I’m far from being a novice in the kitchen. And I’ve owned several kitchens in my life. Despite experience and knowledge however, I have a recurring dilemma in my current kitchen of 9 plus years that, still continues to plague me. For reasons I can’t fathom, I can still get burned while using my oven. There is something uniquely awkward for me about its height that has resulted in a number of scars on my forearm over the years.
The other night it happened again. Only this time the damage landed on the top of my thumb, right at the joint. I pulled back quickly and noticed a white residue on my skin. While the initial sensation caught my attention causing me to jerk my hand out quickly, the pain dissipated almost immediately. This led me to conclude that I hadn’t really burned myself and the white reside was a film left on the oven’s top surface from a recent cleaning. But to be sure, I did put a little ice on the spot for a minute or so.
The next day I noticed that my thumb clearly had a burn. I also noticed it still didn’t hurt. I came to another conclusion that, there must be relatively few nerve endings in that part of my thumb, hence the lack of pain. Admittedly, it was pretty cool to not have it hurting, but it reminded me of a story that I read as a kid. The story was about a short order cook or waitress nicknamed Hot Pad Hannah. As I recall, Hannah had a unique ability to handle hot pots and plates without using an auxiliary hot pad because, apparently she had no nerve endings in her hand to signal pain. For the life of me I can’t imagine why this was a children’s story. I also can’t imagine why anyone thought this skill was virtuous enough to write about, but I digress.
While I agree it was a novel ability, the downside is that Hannah also remained at risk for touching something hot enough to burn the flesh right off of her bones. It might not feel hurt, but that doesn’t mean she wouldn’t be hurt. Obviously this story traumatized me enough to imprint it on my brain but it has since become useful, as I’ve learned to see feelings much the same way.
It’s generally easy for most of us to allow pleasant emotions to surface and even share. Negative emotions are a different story. All too often we see them as unnatural, something to be conquered at best or worst, destroyed. At the very least, we try and minimize undesirable feelings with a host of tricks many of which have to be repeated making us vulnerable to addiction.
Hannah was able to avoid the feeling of pain because of her natural anesthesia. In doing so, she was not able to use them as a warning sign or a call to appropriate action. Feelings, while sometimes painful are like sensors to let us know that something is happening that we find unappealing. Sometimes our feelings could be seen as a warning sign telling us that a certain behavior or action is necessary. We might need to change course, end a relationship, and let something go. When we dull the sensation of the feeling we may leave ourselves perpetuating the status quo and causing further dissatisfaction.
Other times our feelings may be indicators of something that we can’t change. Loss is a natural part of life and denying it by numbing the feeling does us a tremendous disservice. The absence of loss and disappointment deprives us of the necessary contrast to appreciate growth and satisfaction. Moreover, it prompts us to live life in ways of overprotecting ourselves to avoid the risk. This strategy is rarely, if ever, effective or satisfying.
The burns on my arm have become warnings to be more careful. Obviously I need to keep working on this. But I must be changing something because at least I have moved up to my thumb instead of my arm.