Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
You and your arithmetic, you’ll probably go far.
Inchworm, inchworm, measuring the marigolds
Seems to me you’d stop and see how beautiful they are.
Frank Loesser, Inchworm
When roadblocks are monumental, little victories assume a greater role than they would otherwise deserve. This is probably because greater resolve is required under such circumstances to move the few inches that little victories achieve relative to long term goals, and great resolve is difficult to find and maintain in the face of heavily adverse odds.
I’ve achieved two notable little victories these past ten days from my perspective as a recent stroke victim. The first was walking the two tenths of a mile to and from our mailbox with Helen by my side. This was soon followed by three more trips to and from that selfsame mailbox with and without friends – trips that served to reduce a seeming miracle to a routine endeavor.
As I write, it is that time of afternoon when yet another mailbox trip would be in order, but the weather is inclement and my resolve doesn’t extend to a soaking even though the workout would be welcome. So I settled instead for a brief walk around the pine in front of the house to admire the other kinds of flowers Helen has planted, and during that trip I ventured into one of our fields to see if I could manage its inherent unevenness – and realized an even smaller, less notable victory along the way.
I achieved today’s first truly notable little victory while indoors. This morning I climbed the 17 steps to our second floor for the first time since my December stroke and went to work in our library while Helen went grocery shopping. I made the ascent and descent under Helen’s watchful eye and with her support since I still require more balance to attempt the stairs on my own. In between the ups and downs I did a reasonable amount of honest-to-god work updating my desktop’s software and cataloging some of the myriad books we’ve purchased since December.
These were not my only little victories during that same ten-day period, only the most notable given my goals and perspective. I also went to a bookstore for the first time since December, only to discover that the management had ruined my ability to forage happily due to an ill-advised (from the customer’s standpoint) rearrangement of its books. I was disappointed by this blatant attempt to make me search through their entire inventory for newer books, given my relatively limited endurance. Nothing is more satisfying than a bookstore crawl, and I felt cheated of a long-held pleasure after having waited for so long.
Fortunately, the Internet makes book buying a simple affair, so I haven’t been without the pleasure of acquiring new books during my hiatus from everyday life. Even rare books can be found online given an experienced hunter’s patience and the requisite luck. As to current books, the Internet allows me to identify ones I want to read and either buy them myself or give Helen a list of books I would like to have. Since she is as enamored of books as I am, buying books for me isn’t a chore but rather an excuse to indulge herself.
Neither my nor Helen’s passion for acquiring new books was diminished by my stroke, and, as a result, I found piles of yet-to-be-catalogued books when I arrived in the library this morning. Without the benefit of a catalogue we could no longer find an individual volume or even be certain it is in our possession. I only made a dent in the to-be-catalogued pile, but it seemed an outsized success nonetheless. To my pleasant surprise, much of my morning’s work was promptly undone this afternoon when a large standing book order arrived from my friends at the Seattle Mystery Bookshop. While my book cataloguing toils appear to be endless, I am always happy in the work and my friends have given me even more joy to anticipate.
I’ve learned to savor little victories, for while they are mere mile markers in the greater scheme of things, the fact of their measurement is ready evidence of progress. My present progress in regaining my balance so that I might walk alone and unaided always appears incremental when viewed up close. In the space of a single week, my progress is difficult to see, but, like starlight, the further I look back in time the further I seem to have come. These last ten days seem very successful given the achievement of so many long-sought little victories en route to my year’s goals, but I couldn’t have achieved any of them without all of the effort expended during the previous five months.
I have new interim goals to supplant those I achieved during these past ten days. Driving a car again is a several month goal, but using our big tractor to mow the upper pasture is its near-term cousin. I am not yet ready to ride the big tractor as getting on and off of it will be especially challenging given my condition. But the determination to make the attempt is building and my mind is already identifying and searching for ways of overcoming the various obstacles to its success. After all, I can only injure myself in the pasture. But the trick will be to injure no one at all while enjoying the fruits of my labors – the beguiling smell of freshly cut grass and the visual satisfaction of lines of passage etched in a well-mown field.
While Inchworms may not savor the beauty of the marigolds they attempt, I’ve learned to savor the logic and beauty of their patient progress. For it is only when you consider the entire length of your life that you realize just how many milestones you’ve achieved and how important each of them was to your arrival at the here and now.
Complacency with the present will damn anyone’s joy of anticipation. If my stroke has taught me anything, it is to emulate the inchworm and proceed along my way with single-minded determination. For, if I do, there will always be more little victories to savor no matter how long or rugged my passage may prove to be. And there may even prove to be marigolds that I will be able to stop and see.