“I could never do that.” I hear it all the time. From friends and family commenting on my new spice pantry to random passersby admiring my cargo bike laden with three kids, people seem absolutely positive about what they can’t do. Sure, it’s good to know your limits… but I’ve come to believe that most of us don’t know our limits at all, because most of us don’t push them.
We have a concrete walkway from the street to our front porch. It’s been there for as long as the house has, and it shows. One square in particular was all cracked and uneven because of the massive tree roots that grew directly under it. It was a serious tripping hazard, and it needed to be fixed.
Our recent foray into living frugally led me to wonder how hard it could possibly be to break up about 6 square feet of concrete and pour some cement into the resulting hole. Seemed like it would be worth $200 to do it myself rather than hiring someone to do it. And so off to Home Depot I went in search of a rental jackhammer. I was thinking of something smallish, like this:
Instead, what I got was this:
The thing was so large it needed a wheeled stand for transport. I couldn’t even lift the thing. I got it home, installed the humungous drill bit (bruising my palm in the process,) and dragged it over to where I needed it. I pressed the button and pushed down on the handles. The bit skittered across the concrete and lodged itself in the lawn. I tried starting on an existing crack. It was better right up until the bit got stuck and I couldn’t pull the breaker out. The neighbours were stopping to watch. One came forward and offered to play with R while I solved my problem. In the end, the handyman who was working next door came out and helped me sledgehammer away some concrete so I could remove the breaker bit and start all over again.
After an hour and a half of inept fumbling, and with childcare provided by Sesame Street, I had finally, finally broken up the concrete into pieces the size of half a cinder block each. My arms were shaking as I dragged the tool back to the car and heaved it into the trunk. My hands were too weak to remove the bit, so I coiled up the power cord and hoped that I hadn’t caused any permanent damage to the machine. Or, you know, myself. We took the breaker back to Home Depot and then the kids and I celebrated my triumph over the concrete with frozen lemonade and cookies.
On a side note, I used a sledgehammer at various points along the way, and afterwards a contractor who was working a few houses down complimented me on my sledge technique. That just about made my day.
So now there’s a pile of rubble where a concrete slab used to be, and as soon as I can lift my arms again Mr. December and I will clear it out so I can pour the new concrete.
While I was wrestling with the stuck machine, the neighbours came over and started talking about all the former neighbours who tried to remove a concrete walkway by themselves. Apparently none of them succeeded, and the implication, of course, was that I would fail as well. My mother’s response when she heard about my adventure was, “why didn’t you hire someone? You shouldn’t do that kind of thing yourself!” But why not? Because most people don’t? Because I’m not a hugely muscular male? Because everyone imagined I couldn’t?
I could. I did. And I never would have known had I not tried. It’s reminiscent of how I thought I’d never be able to bike the kids all the way to school and all the way home without being red in the face and wishing my legs would just fall off already, and now I can comfortably bike 20 kilometres in a day and wish I had somewhere else to cycle off to. There’s no mystique to using a jackhammer or cycling a cargo bike or building a pantry inside a wall – the trick is to go and do it.
I don’t know what my limit is. I can bike 200 pounds of bike and kids (plus myself,) I can demolish a sidewalk, I can sew a quilt. I haven’t yet failed completely in anything I’ve tried. Practicality may win out in the end, and I may never truly know my limit, but I know that I haven’t hit it yet.
As the Jewish New Year approaches I’ve been more introspective than usual, and I wonder where my spiritual limits are. I feel like I’ve gotten spiritually lazy and started saying “I could never do that” rather than trying and then deciding whether I want to “do that.” It behooves me to be as brave spiritually as I’ve been physically, and start trying.
Which of your limits would you like to push?