Eating Radium

In the early 1900’s the radioactive element radium was all the rage.  Discovered in 1898 by Marie and Pierre Curie, it was soon found that by mixing small amounts of radium into paint the items could be made to glow in the dark.  This was extremely useful for cockpit instruments and soon found its way into the watches and clocks of people around the world.

But, of course, someone had to actually paint all of those tiny clock hands and this task fell mostly to young female factory workers.  Day after day these young women would dip their paintbrushes into the radioactive paint and would often lick their paintbrushes in order to give them a fine point.  In the process they were ingesting minute quantities of radium.  At the time it was believed that radium was harmless or possibly even beneficial to human health.  Sometimes the factory workers would paint their nails or teeth with the leftover paint to amuse themselves and stand out at parties.

It wasn’t until several years later that the women began to get sick – suffering from anemia and extremely brittle bones.  In some cases their jaw bones would literally crumble and had to be removed.  The body absorbs radium the same way it absorbs calcium and proceeds to store it in the bones.  The radium then radioactively decays, destroying surrounding bone and tissue.  That which the women had been told was harmless ended up killing them.

Do we fall into the same trap?  Do we consume spiritual radium?

I don’t watch much TV, but every now and then my wife and I will pull something up on the Kindle.  It’s amazing how much things have changed over the years.  Words and images that would have shocked viewers twenty years ago are now commonplace.  We’ve been told that these things are natural and harmless.  At times we’re even told that we are overly protective of our children if we shelter them from these types of media.

The problem is that if we watch that which is vulgar and obscene we make it a part of us.  The change might not be noticeable at first, but over time we become coarse and crude, desensitized to the beauty and wonder of that which is good and pure.  This spiritual radium becomes incorporated into our very bones, destroying us from the inside out.

Tiny Tabasco

Years ago I went on a camping trip with my grandpa and my older brother.  We were up in the mountains and were hiking to a small lake to do some fishing.   I always loved going fishing, but I’ve never actually had much patience.  If the fish weren’t biting I’d end up wandering into the forest or trying bizarre baits such as fruit snacks.  On this particular day of fishing I was meandering around when I found a tiny bottle of Tabasco sauce.  It must have fallen out of someone’s backpack and they probably didn’t miss it much, but I thought this was the most amazing discovery on earth.  I spent the whole day looking at it, making up stories about how it got there, and trying to decide if it was safe to eat.

Fast forward about 25 years to a few days ago.  I was tucking my daughter Natalia into bed and saying a prayer with her.  A new school year had just started and she was feeling a bit stressed.  As she was praying she expressed her gratitude that her older sister still waved to her in the hallways at school, even though she was such a cool and grown-up fifth grader.  It was such a little thing, but she said it made her feel so  special.

The vast majority of amazing things in this life are small and simple.  The experiences I treasure the most don’t happen with much fanfare, they just happen.  It’s a combination of good people doing tiny acts of kindness.  So to all of you out there who have affected my life in small but meaningful ways – thank you.  Just like that little bottle of Tabasco, you’ve brought joy, wonder and spice to my life.