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  • Karen Trench

The Chinese Finger Trap

“Surrender is the simple but profound wisdom of yielding to rather than opposing the flow of life.” –Eckhart Tolle


Years before Charlie died, I remember sitting around our kitchen table after dinner one night sharing ideas we had about various books we dreamed about writing one day. For me, it was to edit a sweeping anthology about the transformative 1960s. For Charlie, it was to write a “little” book to be titled: The Chinese Finger Trap Philosophy of Life, which would postulate by way of small vignettes, a basic theory of his: That while we’re being carried down the stream of life, it’s best if along the way, we keep both feet pointed downstream and our arms and elbows firmly tucked. In other words, no matter what, do not flail about because it’s the flailing that gets us hurt. He imagined that each book would contain an actual finger trap for the reader’s entertainment. I remember thinking that his idea was brilliant!


If you’re unfamiliar with a Chinese finger trap, it’s a gag toy used mostly for practical jokes. The trap is a small cylinder woven from bamboo. A person is asked to place their index fingers in both ends of the cylinder and then try to pull their fingers back out. Easy, right? Wrong.


Our grief is akin to a finger trap. When we find our fingers caught in the trap of our suffering, our initial reaction is to pull away from it as fast as we can because we’re convinced that this approach will be far easier than our only other option---meeting it head-on. But like the finger trap, pulling outward tightens the trap serving only to increase our pain and further restrain us. The secret of escaping the finger trap lies in pushing the ends inward towards the middle, which enlarges the opening and frees our fingers. The finger trap teaches us that relief and release comes not by resisting our pain and suffering but by giving way to it…by letting go!


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As you continue your journey down the stream of life, through all its twists and turns and especially in those times when you encounter rough waters that toss you to and fro and tempt you to flail about, may you try as best you can to remain surrendered and to keep those feet pointed downstream and those arms and elbows firmly tucked! And my God bless you every moment along the way. Amen.