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This reflection was written in the fall of 2020, shortly after my move to Elk Horn


Yesterday and today, I worked at reclaiming a very neglected flowerbed, if it could even be called by that name. The wonderful black earth of Iowa had been covered in black plastic and packed down by a load of gravel. I couldn't understand it. We do this in the desert Southwest to avoid water waste, and if we landscape the area with drought tolerant plants, it's known as xeriscape. If we only use gravel, it can't go by that name, but it does save water. Here water normally falls from the sky, so it makes sense to plant vegetation. This was heavy work––moving the gravel, cutting away the plastic, digging up the hard-pack. Yesterday, I petered out after 45 minutes, exhausted. Not great endurance.

Today, I took things at a slower pace, and there was less gravel to move in the spot where I planned to plant crocus bulbs. Still, it was hard work. About halfway through, I unfolded my camping chair and sat with my face to the sun, listening to the sweetness of the birds. Thoughts came to me, thoughts about where to start this piece of writing. After ten minutes or so I got up, planted 24 bulbs, cleaned my tools, moved fallen leaves over the plantings as mulch and called it a job well done. There was a lot more to go but not today. In track, I was more of a sprinter than a distance runner.

One of my favorite books is God's Hotel: A Doctor, a Hospital, and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of Medicine by Victoria Sweet. One reason I love it is because of the author's use of etymology to introduce ideas. So here I go with endurance. It's a hard word. Literally. Because it comes from the Latin indurare, meaning "to harden," which in Late Latin transformed to mean "to harden the heart against something." The word endure made its appearance in English in the late 14th century, and at the time it meant "to suffer without breaking." Endure replaced the Old English word for drudge. Thus, endurance may carry some heavy, less than positive connotations. In the 15th century, though, endurance meant simply "continued existence in time," and it can still be used that way. For this reflection, endurance was suggested by a Danish friend, and the Danish word is udholdenhed, which I roughly translate as "the quality of holding out."

Even though I'm not a distance runner, I think of endurance as a positive word. Endurance requires stamina, which in fact, is offered as a synonym for endurance. But stamina, rather than suggesting suffering, emphasizes power and strength––ability, not drudgery.


There is an element of time in endurance—how long can a person hold out? How long are you willing to suffer through something to get to the other side? Or to achieve a goal?


Endurance requires some faith—faith in oneself, faith in one's support system, faith that bearing with the travail will be worth the prize. I was concerned that today's gardening would be like yesterday's, that I would give out before I enjoyed the pleasure of putting those fat Dutch bulbs in the ground. Taking a break can be essential to endurance. Knowing that somewhere there will be an end when the muscles are burning can grant the necessary stamina. Sometimes, as with the endurance required in giving birth, there is no choice but to carry on to the finish. And there is the great feeling of accomplishment, all the sweeter when we've struggled through the hard parts.



The word endurance was brought to you by Tina Kragh Rusfort, who is a sea kayaker from the Danish island of Fyn, and I assume but don't know for sure, that endurance is a valuable quality to embody when kayaking the sea.



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