Shake My Arm
by Steve Fitschen
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“I can’t take it anymore,” Sarah sobbed. She collapsed onto the kitchen chair, planted her elbows on her knees, and buried her face in her hands. Her shoulders shook from the racking sobs.
Frank walked over to her and placed his hand on her left should, but said nothing for a long time.
When Sarah’s sobbing subsided somewhat, he finally spoke. “Was it the children again?”
“Yes. Frank, I tried; I really tried. First, I told myself I could ignore their bickering, but it was constant. Finally, I asked them to stop. And I actually stayed calm for five or six times. Calm on the outside I mean, but I could feel the eruption brewing. Soon I could hear my voice changing. It had that old hateful tone again. And then I started screaming at them like a crazy woman. The next thing I knew, I was pushing Susie down the hallway into her room and I picked Timmy up and virtually threw him onto his bed.” The torrent of words stopped and Sarah buried her face again.
Again, Frank waited.
Eventually Sarah lifted her head. “Frank, I’m scaring myself. I pushed Susie. And I threw Timmy. They just make me so angry!”
“Are you scared enough to listen to something you might not wanted to hear?”
“I don’t know. What do you mean?”
“Sarah, the children didn’t make you angry. They provoked your anger, but that is different.”
“What are you talking about? What’s the difference? And no, I don’t think I want to hear this. Now you’re going to make me mad!”
“Just bear with me,” Frank replied. He walked over to the cabinet, opened the door, and took out a glass. Then he walked over to the refrigerator, poured some milk into the glass, and returned to Sarah.
“Shake my arm,” he instructed.
“Shake my arm,” he repeated.
“The glass in nearly full—it’ll make a mess.”
“Sarah, I’ll clean up the mess. Just shake my arm. Please. Trust me. I want you to see this.”
Sarah did it. She didn’t know why, but she did it.
“You barely touched me,” Frank said. “Don’t worry about the mess. Shake my arm. Hard!”
This time Sarah shook Frank’s arm enough that some of the milk sloshed out of the glass and onto the floor, but Frank just said, “Harder!”
Sarah shook his arm even harder until nearly half of the milk was on the kitchen floor.
“OK, Sarah, why did the milk spill on the floor?”
Sarah stared at Frank in disbelief. “Are you crazy?”
“Just answer me.”
“Because I shook your arm. What’s the point, Frank? How is this supposed to help me?”
Ignoring her second question, Frank replied, “No, Sarah, the milk did not spill because you shook my arm. And I’ll prove it to you.”
Frank drank the remaining milk, walked over to the sink, rinsed the glass out, and filled it with water. As he walked back toward Sarah, he said, “Now shake my arm again.”
But Sarah just stared blankly at Frank.
“Sarah, please. Just one last time. And do it hard again.”
Sarah complied and the water mingled with the milk on the floor.
“Sarah, according to you, shaking my arm should have made milk spill out of the glass. But it didn’t. Water spilled out this time.”
“Of course!” Sarah snapped. “That’s what was in it this time!”
“That’s my point. The milk can only spill out when the milk is already in the glass before the shaking starts.”
Tears filled Sarah’s eyes. “And my anger—violent enough to make me push Susie and throw Timmy—could only spill out because . . . .” Her voice broke.
“Because it was already there,” Sarah finished.
“Yes, Sarah, that’s right.”
“I need help.”
“Will you ask someone for it?”
“I—I don’t know. I mean yes. I mean . . . . I don’t know who to ask.”
“I think you should go see Pastor Dave. He’s a great counselor and he’d be glad to help you.”
Frank nodded his head.
Sarah just stood there for a long time, thinking. Frank waited for her answer.
“Yes, I’ll go see Pastor Dave. You may need to clean up this mess on the floor, but I need to clean up all the messes I’ve made with the children.”
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This is very clever and very true. I hope that many read it and understand the message. Very well done......I work with at risk families and will retell your story at some point...I am sure. Thank you for sharing.God Bless. Elizabeth