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Sequence matters

The order in which things are said, done or occur matters in many instances and in others, not at all.

It matters, for example, whether I put the oil in the saucepan and heat it before I add the onions when I’m sautéing up some fresh greens, but the sequence doesn’t matter if I eat those cooked greens first or if I gobble up the mashed potatoes also on my plate. Yes, it matters whether I put my socks on before I put on my shoes, but it doesn’t matter if I put on my shirt before I put on my pants.

When communicating, though, sequence often matters.

I had such an experience of saying things in the wrong order one night, and I still cringe to think of the momentary hell I created for one woman by not ordering my thoughts before I spoke.

Back, back when I was 16 or 17 years old, I was out one night. Maybe I was with a friend. Maybe I was driving home and alone. I don’t recall. It was around midnight, and I was fairly close to my home and in the general neighborhood of my high school when I came across a bad single-car accident.

Someone else had also stopped and was tending to the person in the car; they asked me to call for help.

“Call for help” back then in a cellphone-less world meant “go find a pay phone.”

Two of my classmates, sisters–one whom I knew through soccer and another whom I knew through cheerleading–lived nearby. I had been to their home for some event or another; and in this emergency situation, going to their home a few streets away seemed the fastest route to getting to a phone and calling for an ambulance and police support.

Panicked, worried, fretting and trying to be of help, I knocked on the door, and I said, “Mrs. Davis, My name is Jessie Newburn. I’m a friend of Kim and Tracie’s. There has been a terrible accident …”

And that’s when I knew I had made a terrible mistake in sequence.

Mrs. Davis’s hand flew to her mouth; horror and fear spread over her face and stiffened her body in an instant.

I tried to explain that it wasn’t her daughters who’d been in the car accident: it was someone else; but she’d gone into such a state of fear, it was hard to reach her for a moment. Finally, my words penetrated. “Accident, yes. Your daughters, no. Can we use your phone to call for an ambulance? Thanks.”

We did call for help; an ambulance did arrive–maybe a police car, too; and eventually I went home. But, my goodness! I near gave that dear woman a heart attack that night. I can still see her face and horror in my mind’s eye.

So, yeah, sequence does matter–quite a bit–in some circumstances.


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