Some years ago, a good friend of mine, a great person and fine doctor, finding himself sort of fed up for the day, decided to cut out for the rest of the afternoon. Without saying a word to anyone as to where he was going, he left the office and drove north into Georgia, ultimately to the edge of Lake Seminole, where he owned some land. He spent the afternoon communing with nature, as we say, clearing his head of the thoughts of a busy physician and enjoying the solitude of the lake.
A light rain had set in, and the road down to the lake was hard pan, south Georgia clay. After dark, as he tried to drive back up to the main road, his car would not budge. Remembering that an old man, a friend of his, had a tractor in a shed a mile or so back off the road, my friend walked in the mud to the shed, where he found the tractor and the key. Not wanting to walk the other mile to his friend's home and knowing there would be no problem with permission, he cranked the tractor and rode down to the lake. He hooked up the tractor to his car, climbed up into the driver's seat, put it in gear, let out the clutch, and in a microsecond found himself on the ground with the tractor on top of him, 8,000 pounds of steel punching him into the cold, hard clay.
Two classical blunders had left him hopelessly pinned, with the circulation cut off in his shoulder and arm and the feel of broken bones against the dirt. The first blunder was in not telling a single soul where he was. The second was taking on, without help, a difficult, dangerous task for which he had neither the experience nor the training.
Pinned, alone, near shock and in terrible pain, there was almost nothing he could do. After running through the things we all would -- crying a little, cursing a little, yelling a little, praying a little, perhaps even offering God a little deal, he settled down to the reality that he was helpless, alone, and in very grave danger, all because of those seemingly insignificant errors: not telling a soul where he was going and taking on more than he could safely manage alone.
Now my friend had one enormous advantage, provided after a while to all of us: age and experience. He had been down before, and he believed, "crazy" as it seemed, that there had to be something he could do.
Finally, it came to him that there were three things he could do, and he put all of his energy into doing them. He found that he could wiggle his fingers just a bit; that with a small stick he found on the ground, he could ... hang on 'til daylight; ... that and nothing else. So throughout the night, cold, wet, in pain and totally alone, he kept at it: wiggling around a little, picking at the problem a little, and ... hanging on until daylight.
Now in fact, my doctor friend does not live alone in the world. He has a family, friends and colleagues. And there are a whole bunch of helpers -- police, sheriffs, forest rangers, medics -- literally a room full. You are never truly alone. Unknown to him, shortly after dark, first on the subdued scale and then with a rising crescendo, the real people in his life began to fan out and search...
Still believing he was alone and that it might be hopeless, my friend, because he had been down before, maintained the pace: he wiggled around a bit, picked away at the problem clay under his elbow, and ... hung on until daylight.
Finally, just at dawn, it all happened at once -- tractors, wreckers, ambulances, medics, pry poles, cables and wrenches. And then, it was all over -- a warm bed, bone surgeons, cardiovascular surgeons; and not just a bad dream, a joke to tell on yourself when you feel particularly cocky. But life, future, friends, family, dreams, plans and responsibilities were all his because of those three trivial things -- wiggling around to keep the juices flowing, picking at the problem, and most of all, through pain, shock, cold, darkness and aloneness ... hanging on until daylight.
Now if, God forbid, somehow you find yourself having made the two classic blunders of isolation and taking on the heavies, and it turns over on you, just remember to do two things: remember something can move a little, so wiggle around; remember all problems can be pecked at a little, so peck at the problem; but most of all, remember to ... hang on until daylight.
-from Lee J. Colan, quoting an address delivered by Wallace A. Kennedy, Professor of Psychology, Florida State University, 1981