Until recently, my small lawn was a beautiful moss green. However, to be a proper lawn, it really needed to feature grass. So I decided to do a proper renovation job and dig it over.
A couple of hours later, sore and exhausted, I retreated indoors for a severe lie down. The blisters on my keyboard hands brought to mind the unbreakable skin on the strong, shovel-hard hands of my father. And his advice from years ago, as he helped me dig over the new garden for the first time. “Go steadily, don’t overload the spade and take frequent rests.”
I had been all enthusiasm and energy alongside his strength and stamina. Many times, he urged me to rest, to straighten up and to take a breather. But we had only a few hours before dark, and I didn’t want to leave the rolling and seeding until the next weekend. I pushed on at my pace until we took a break for tea and sandwiches. Fifteen minutes later, we were at it again but I was stiffening and struggling. Soon I was doing more resting than digging.
Then I found a number of urgent things to attend to inside the house. Outside, my father kept going till dusk, when the whole garden was turned over like a new allotment.
That evening, we stopped at a pub on our drive to his home. My growing soreness heralded an uncomfortable Monday at the office. But at least I wouldn’t be on a building site at 7am with ten hours of physical labour ahead of me.
My father put down his pint and took my hands to study the blisters. “They’ll be OK if you keep them clean.”
I mentioned that I was probably not cut out for digging. Behind his blue eyes, I sensed an abundance of things he might have said. He simply gripped my arms. “Sure isn’t one labourer enough for the family?”
Once, on hearing a TV comedian’s joke about ‘Paddy’ idly leaning on his shovel, my father ignored the unfair Irish reference and said, “Now there’s a man who has never dug a trench. Digging is always hard. Any man who has put effort into it — no matter how strong he may be — would know he has to rest, and often.”
While nursing my recent aches in a hot bath, I wished I’d remembered his digging tips. However, I cleave to his more important advice (although I constantly fail to follow it); namely, to find out a bit more about people or issues before commenting.
Familiar, ready-made views and generalisations can get us through a day’s worth of moments when we feel our opinion is wanted (really?) or merited (maybe). But they rarely take us — or the recipients of our wisdom — forward.