“Far better it is to dare mighty things, to win great triumphs, even checkered by failure than to join the ranks of those poor spirits who neither enjoy much nor suffer because they live in the gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.” – Teddy Roosevelt
My father was a sheep rancher who lived in the day when his home on the range was a “motor home” propelled by an unusual team. The quarter horse, Snip, was dependable and trustworthy. The other half of the team was a big eared mule who was a master at working within self-imposed limits on his personal achievement. The round-top, canvas covered wagon was father’s home. A second small, compact wagon (commissary) contained extra supplies including hay and grain for the team, water, etc. and was connected to the back of the wagon with a small chain. When it was time to move the team pulled them both.
Although indolent, father gave the mule credit for being smart but the animal used his intelligence to cultivate his laziness.
Whenever the camp was moved and the road became steep the mule would cease to pull. Somehow Blackie knew the load could be lightened if father unhooked the commissary. The frustrating ritual was for father to unhook the commissary, move the wagon beyond the “obstacle,” come back and get the commissary, hook it to the wagon again and move on. This pattern persisted until one day father tricked the mule. When the mule stopped as the train approached a steep incline in the road, father set the brake, wrapped the reins around the handle and stepped down from the wagon. He walked to the back of the wagon, rattled the chain that connected the commissary and then climbed back into his seat. He released the brake and slapped the reins on the backs of the animals and up the hill they went. The mule never knew what hit him.
Father’s message to his family came not through preaching but through his example. Within the true story of the mule lay a message that inspired me to move beyond the natural instinct to settle for mediocrity.
Happiness comes when, at the end of the day, we can say we reached a little higher, ran a little faster, smiled a little brighter and helped someone else along the way and that we did it by rising above the desire to please self. Perhaps we just need someone to, on occasion, rattle our chain.