Building bombs is a tricky business

Did you know I used to be a bomb technician? It’s funny, I thought I told people about this but few of my patient seem to know that I worked with high explosives at one point in my life.

Man holding a bomb in his hand

Back in the day, when I was much younger and fool hearty, my job was to manufacture and handle explosive ordnance. Sadly, I wasn’t very good at it, which can be a pretty dangerous thing when you’re working with stuff that can kill you.

You see, I stumbled into that job and therefore didn’t think it was very important. So, I didn’t put much effort into getting the building process down. I wanted to get the bombs built and get out. I had too many other things I wanted to do with my life to be stuck spending time figuring out the best way to handle a bomb. My approach was more “a little of this” and “a little of that” and go home. Not surprisingly, precision and accuracy are sort of important when handling explosives.

My lackadaisical attitude lead to more than one mistake that blew up in my face. By God’s grace nothing was ever very serious, and I was continually impressed at the body’s ability to heal. I bear the scars of dumb decisions during that time of my life, but I still have all my original fingers. The body really does want to be well and fully functional despite our best effort at times to interrupt that plan.

The old timers tied to teach me to slow down and be more thoughtful in my work, but young men are notoriously hard to train. When I watched them build their bombs, I saw that they didn’t look at the instructions frequently nor did they weigh and measure the components each time. In fact, I’d often see them improvise and put an unexpected component in a piece of ordnance they were building. Sometimes I’d ask them why they added the extra part or left out another piece that seemed critical to me. They’d answer, “It’s just the best thing to do for this one.” What?!? If they weren’t going to follow the plan, then neither was I. ‘Fake it ’til you make it’, right? Or is it, ‘Fake it ’til you lose too many fingers?’ Either way, I was not going to invest extra energy into something that really didn’t matter. I was going to do my own thing.

As my time in the high explosive world progressed, I reluctantly learned that the more precise I was in choosing the components of the bomb the less likely they were to explode unexpectedly. Therefore, the less likely I was to get hurt. I started to realize that when I wasn’t injured and nursing wounds from mistakes and carelessness, I had more ability to enjoy my free time. I remember being surprised leaving work one day after many long hours and still having energy to go have fun. I didn’t feel like I was wrung out and exhausted. I had some reserve left. It felt good.

As time went on, fewer injuries meant I could have more fun when not at work. My hiking improved. I was able to kayak more with my dad and take my dogs on longer walks. I slept better too. Having slept better, I did better at work making even fewer mistakes, and was rewarded with pay raises and promotions.

Amazingly, my thoughts cleared up. I didn’t realize how much of a pressure it was to wing it. Constantly making snap decisions about dangerous things is very taxing. When I actually looked at the instructions, followed them, and walked away unscathed I had more mental reserve for other challenges. I learned new skills and ultimately went into medicine. The mental focus that comes from having a regimen and following it is, frankly, addicting. It’s hard to be without now.

In the end, I learned some very valuable lessons. First, God gives us a generous amount of grace for our mistakes. Our body wants to be well so stop fighting it. Second, to avoid pain and injury, try to follow a plan. Sit and make your plan. Then follow it. When you’re confronted with a problem heed the words of Mark Whatney from The Martian and “Science the [heck] out of it.” Decide what should be done scientifically, factually, not emotionally or out of convenience. Don’t give in to the pressure of trying to solve all the problems at once. Just take the next one in line and ‘science the heck out of it.’

Lastly, building bombs and picking what to eat for dinner are both very dangerous activities. In fact, I was never really a bomb technician, but I handled some very explosive ordinance in the food I ate as a young man. My carelessness lead to food damaging my health instead of promoting it. Thankfully, the body wants to be well and kept repairing the damage I was inflicting. As I tried to solve the problem of what to eat and why to eat it, I realized the best method was to throw off my initial plan of eating whenever and whatever I felt like and instead adopt a fairly strict, scientifically based plan. I’ve followed that plan for over twenty years now honing the details and modifying the application such that I’ve truly become an expert in my own nutrition. With this experience comes the ability to adapt and improvise while adhering to the foundational principles. I can discern and apply more often instead of dogmatically following. I’ve become one of the old timers. Sometimes it looks like I’m not following a plan, but, in reality, the plan is so ingrained in my habits that a deviation from it is difficult. I more often than not execute the plan by default even when I’m not trying. If I open my fridge, randomly grab some food, it’s very likely to be on the plan. So I don’t have to weigh and measure as much as I used to and I’ve learned to listen to my body for when I need to make adaptations for a particular circumstance.

The point of this silly little allegory is simple. When handling dangerous stuff, stuff that can kill you, stick to the plan until the plan is all you know. If you need plan, come see me. We’ll make one together.

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