For want of a nail…

For want of a nail the shoe was lost;

For want of a shoe the horse was lost;

For want of a horse the battle was lost;

For the failure of battle the kingdom was lost; —

All for the want of a horseshoe nail. — 14th century proverb, author unknown

Knight, Albrecht Durer

Knight, Albrecht Durer

My electricity was out for 6 hours yesterday. The house was completely silent, with none of the normal background whirr of electrical gadgets. No internet, no radio, no television, though my son was still busy on his Droid phone and had a fully-charged backup battery ready, just in case. For a short time we moved around by candlelight.

We used to get these sort of extended power outages several times every summer during the violent thunderstorm season. But gradually, our local electric cooperative has beefed up its infrastructure enough that it hardly ever happens anymore.

This time, only my home was affected. A few quick tests with my volt meter told me that we had lost power from the transformer. That left me with the sickening realization that the fault was probably somewhere in the 200 feet of buried cable that brings power to the house, a cable that has been serving us for 27 years.

The electrical crew confirmed my diagnosis, which I assumed meant hiring a backhoe crew to rip an unsightly trench across the yard for a new cable. But, no, the crew chief informed me that they could probably use some sophisticated equipment to locate the fault, expose it with a small hole, and repair the damage.

It’s sort of the electric utility version of laparoscopic gall bladder surgery.

After a few hours work, the fault was located. A tiny crack in the wire’s plastic insulation had allowed water to seep into the cable. The aluminum conductor reacted to the water, and as electricity shorted to the nearby earth, steam formed. This puckered the insulation and allowed more water to enter. The process continued until the aluminum wire had been changed from a solid to a powder — aluminum oxide — and the flow of current came to a halt.

At which point, my lights went out.

Having found the fault, the repair was a relatively simple matter of cutting off the bad wire, splicing on a good wire, and insulating the splice against water leakage.

There is a principle in life, and faith, that small things often grow into big things. A few renegade cells in our bodies can quickly grow into a spreading cancer. A tiny crack in a power cable can lead to a total failure.

A small insult can destroy a relationship. A small moral compromise can turn into a life-altering horror. We need to work tirelessly to keep ourselves honest in the small things so as to safeguard the larger things, e.g. trust, integrity, reputation, fellowship. It’s not easy. I see in myself a tendency to rationalize or shrug off too many “small” things, not fully appreciating the risks of doing so.

A tiny spark can set a great forest on fire. — James 3:5b, NLT

Mark out a straight path for your feet; stay on the safe path. Don’t get sidetracked; keep your feet from following evil. — Proverbs 4:26-27, NLT

For want of a nail the shoe was lost…

Art credit: Albrecht Dürer, 1512, Knight on a horse

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  1. “It’s sort of the electric utility version of laparoscopic gall bladder surgery.” I am completely in agreement with that.