A Hand and a Flame


As a child I was very curious. I tasted and smelled and touched everything that I could. Rarely opposed in my exploration, I came across a device; what I now understand to be a stove. I had been watching my mother stand next to it. After she walked away I found myself alone with the machine. Cliché as it may be, myself not being aware of what clichés were at the time, I reached up and felt around to discover what my mother had been using. My scolding tears did nothing to soothe the painful throbbing I felt, nor did they console my wounded pride that stemmed from an assurance that my probing would reveal the secrets of the device. However, my efforts were not in vain. I learned what it’s like to be burned. I learned that there is a price to consciousness. I do not remember anything else about that day or what else I was doing or thinking about. My whole focus had been directed on that one, probably spontaneous goal, of understanding what my mother had been doing.


After many more tears and many more burns, I now understand that my desire to know how a stove operates is as natural to a human as galloping is to a horse . Without curiosity I would have no motivation to understand my environment. As humans and other life forms do, I use that understanding to interact with my surroundings. Without an adequate understanding of what is around me, my decisions about how to interact with what is around me are more likely to be hazardous. After burning my hand on that stove I now think twice (sometimes three times) before I put my hand close to a hot stove without protection.


We as humans are now emerging out of infancy. Like a child wanting to know what his mother is doing, we too want to know more about our environment. Our hand is unknowingly reaching out toward a flame and getting burned. That burn is painful, but the pain will eventually fade. Failure is a part of progress. Because I burned my hand as a child my understanding  as an adult is more complete. I found one of my limitations. As humans we are limited in the way that we survive. We are limited by our environment and how we are able to interact with it. Undoubtedly we will fail as we test those limits both individually and as a species. And although we are that child attempting to expand his understanding by reaching his hand out into the unknown, we also share his ability to grow when we acknowledge the flames that limit us.