Rochel Burstyn

Although mistakes are embarrassing, they can often be educational and lead to some of the most useful inventions.

I was once at a supermarket when I ran into an old friend whom I’ll call Sarah. Suddenly, one of my kids’ teachers, whom I’ll call Mrs. Brown, was passing by and my old friend gasped with excitement; the next thing I knew my friend was giving Mrs. Brown this huge hug while I looked on and said things like, “Wow, that’s so random,” and “How on Earth do you two know each other?”

My old friend, her eyes shut and smiling blissfully with the joy of seeing an old friend she hadn’t seen in ages, said, “Oh, we go waaay back.” But from over her shoulder, Mrs. Brown mouthed to me, “I have absolutely no idea who this is!”

It turned out Mrs. Brown always gets confused with her sister, and I give her 10 points for not saying anything and embarrassing Sarah. Mrs. Brown later told me she knew immediately what happened (“It happens all the time”), plus I guess there’s nothing wrong with getting an extra hug!

Who hasn’t made a mistake or two like that? A few years ago, I ran into an acquaintance walking with an older-looking woman.

I said, “Wow, it’s so nice to see you! And this must be your grandmother?”
He snapped, “No, this is my wife,” while I mumbled something that sounded like a very unconvincing, “Um yeah, that’s what I meant …” and then there were a few awkward moments while we tried to come back from that and didn’t really succeed.

Then there was the time I asked two kids in the park if they were brother and sister. They looked at me in surprise and said, “No, we’re sisters.”

In my defense, you can’t always tell these days.

The thing is that mistakes kind of make the world go ’round. Aside from keeping us on our toes, giving us a great prayer opportunity (“Oh, dear God, please give me a hole to climb into!”) and even giving us something to eat (mainly our words), there have also been many useful inventions that only came about by mistake.

Potato chips? Created by a chef who was trying to “get back at a customer” who had complained one too many times about his French-fried potatoes dish. The annoyed chef cut the potatoes ridiculously thin, fried them and piled on the salt. Surprise! The customer loved them and so did the rest of the world.

Popsicles? Invented by an 11-year-old who accidently left his drink outside overnight and found he had a frozen treat in the morning.

Play Doh? Originally meant to be a wallpaper cleaner, but kids kept playing with it.
Silly String? Two scientists attempted to create a foamable spray cast for sprained or broken limbs, reportedly sprayed the nozzle and crazy string flew across the room. They thought, well that’s a fail; but boy, kids would love to play with this!

Then there are Corn Flakes, Teflon, safety glass, Post It Notes, Silly Putty, the X-ray, champagne, super glue, the Slinky, the microwave and plenty more. All created by mistake.

It’s Thanksgiving and we’re eating turkey and pumpkin pie — hopefully not crow and humble pie! Still, while we’re already giving thanks for the many blessings in our lives, we might as well give thanks that those toe-curling mistakes — while definitely sometimes beneficial and educational — only happen once in a while.

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