I was three years old when I awoke with a horrible sore throat and a deep, chesty cough. As my fever spiked, my mother whisked me to Dr. Schwartz, our local pediatrician. I have always preferred wide margins of personal space, and a stranger touching me only fueled my misery. Being a rule-following first born, and shy, I endured quietly, and my mother and I soon left the office, prescription in hand.
It was a horrible pink medicine, coupled with Robitussin cough syrup, which to this day is pretty much the worst taste in the world. I had a strong gag reflex, and as soon as the cocktail of these two liquids passed my lips, it was game-over. No amount of cajoling or bribing, pleading or spanking could make me take the medicine. This was not good; I was quite ill and needed the antibiotic.
In desperation, my mother called the pediatrician, who was shocked. What? That compliant little girl I saw this morning? He told her to put me on the phone. I was a couple of months shy of my fourth birthday, and can remember this event clearly. I wrapped myself up in the phone cord; salty tears of shame and embarrassment trickling silently down my cheeks. I was not being obstinate…..I truly could not swallow this flavored medicine. You have to take the medicine, Kristin. Be a big girl and obey.
After the phone call, my mother tried again. To no avail. Now I was ashamed for upsetting her. I typically complied, and this was painful.
She called Dr. Schwartz again, and he said that if only I was older, he would prescribe the antibiotic in pill form. She told him to call the pharmacy and we would go for it.
And that is how I became his youngest patient to swallow pills. After several days, I felt better.
Some time elapsed; probably a few years. In my memory, it was towards the end autumn, when the burnt orange and golden leaves had begun their cascade to the ground. Pumpkins decorated porches, and the slant afternoon sun glistened without warming. Crisp weather, as we called it in New England. Folks would stoke their fireplaces and pull out their quilts and space heaters. It was magnificent.
At our elementary school, firefighters would arrive like clockwork at this time each year. They taught us to: Stop, Drop, and Roll. In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a national campaign regarding these measures. So we listened, and practiced, and hopped off the school bus at the end of a long day, armed with papers and diagrams to show our parents regarding the importance of having A PLAN of how to escape a fire. Shall we meet at the mailbox? The big stone in our front yard? What happens if the stairs are on fire? Do we have a ladder?
These thoughts consumed me for a few days; the fear of being stuck in a burning home was terrifying.
And then, one morning shortly thereafter, we found out that there had been a fire at Dr. Schwartz’s house. The inferno erupted in the middle of that cold and dark night, while everyone was in deep sleep. Dr. Schwartz was able to guide his wife and children and pets to safety. Everyone was terrorized, but alive.
Dr. Schwartz’ office, where he treated patients, was part of his expansive home. The family watched their home and his office burn. While anxiously waiting for the firemen to arrive, Dr. Schwartz ran back into the blaze. My files! he cried. His wife begged him to stay.
When I heard this as an elementary student, I could not believe it. Part of THE PLAN was to never return to a burning building. For anything. Never ever.
He had raced back to retrieve his patient files. There were no personal computers in those days, and all of his detailed notes were in filing cabinets. They represented his life’s work. He never returned to his family. Dr. Schwartz perished in those flames, trying to save a mere shadow of his patients.
Sometimes, I do the same thing, returning to things and for things that will not last and are of little importance. I grasp for the unnecessary yet urgent tuggings of my heart. We can be lured and enticed by our own desires (James 1:14). I remember, too late, that all that sparkles is not gold. Those files of Dr. Schwartz’s were important; they just were not that important.
Have you ever seen a raccoon trapped? My brother and I helped capture raccoons when we were young. They robbed the corn fields at night, eating their fill. We learned that with nothing more than a big, shiny ball of tinfoil, a raccoon could be baited.
In the glint of moonlight, a coon would dip into a container that was wider at the base than the top. The aluminum foil was sparkly, shiny and enticing. With a tiny paw, he grabbed the object of delight, but no! It was too large to pull through the opening. He was now stuck: a victim of his own desperate longings. By merely dropping the foil, he could be freed instantly. But the sparkle was too much to resist. When we checked the cages in the morning, the raccoon would snarl and hiss in a bold refusal to drop his priceless, yet worthless, treasure.
Our landlord, a grumpy yet softhearted man, would band the coons, and haul them miles and miles away, releasing them to the wild woods. Those very raccoons returned quickly for the corncobs and shiny trinkets; travelling great distances quickly to fulfill their insatiable appetites.
Sometimes I think about Dr. Schwartz, and wish that I had complied and taken my medicine. My little girl heart was marked by his death; one of those files he had gone to retrieve had my name stamped upon it.
Yet now, as an adult, I see how easily I can be ensnared by stuff: reputation, money, peace-at-all-cost, appearances. Godly sorrow over my own sin leads to repentance; worldly grief leads to death (2 Corinthians 7:10). Am I repenting and returning to God? Or am I stuck in worldly sadness, feeling badly, but returning time and again to sparkly substitutes? Am I like that raccoon, fiercely guarding my worthless trinkets?
All that sparkles is not gold. God himself is our treasure.