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Mischief Gone Awry


It happens. Tragically it has happened. Frightfully it could happen anywhere and at any time. Mischief gone awry. Children rough housing on a rainy afternoon and suddenly there’s a bloody nose or a broken bone. Teenagers racing down a deserted road and crashing out of control and into instant death. Relatives teasing at a family gathering and crossing the lines of confidentiality and trust and unwittingly inviting pain and shame to the party. Mischief gone awry. It happens.

Dictionary.com offers a short list of seven definitions of the word “mischief.” If the definitions were colors, they’d start with a soft, pale pink and end up in a bold, fiery red. Beginning with a harmless annoyance, the list increases in intensity until midway through there’s a shift that includes the word “harm.” From there it moves on to injury, evil, and finally, the devil. Mischief is like so much else in life: it can easily be abused. It can start out innocently enough but can bring about great destruction if it gets out of hand. It happens and when it happens intentionally, it is often downright evil.

To dub another person “crazy” or “out of one’s mind” often falls into the category of gentle playfulness. There are some who might even consider such a designation a compliment. We could applaud author Frederick Buechner’s assertion that “To be a saint is to be a little out of one’s mind, which is a very good thing to be a little out of from time to time.” But to use the allegation spitefully, say, against a neighbor, is another matter entirely. Someone from Social Services could be sent for a visit. Exasperated family members could collaborate to seek some sort of committal for one whom they deem to be “a bit off.” Mischief-making possibly taken too far. Mischief gone awry.

Perhaps the wisdom writers have it right in suggesting that there is a time and a place for everything. Those who intentionally bring harm to others do need to be held accountable if not in check. But there are also times and situations which call for a little mixing it up, a bit of stirring the pot, some shuffling of the deck, even an uncomfortable changing of the guard so that something new has space to surface, something more liberating a place to take hold. It’s a slippery slope. Perhaps we would do well to carefully monitor the shades of our words and actions, pulling in the reins if the pale pink begins to deepen toward a mischief-gone-awry red.

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