Tutored a kid once. Haven’t since.
He was probably a third grader at the time, with the telltale third grade characteristics: short and scrawny and freckled. What you read hereafter is the story of how he duped me, and drove me to despise tutoring.
College, for me, had just ended, when my mom arranged for a summer of math with the son of a co-worker. This kid loved being outside, driving tractors with his dad on the farm, and playing ball. The problem was he loved those things so much that the thought of sitting inside under my strict supervision, even for an hour, tore him apart.
I attempted to have pity on him and mixed up the routine for our final tutoring session, allowing him to complete his math work while roaming around his farm. After a most distracted session, he declared that he would get us back to the house by means of an alternate route.
“Sure. Just lead the way.” Those were my fated words.
He led me up a steep, muddy embankment capped off with a barbed wire fence. Easily slithering under the lowest line, he turned back to me and told me to do the same. The result was not at all fortunate. The wire sunk its teeth into my backpack (which held the flashcards, worksheets, and other math aids that were never used this session). Go figure.
This whole predicament unfolding before me was my fault for multiple reasons:
- A good teacher never relinquishes home field advantage – as I did by allowing us to go outside to work.
- Any sane person knows to never follow scrawny third graders.
- Especially when they are wearing sly grins.
- I also lost my sense of perception, as it was entirely unreasonable for me to think that I could slink my body through the 6 inch gap between the ground and fence, while wearing a backpack.
So, ensnared, and with my face pressed upon the ground, I reached back with my right hand to unhook the wire from my pack.
Suddenly, I could not stop gripping the wire, and everything went white, hot, fuzzy, shaky, numb, and whatever other adjectives you can use to describe electrocution.
Once the pulse ended I could actually release my hand that had been clinging to the fence involuntarily. Though dazed, I clearly made out the scrawny kid standing just out of my reach, chuckling, pointing, and making it apparent that he would not be lending any aid – not even moral support. As I looked up at him, I realized (the delay in one’s ability to think is remarkable) that I had just been electrocuted by a cattle fence, and recalled something a friend of mine, whose dad owned cattle, told me once – these sorts of fences have periodic electric pulses running through them.
I got electrocuted again.
The second one was worse. Not only was my body still shaky from the first, but I totally knew it was coming. It was only a matter of time, like the playground fight in which the giant kid is taunting the smaller one, and everyone, including the small kid, is waiting in agony for the knockout punch.
I was in a sorry state lying there under the fence; face down in the dirt, eaten whole and entire by an electrified barbed wire fence. The added insult was that scrawny boy just snickered. I didn’t even get a full on laugh, just a wicked cackle.
Eventually I got out. I don’t exactly remember how or how many shocks I endured. Afterward, it was difficult to walk without falling over, and driving home was rather dangerous (typical side effects of electrocution – numbness, difficulty in grasping things, headache, weakness).
I have not tutored since, and will never again tutor scrawny third graders. This applies even to my own children, so long as they are scrawny, and in the third grade.
This story has deep spiritual implications – it is not a complete waste of time…
You see, this anecdote corresponds to the way sin works in our lives. What begins as an attempt to “just get away” from the normal routine, to find a little more excitement in life (or tutoring), turns into following the little, scrawny devil into places you never imagined going. Down ravines and up steep embankments. He squeezes through tight places and encourages you to follow, making you believe that you will come out whole and entire on the other side, just as he did. It doesn’t work out so nicely.
Instead, he brings us to this point where we feel stuck, and here, getting back to the electrified fence story, we have what science calls a sustained muscular contraction. When a certain amount of electricity runs through the hand, for example, the human hand actually grasps tightly to the object that is electrocuting it. It clings to what is causing it pain, torment, and damage; the human will is incapacitated.
The same holds true for our spiritual lives. That which is literally destroying us, literally killing us spiritually, is what we cling to, and seemingly cannot stop clinging to.
The devil stands off at a safe distance, snickers, and says, “You’re really not good enough/big enough/man enough/woman enough/holy enough to get out of this one.”
Here, to a degree, the scrawny one is right. On our own, we can’t let go. Sin can render us almost completely helpless and numb – ask anyone who has struggled with an addiction.
A true Companionship is necessary to overcome the grip that sin has on us (the barbed wire), and the grip we have on sin (my hand clinging to the very object that was electrocuting me). This Companionship is Jesus Christ, and we find him in the Church – its witnesses and sacramental life.
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