Coaching Journal


John Owens


Some annoying things can mask powerful and destructive forces. Only by opening them up to the light can we heal them and use these forces for good and constructive purposes. I know this from my own personal experience, but recently I was able to witness this in a new way.

Here’s the story: for many months we’d been having a problem with a circuit breaker tripping out for several outlets in our kitchen. It’s been mildly annoying, as we have had to move small appliances around to make use of the few remaining outlets that were still working in our kitchen. Every time I would reset that circuit (we got to the point of naming it “Old #12”), it might stay on for a week, or trip off before I could walk out the utility room door. Random, vexing, mysterious is how I would call the situation. We had need recently for an electrician for a small remodeling project we were doing elsewhere in the house, and hired our neighbor Gerry—who is also the Fire Chief for Northfield—to help us on the electrical work. Of course, I added in the task of fixing Old #12.

Our electrician opened the breaker box and tightened the connections to the circuit breaker #12. They weren’t particularly loose, but it was a good place to start, and the circuit stayed on after the workers left. Several days later it tripped again. Ugh! Now what?

I called the electrician back, and a week or so later he got back to me, and we started the search for the hidden cause in earnest. He replaced the breaker with a new one. He disconnected all the downstream boxes from the line. It still tripped, so we knew the problem had to be in the wiring from the breaker box to the first outlet. Out came the drywall saw, and he started opening up my kitchen wall above the box. I cringed at the thought of all the time it would take to repair and repaint, but like ripping a scab off an infected wound, it had to happen.

There was a moment of electric silence as he shined his flashlight into the opening he’d made, and we saw and smelled the charred wires and wood where there had been–at least– a smoldering fire. We experienced that moment with heavy silence and the unfolding realization that a bullet had been dodged. A wire staple holding the wires had been fastened directly into the Romex wire feeding the box. From time to time it made a dead short across the wires, which tripped to breaker when the amps got high enough. We were very uncomfortably close to having had our house burn.

Gerry, our electrician/fire chief said, “I don’t like to use the ‘f-word’, but in this case I will: you had a Fire. If you had put a bigger breaker in, there is no telling what could have happened with more heat.” Gerry got our problem permanently fixed (most of it: there’s a gaping hole in our kitchen wall now). There is a feeling of “there but for the grace of God, go I” that remains for me, evoked each time I look at the ripped opening exposing the black, toxic-smelling evidence beneath the glossy surface of painted wall.

What is it that attracts my attention to this particular point? Could this be a metaphor illuminating the dark workings of shadow that hide unseen deep in my psyche, that which creates danger and threat to life and well-being? Is it an essence that shows itself in a persistent and annoying outward behavior, like the random tripping of the breaker, that is the symptom of something fundamentally in need of healing? By revealing that which lies beneath the surface and exposing it to the light, permanent healing may take place. So it goes, too, with us humans: our annoying, dysfunctional behavior can be the IMG_20140405_123526_797symptom of a repressed, hidden source of power that lies within. Bringing it out into the light, owning it, can let us heal the wound and use that power for goodness. And for awhile, there remain some jagged and sensitive edges that time and caring will close and heal.

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