Sweating profusely, I dropped the posthole digger and mopped my brow. Reaching for my cup I took a drink. “Bleh, this is warm,” I muttered, drinking it anyway.
I surveyed my progress. Ten holes down, and two to go. Boy, I’m tired, I thought, shaking my head.
“I’m going to rebuild the deck,” I had told my wife. “It won’t take much. I just need to replace some posts, then level it up.” That was six hours ago. It was a bigger job than I had anticipated. Truth be told, they usually are.
I stared at the darkening sky. It’s going to rain soon, I thought. Better get back to work. I bent to retrieve the diggers and began to argue with myself.
You’re retired now. You can finish this tomorrow.
No, finish it before the rain.
But I’m tired, my back hurts, and I’m lightheaded.
That’s just the heat, buck up you can do this.
But feeling light-headed is a sign of heat exhaustion.
I’m still sweating, besides its only two holes.
It’s going to rain; just wait until tomorrow.
Yea, it’s going to rain. But if I don’t get these poles set the holes will fill with water. Then I’ll have a real mess.
So I went back to work and was backfilling the last one when the cold breeze hit. I quickly gathered my tools, but not before the storm broke. It soaked me to the skin, but I got the job done, and the tools put away.
In the garage, I pulled up a stool and watched the rain. Lightning flashed, thunder rumbled, a true Indiana thunderstorm. In the chilly wind I shivered, exhausted. Why did I do that?” I wondered. Why do I always work so hard to finish things?
“Always finish strong.” It was Dad’s voice in my head. Suddenly I was back in the park, running cross-country. Up ahead was one last hill.
“Last hill, and then it’s all downhill,” Dad yelled. I grimaced and pumped up the hill. My lungs gasped for air. My legs burned, each stride a matter of sheer willpower. Cresting the hill I could see the finish. I was going to be sixth or seventh. Dirk and Steve had finished well ahead of me. In fact, I could see them standing at the line.
“You can catch him,” Dirk yelled. “It’s all downhill.”
Just ahead was a white singlet, tantalizingly near.
“He’s spent, you can get him,” Steve screamed.
From somewhere I felt a surge of energy. Pumping my arms, I began to sprint. The white singlet looked back, exhaustion written on his face. Reacting to my approach he tried to race, but I pulled even. He shot me one last glance and folded. I coasted across the line two strides ahead.
I won no medal, my finish had no impact on the team score, but I did run my personal best time. Gasping I leaned on a tree. Out of nowhere, Dad appeared, smiled and slapped me on the shoulder.
“Not everyone can win, but everyone can finish strong.” he beamed.
I would hear that voice many times in the future, once as I finished a long day of detasseling. Then again, at the 20-mile mark of my first Marathon. Years later, I would hear it again, this time, in my own voice.
My son went on a Philmont Scout trek, and I tagged along one of three adults, watching over eight scouts. It was our third day out. The day before we had hiked a hard 14 miles. With less than six to cover today, we took our time breaking camp. Unfortunately, our next campsite was atop Comanche Peak, so we climbed all day. Still tired from yesterday’s hike, the boys began to struggle. The other adults fell behind to close the ranks, and I stayed with the leaders – my son Nick, a football player, and Whitey, a tall basketball playing farm boy. Benefitting from their sports conditioning both were tired, but not exhausted. I can’t say the same for the rest, all good kids, but not athletes. They lagged behind, each entirely spent. At the campsite, I dropped my pack and headed down the trail to see what I could do.
“Finish strong,” I yelled as each worked up the last climb. Nick and Whitey appeared to offer more encouragement. Soon the youngest approached. Looking at the steep trail ahead he sighed, “I can’t do this anymore. I’m not as good as the others.”
Then it popped out, my dad’s voice – “Not everyone can win, but everyone can finish strong.” I smiled. “One last climb, you can do it, I know you can.”
“If you say so,” he gasped and adjusted his pack. He finished the climb; Nick and Whitey at his side. It was a good day, it was a watershed day. Having climbed the peak, their confidence grew, they were different. They had not quit until the job was finished.
I suppose that is why I have a compunction to finish. That little voice that tells me to Finish Strong.
Not everyone can win, but everyone can finish strong.
David L Dahl.
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