I was alone in the woods of central Italy with a pair of pliers. And I wanted some help.
In front of me was a thick iron fence with a wide hole in it. The fence’s job was to keep little pigs in. My job was to keep track of the little pigs. And now the fence and I weren’t doing our jobs.
The pigs lived on an 1,100 acre farm west of Siena. And for three months, I did, too. To earn my keep, I was charged with caring for 70 noisy, muddy little pigs.
So, when 11 of my muddy constituents escaped through the thick iron fence, it was my job to fix the escape hole. The farm manager gave me no instructions, just pliers.
If I were home, I’d have asked my dad, visited the hardware store. I’d have gone out for help. But I was 12 time zones from my father, 4,000 miles from True Value.
In the woods of central Italy, it was just me. Me with a job I didn’t know how to do, but a job I knew I had to do.
I yanked, tugged, twisted at that fence. I got angry, spiteful, indignant at that fence. I pried, pulled, even prayed a bit at that fence. And then, I stepped back to look at that fence.
My work was ugly. My work was imperfect. But when the 11 muddy escapees returned that evening to eat, they couldn’t get back in through the fence. My work, I realized as I lifted the pigs over the fence, had somehow done the job.
I think of what educator Kurt Hahn wrote: “There is more in us than we know. If we can be made to see it, perhaps, for the rest of our lives we will be unwilling to settle for less.”
And I think how common it is to settle for less. How, when confronted with the unknown, I can quickly go outside for help, rather than digging around inside for help.
There are moments when we cannot, must not take on the thick iron fence alone. But there are moments when if we look, if we really look, past who we are right now and towards who we can be, we will see that we have more nerve, more wisdom, more compassion than we knew. We will see what a vast untapped resource we are.
There will be yanking, tugging, maybe even a bit of praying. The instruction-less work of becoming more of ourselves isn’t quick and it isn’t easy.
But it is our job.