Clyde and The Tree

(The Importance of Unrelenting Persistence)

 

When Jeff was hired by his first municipal 911 EMS system, all new employees were on probationary status for one full year, even if you were already paying union dues, they could not offer any protection against being fired for any reason…even no reason. That first year involved a sort of hazing of all new hires, but the ones with whom they were already familiar got off easily. The rest were considered fresh meat. The unspoken rule was to wash out two of the weakest candidates during training in order to give some opportunities to the candidates with slightly lower test scores, but a proven record within the community.

 

Jeff had very high test scores, but was relatively unknown in that county, as all his previous BLS experience had been in Miami, and even that had been extremely limited. He was too slow to treat and much too cerebral in his initial approach. His transition was not easy, and his training was not going well. He seriously feared for his job. This tended to make him “choke” under pressure, so his training officers just turned up the heat that much farther. If you are going to “crack up”, they want it to happen now, rather than later.

 

By the end of three months, Jeff was desperate; his own fears and anxiety were getting the best of his considerable knowledge and skills. He could feel himself start to choke every time the alarm sounded. He already began to dread going to work for what he had considered to be his “dream job”. At thirty-seven years of age, he had made a serious commitment to a goal he had set, and he was not accustomed to failing at anything; he felt like he was going into a flat spiral.

 

Jeff had started doing Zen meditation about a year earlier, and tried to apply it to his everyday life. He applied the same diligence to his study of Zen as he had to emergency medicine. In retrospect, Jeff was probably too high-strung to work in EMS, and he probably sensed it. He wanted to believe Zen could give him the clarity and inner peace he so desperately needed.

 

Jeff also had a dog, an eighty-pound pit bull named Clyde, and he used to take Clyde to the edge of a canal that bordered their property. He would put the dog in the back of his pickup truck and drive over the dike that surrounded the development in which he lived. He would sometimes just let the dog loose, so he could chase Jeff’s truck as they raced along the edge of the canal. Other times, he would throw a tennis ball into the canal, so the dog could swim to it and retrieve the ball.

 

One day, after a particularly heavy thunderstorm, Jeff discovered that a very large tree had washed up on the bank of the canal where he and his dog would run. This was not just a log, but rather an entire tree, maybe forty feet tall, branches, roots, and everything. It was stuck on a small spit of sand along the edge of the bank. The minute that Clyde saw the tree, he ran up to it, grabbed a branch with his jaws, and tried to drag it back into the water, but it was much too big and heavy, and quite firmly stuck in the sand. The utter impossibility of the task did not deter the dog’s efforts to drag the tree as he furiously latched on and pulled with all his might. Every day was a repeat of the day before. The dog never seemed the least bit discouraged as each day, he attacked the tree with seemingly newfound intensity as soon as they returned to the canal. Both the dog’s determination and the futility of his efforts amused Jeff each time they returned.

 

The pressure at work was becoming worse, and now seemed to occupy Jeff’s every waking thought, which hung like ominous storm clouds over his head.

 

A month passed with no progress or improvement in his situation as each shift, he feared might be his last. One morning, the water level on the canal was a little higher than usual, due to heavy rains for several days. The rains had been so heavy for so long, that Jeff and Clyde did not bother to go to the canal at all for two days. On this particular morning, as the dog latched on the tree, it actually began to move. The dog barked loudly, as if jubilant over his success. As he continued to pull on the branches of the tree, it began to roll over, and pulled the surprised terrier under the water as it rolled. Clyde eventually freed himself from the branches, and continued to swim with the tree as he now tried to pull it back to shore, with absolutely no success whatsoever.

 

Jeff began to laugh hysterically as he realized the analogy that the tree seemed to point up about his own life. He let out a huge sigh of relief, and said “All right!”, if only to himself, as the dog began his swim back to the shore. (Clyde finally had to give up, as the tree quickly went nearly one hundred yards downstream in almost no time at all.)

 

Jeff always believed that this scene had been an omen that was responsible for his breakthrough. From that point on, he was more confident, less easily rattled, and filled with newfound resolve to succeed. Although Clyde had struggled daily against seemingly insurmountable odds, he never gave up. In Fact, in retrospect, the dog seemed to relish the challenge, and was clearly disappointed when his success resulted in the loss of the tree.

 

So much of what we do in our own lives is not really all that much different. Our character is as much determined by the challenges of our adversaries as we are by our successes and the support of our allies. Never give up. Failure may be just one more effort short of success, but even the victory over an adversity does not come without some loss. We may fail to recognize that the challenges we face in our lives bring out the very best in each of us, and we are in fact mutually interdependent. For Jeff, that meant whatever was meant to be would happen according to its own schedule, so long as he persevered and kept faith in his own best efforts. He had been his own worst enemy all along, and all he needed to do was simply pay attention long enough to recognize the connection and meaning of what he had just witnessed.

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