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The other day I decided to take advantage of the beautiful weather by going on a brisk walk around town. I particularly like doing this in the springtime because it gives me the opportunity to check out the local flora and fauna and see what has spring to life and what is on the verge of glorious renewal. Spring is a hopeful time and it is good for the spirit to connect with the world when it is so full of the promise of renewal.
About half way through my stroll I observed a man standing quite still with his hands on his hips, staring at something I could not see. As I got closer and my field of vision increased I was able to see what he was looking at so intensely. It turned out to be a giant pile of logs, not sections of logs, entire logs piled rather messily in his front yard. When I came abreast of this gentleman I stopped and stared at the logs with him, trying to figure out what he found so mesmerizing. It didn't take long to figure it out.
“That's a lot of logs,” I said needlessly.
He turned and looked at me and his expression was definitely bleak resignation.
“Yep,” he said, and then turned back to the logs and heaved a seep sigh.
“You have to cut them all up,” I said.
“Yep, and split some and stack it all in the back yard.” He sighed again and went back to staring at the mountain of logs.
The man's sighs were perfectly understandable; he was looking at the inevitability of a very long and drawn out task involving lots of work and plenty of time. This is something that I have observed human beings do frequently and have done myself many times. When confronted with a large and difficult task we really don't want to do and are not looking forward to at all, we often will stare silently at it for awhile in dismay. It would be nice to think that we spend that time formulating some efficient and clever plan for the job, but we don't. We just stare at it helplessly and wish it would go away. It is a very human reaction that I assume has been practiced for centuries.
Watching this gentleman standing and staring at the logs made me wonder; is it possible that animals behave in any way similar to humans in these circumstances? Does the sheepdog sit on a bluff and stare at the silly sheep below him and heave a sigh? When a deer or moose or any other woodland animal emerges from the trees and is confronted with a stream that must be forded does it just stop and stare at it for awhile and become mentally exhausted just thinking about what it is going to take to get across it? It's and interesting question. It isn't as if the man isn't going to cut up and stack all his logs any more than the sheepdog isn't going to herd the sheep, they will both do what must be done in the end. Maybe we all need a few moments of helpless self-pity while we mentally regroup before we take on a task that appears rather overwhelming, whether it is a giant mountain of tree logs, an equally giant mountain of snow that must be moved, a messy house that must be made neat and clean, or a bunch of mentally challenged sheep that need herding. For one quick moment, we all just need to stare at whatever must be done and wish it would somehow take care of itself.
That thought made me think about an occasion many years ago when my brothers and I and some of our friends were discussing which superhero ability we would want to have if we could choose. I recall there were several votes for being able to fly, super strength, invisibility, and mind reading. One of my young brothers, however, shunned all the macho stuff and went straight for the ability that he thought might be most useful.
“I want Jeannie's powers,” he said.
Jeannie, for those too young to recall, was a character on a TV show. She was gorgeous, lived in a bottle and had a lot of great genie powers. My brother claimed that her powers were the best because they were so useful. All she had to do was give a quick bob of her head and things were taken care of. Cooking, cleaning, fixing anything, moving heavy objects, a pile of logs, a herd of sheep...these things were duck soup for Jeannie. One of our friends pointed out that Jeannie was not a hero.
“If she cleaned my room, did my chores, blinked me up a new bike and did my homework she'd be my hero,” said my brother.
Good point. Having Jeannie around would mean never having to stand and stare helplessly at another task, large or small, ever again. One bob of the head and blink of the eye and it's all good. Saving the world wasn't Jeannie's gig, but so what? When you are standing in your front yard staring at a huge pile of trees and realizing that they will dominate your life for a good chunk of the immediate future, you don't want someone to save the world – you want someone to save you.
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