.
Inside the restaurant the waitress brought us a tray of warm, wet towels to wipe our hands. I was ashamed of the dirt that showed on the white towels, but my hands felt so much better for having been cleaned. I took a furtive look around and then used the towel on my arms, as well. I'd never realized how heavenly clean could feel! There was one clean towel left, so I grabbed that one to use on my face and neck. Yes, I was not sponge-bathing at the dining table, but I really didn't care. I piled the grimy towels back on the tray, embarrassed at how dirty they were. I could have saved so much trouble if I'd just used the stupid scarf, like I was told. I didn't listen to the voice of experience.
That little incident taught me a lesson. And I'd like to share it with my children, but they're busy not listening to the voice of experience either. I guess they'll figure it out when they have to use finger cloths to wipe all their dirt away. And then maybe some day they can share their life lessons with their kids. I hope I'm there to see them not listening as well.

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