The Ambulance Down In The Valley
‘Twas a dangerous cliff, as they freely confessed,
Though to walk near its crest was so pleasant;
But over its terrible edge there had slipped
A duke, and full many a peasant.
The people said something would have to be done,
But their projects did not at all tally.
Some said, “Put a fence ’round the edge of the cliff,”
Some, “An ambulance down in the valley.”
The lament of the crowd was profound and was loud,
As their hearts overflowed with their pity;
But the cry for the ambulance carried the day
As it spread through the neighboring city.
A collection was made, to accumulate aid,
And the dwellers in highway and alley
Gave dollars or cents – not to furnish a fence –
But an ambulance down in the valley.
“For the cliff is all right if you’re careful,” they said;
“And if folks ever slip and are dropping,
It isn’t the slipping that hurts them so much
As the shock down below – when they’re stopping.”
So for years (we have heard), as these mishaps occurred,
Quick forth would the rescuers sally,
To pick up the victims who fell from the cliff,
With the ambulance down in the valley.
Said one, to his peers, “It’s a marvel to me
That you’d give so much greater attention
To repairing results than to curing the cause;
You had much better aim at prevention.
For the mischief, of course, should be stopped at its source,
Come, neighbors and friends, let us rally.
It is far better sense to rely on a fence
Than an ambulance down in the valley.”
“He is wrong in his head,” the majority said;
“He would end all our earnest endeavor.
He’s a man who would shirk his responsible work,
But we will support it forever.
Aren’t we picking up all, just as fast as they fall,
And giving them care liberally?
A superfluous fence is of no consequence,
If the ambulance works in the valley.
The story looks queer as we’ve written it here,
But things oft occur that are stranger;
More humane, we assert, than to succor the hurt
Is the plan of removing the danger,
The best possible course is to safeguard the source;
Attend to things rationally.
Yes, build up the fence and let us dispense
With the ambulance down in the valley.
~ Joseph Malins
I do think this is a great poem, and it brings up a good question – what it the best way to handle a dangerous, even deadly, situation? I’m going to make what sounds like a controversial point: we need both the fence at the top and the ambulance at the bottom.
The fence represents the commandments the Lord has given us. First and foremost, to love the Lord our God with all our heart, might, mind, and strength, and to love our neighbors as ourselves. (Remember that your neighbor is anyone you encounter, regardless of their circumstances.) Then come the other commandments about keeping the Sabbath day holy, honoring our parents, avoiding greed, lust, sloth pride, and so on. Sin weakens or breaks the fence. Maybe some of the rails are loose, or the poles are starting to pull out of the ground. Maybe the nails holding it together are rusting and under the right conditions, you lean in just the right spot and down you go, tumbling off the cliff. We are all going to break some commandments. It doesn’t matter who you are or what you are doing or how you were raised, commandment-breaking is basically a given. Maybe you don’t go over the edge, but the fence has been compromised. The fence IS NOT the nuclear family, the judgment of man, or the Church as an organization. The fence is the commandments.
Thankfully, there is an ambulance down in the valley. The ambulance is the Atonement of Christ. Once the fence has been compromised, it’s easier to go through, and maybe the next time you come up against it the rails give way and you tumble heels over head down to the valley below. The ambulance is there, waiting, and the Savior is there to pick you up, check you over, and help you back to your feet. Then He says “Please, for My sake, don’t do that again. I don’t want you getting hurt.” Of course there are some who will promise and never do it again, and they fix the fence and respect the boundary set, but others don’t heed the warnings and they fall down the cliff again, where the Savior is there to pick them up, check them over, and help them back onto their feet once more. He is NEVER going to tire of helping them. He is NEVER going to say, “Okay, this is the last time, you’re on your own if this happens again!” He will love you and say something like, “Aren’t you tired of falling down that dang cliff? Try something different next time, please.”
There is a third component we need, which wasn’t mentioned in the article and certainly wasn’t in the poem – there wasn’t even a fence, remember? The third component is the tools to fix the fence. Those tools are also part of the Atonement of Christ. Maybe the fence was compromised but you didn’t fall through. Maybe a post or a rail slipped out of position but hasn’t given way just yet. Maybe the nails are rusting but not to the point of failure. Or maybe you completely demolished that fence and it has to be rebuilt entirely. The rails and posts can be set back in place with hammer and nails or binding or whatever it is you use to fix a fence, and it can be made stronger. And the Savior is there to help fix it, to hand you the tools, to put His finger on the knot, and basically do whatever it takes to help you maintain the fence of keeping the commandments. He also asks others to help you monitor the fence line and check for gaps, but they have to do it in His way, with love and ready to hand you the tools to make repairs. Judgment, withholding, and anger don’t fix the fence – they make it weaker, because it takes everyone together to maintain it.
We have to have all three: The fence, the ambulance, and the tools. It doesn’t work otherwise. We need the commandments, we need the Savior, and we need each other. Only with all three parts do we stand a chance of surviving.