A little over a week I did one of the dumbest things of my life. And now I know just how truly stupid I am.
I was driving to Denver to see a very good editor friend when my car began to overheat. Badly. Like, losing power to the engine. So I pulled over and popped the hood.
At this point my automotive knowledge was completely exhausted.
So, I just stared at the engine, and the radiator cap—roasting-hot anti-freeze bubbling out from around the radiator cap. Puffs of steam shrieked out the sides, and the whole thing was shaking from the pent-up energy threatening to explode outward in a scalding geyser. Thus, I continued practicing my knowledge of car repair, and stared at the thing like an idiot, trying to figure out what to do next.
At this point a very nice man pulled up in a minivan with a half a dozen children and a pregnant wife aboard. Approaching, he said: “I’ve got some water in the car you could use to put in the radiator. You’ll just need to take off the cap and pour it in there.”
Eyeing the radiator—coiled like a muscled viper, and chugging steam like a locomotive—I replied: “I don’t think that’s a good idea.”
“You can just crack it open,” the guy said, “It’ll cool faster that way.”
This seemed incorrect to me. But, as his sweet, innocent, and very bored children looked out the back window at me, hoping to get back on the road asap, I felt a twinge of guilt. Here was a guy who had had the goodness to stop and help a total stranger when no one else had. He was the Good Samaritan. But there was that nasty-looking radiator, like a massive jungle cat, rippling with power, ready to pounce with razor-sharp talons of anti-freeze, as hot as the surface of the sun. But I owed it to the poor guy to try, right?
“It still looks pretty hot,” I replied, stalling for time, trying to think of a better solution.
Without missing a beat he said: “No problem. I’ve got a rag!” And returning to his van for a moment, he returned with precisely that.
I had officially run out of all the objections I could think of. So, I used the rag and cracked open the radiator. Steam escaped in a violent hiss from the sides—but other than that all seemed well. In fact, the shuddering of the radiator itself seemed to mellow. If this simple action could tame the beast, then if was worth it. Right?
“See?” he said, urging me to continue. And I gave the radiator cap another twist.
The sensation of a radiator exploding against my forearm and wrist was perhaps the most painful experience of my life. I don’t say this to brag, but I have a very high pain tolerance; I once had a root canal in which they failed to get me numb, and did the whole thing without pain killers. It hurt, but I didn’t want to get stuck with yet another needle (of which I am deathly phobic) that wouldn’t work. They were almost done when they accidently nicked the inside of my cheek with the spinning drill, and I winced—that was the first anyone knew that I was in any kind of pain. After several more failed injections I finished the procedure without any pain killer, and the oral surgeon never knew. I tell this story to let you know: I can tough it out through pain. But this? This scalding sensation of having my hand plunged into a roiling basin of boiling water and held there? I screamed, and EVERYONE knew I was in pain.
Long story short—cracking that radiator cap was a stupid thing to do. But the true extent of my idiocy hit me later. I got second degree burns which promptly infected. My hand was wrapped, and I was given the express orders by my doctor not to use my hand. And this included writing.
So, for the last week I have been completely unable to write. And I thought I was going to die. Which is why I’m a bit of an idiot.
I have a writer friend who tells discouraged writers they should quit. If they really can walk away from writing, then they never really were writers to begin with. It’s harsh, but true. This last week I was forced to quit writing for a while. And I did. But it made me realize that I simply will never kick the will to write. Ever. Even if I never get a paying contract again. I will always write, because I will never get over the desire to tell stories. But with mounting doctor’s bills, a new car to pay for (the engine on the old one is trashed now), the inability to work my day job for the last week, and the little-known fact that it’s virtually impossible to make a living writing, I had to ask myself one simple question: Why couldn’t I have just become an accountant? And at that moment you feel even more stupid than when you knowingly take the cap off an explosive pressure-cooker.
But the answer is simple: this is what God called me to.
All is right in the universe.