Last week I reflected on how stepping away from football has given me more time to focus on being a father. I received many nice emails applauding me for having my priorities straight.
But the truth is often more nuanced than I can convey in the 500-ish words I’m allotted for my weekly columns. The truth about my priorities is that I wrestle with them, constantly.
None more so than when I’m on some sort of “break.” Spring Break included.
I don’t idle well. I’m always looking for the next project, the next task to mark off my to-do list. Currently, I write a weekly column for The Courier and a monthly column for The Oxford American, all while continuing to try and write fiction, work a full-time job, and be there for my wife and daughter.
With Mal still working over Spring Break, Em and I had a string of “Daddy-Emmy Days!” (Em’s words; not mine). So there I was, trying to “slow down, soak it up, and enjoy time with my family.” Just what I’d urged you to do in my previous column, but my brain kept darting back to my debut novel.
I finished that manuscript over two years ago, but I still worry about it constantly. Mainly because it’s out of my hands — it either sells and I officially become a “novelist,” or it doesn’t.
My brain jumped from my debut novel to the one I’m working on now. Was I capturing the voice like I wanted to? Did I need to go back and revise the opening chapter?
These were the thoughts racing through my brain, while Em ran circles around my feet.
Toward the middle of the week, I had real work to do. My father-in-law asked if I’d come split and stack some firewood at his farm.
As I drove out of Russellville with Em strapped tight in her car seat, toward my in-law’s farm on the outskirts of a tiny community called “Gumlog,” I wasn’t too excited about spending most of my day knee-deep in firewood.
But when I got there and started working, something strange happened.
With each log I split, with each truckload I carted off to store in the barn until next winter, my worries began to fade away.
There was something cathartic about the process. The sound the logs made. The way they all fit together to form a rick, like a giant jigsaw puzzle. It was nice to finally see some real progress.
When I finished, I was sweating, my forehead was sunburnt, and my back felt like somebody’s beaten it with a baseball bat. But here’s the crazy thing — I was more aware of Emmy. I was a better Dad for the rest of the day.
Gone was the cloudiness from before, replaced now with a newfound peace. The pleasure of a job well done, maybe? I’m not sure, but whatever it was reminded me of this ancient Zen proverb:
“Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.”
To me, that proverb is kind of like the Nike slogan: “Just Do It.” It’s a testament to work. The work of being a writer, a husband, and a father, or whatever your chosen field might be.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter what we achieve. Nothing will change if my novel actually sells. Nothing will change if you get a promotion at work. Not really. The wood will still need chopping; the water will still need carrying.
I’d argue it’s how we carry out the minutia of our lives — whether or not we remain present and enjoy the little things — that makes the biggest difference in the end.
Please, don’t let my words fool you into thinking I have it all figured out. I write this as a constant reminder to myself…
Chop wood. Carry Water.
What’s your take on what you just read? Comment below or write a response and submit to us your own point of view or reaction here at the red box, below, which links to our submissions portal.