The Longest Mile Home


It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer.

Albert Einstein

Lately, I’ve tried to figure things out, which means I’m wrestling with fear and inertia. I’d prided myself as a problem-solver. At work I won awards for innovation, so now I can’t figure out what my problem is?  Until today.  This day, Friday, June 20th.

My neighbor told me earlier this week that her holly bush had to go.  She said the shrub had developed some sort of blight.  I offered to help her as I know she doesn’t own a drop of Paul Bunyan in her.  So, as she approached me this morning, something took over.

I grabbed the pruners, hedge clippers, and rake, ready to go to work.  The beginning of the job went well.  I trimmed as far down as I could before getting to the heavy stuff.  The pruners took care of most of the medium-sized branches until I got down to the stump.  OK, what remained left a tripping hazard.  Ugh!

Out came my neighbor’s new spade.  Let the digging begin!  Shovelful after shovelful of dirt grew as I struggled to loosen the roots that tethered this stump to the earth.  I’d joke here and there, but it dawned on me that this stump had me, well, stumped.

“Keep going, kid,” my inner voice told me.  “Keep going.”  I didn’t want to continue.  In fact, I felt fine with saying, “Well, this job’s bigger than me, I’ve done as much as I can. Later…”  A nagging feeling came over me, “Just stay with it.  Dig under the problem.  Take a break, but keep going.”  Each shovelful didn’t feel like progress, it felt like dirt.

My neighbor lamented our situation as a pile of holly hubris piled up on the lawn.  She wasn’t angry, but job’s enormty shook her a little.  I kept reassuring her that we’d finish (it felt like hope against hope), as each shovelful exposed entrenched roots after entrenched roots that needed slicing to free the stump.  She looked at me and said, “The longest mile is the last mile home.”  As the perspiration dripped American proverbs weren’t exactly endearing at that moment.

I stayed with the stump for a good two hours, but I thought about the proverb.  Digging here, cutting there, asking myself if I’d hit China before this rotten piece of wood let go.  Too late now, just a few more cuts. Don’t give up.  With each cut some clarity emerged.  Stay with it.  From that point I proceeded to kick, twist, dig, and cut with a new energy.

As my neighbor called the City to decide if they were really serious about bagging up the holly cuttings, I stood in front of her.  She looked up.  “Notice anything?” I asked.  She then saw the stump I held in my hand.  “We’re home.”

After bagging up the remains and putting the tools away, I felt renewed.  Reignited.

I’m not stumped anymore.


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