BEANERY ONLINE LITERARY MAGAZINE
DROPPING THE STICK
Joe F. Stierheim
What causes a shift in one’s life, a shift of awareness, a new level of knowing? Is it dramatic, profound, intense and of great significance, or is it sometimes something that is simple and relatively insignificant?
“I wrote a poem—a haiku,” Tim Krupar, a friend of mine, said. He was obviously very proud of it. “Want to hear it?” he asked. I nodded and he recited:
“By dropping the stick
the carrot is abandoned.
The race is over.”
My ears immediately perked up. I knew that the poem had a particular significance for me. I asked him to repeat the haiku and I copied it down. Since then I have read it over a number of times, delving into its meaning for me. Of course it refers to the classic “carrot on a stick,” such as one ties to a donkey to make him move forward by trying to catch and eat the illusive carrot that always manages to stay just out of reach. But in the case of this haiku, what is the carrot? And what is the race?
In life we learn many things and we are taught in many ways, in schools, in social and family situations, and in work environments. But most of all, what we are taught is how to conform. We are taught how to behave, what to believe, what to value, what to desire, what to achieve and how to achieve. This is the carrot and we are handed the stick to which it is tied very early in life. This is done with the best of intentions, for this, it is thought by our teachers, is the way to succeed in the world. And most of us live our lives as best we can in conformance with these ideas of what we should do. This is the race. Our attaining the carrot is the prize. But that seldom happens. It seldom happens for many reasons, but most of all, it is because it is someone else’s carrot that we are chasing—that we are holding out in front of us as we run.
At some point in life, many people begin to question their lives and how they are living them. Many are dissatisfied with what they find to be their state in life. And many set about changing that situation. A few people achieve greatness. If one had the ability to go back and detail the life of each such person, one would probably find that that greatness was not attained by that person’s conforming to the behavior pattern of the majority of society but rather by following a pattern unique to him or her. But whether or not one finds greatness, a sense of real achievement and satisfaction is found only by living in harmony with and being true to the unique abilities and talents that one innately possesses.
At a point in my life—much too late to my liking—I realized that the carrot that I was chasing was not something I really wanted. I also realized that I was the one carrying the stick to which the carrot was tied and that I was the one who had the power to do with it what I wanted. It may have been placed in my hands by others—by society—but it was mine to carry or not; it was mine to drop if I so chose. Finally, I did drop the stick and thus began to define my own values, needs, likes, wants, goals and definition of success.
This haiku, which my friend had written, encapsulated something of which I had become aware but which I had not come to verbalize in so succinct a way. In one brief moment and in an offhand way the reciting of the haiku accomplished this, giving me something that I could take with me throughout the rest of my life and which I could come back to again and again. It intensified, magnified and summarized something of which I had only been vaguely aware. I had dropped the stick years ago but the meaning of that act did not fully dawn on me until I heard my friend’s haiku.
Hearing the haiku pointed out another important fact to me. There are truths everywhere and incidents of significance happen all the time. They have the power to change life or to point a new direction or to illustrate something that is known or needs to be known. Such incidents are needed to personalize life. The task we face is gaining the ability to recognize them and utilize them to give renewed meaning to our lives.