TW Viewpoint | The Old Dirt RoadApril 8, 2022 | Stephen Jokela
For years, my dad has run—not jogged—down an unpaved road located just a few miles from our home. "The Old Dirt Road," as we called it, was just one of the many farm roads that decorate the American South. This three-mile, undeveloped byway served my father well for his exercise of choice after a hard day's work. It also served me, by giving me a chance to learn an important lesson from my father about planning for the future.
The dry gravel surface twisted through wooded areas, past open fields, and finally through a creek basin. I remember it well, and the story that goes with it. Sometime in my mid-twenties, I had decided that I would conquer, in a single summer month, what my father had taken years to achieve on that old dirt road.
The month began with the two of us running side by side. I can still remember imagining us as two stallions galloping freely into the summer breeze—one young stallion charging fully ahead with vigor and youthful enthusiasm, one seasoned stallion pacing himself in a steady stream of careful strides. The first two hundred yards were easy, as they were mostly downhill.
Then the road turned slightly under some shady oaks that lined the dusty trail, and everything seemed to change. "Where is that breeze? Where is the air? How can it be this hot in the shade? That was only two hundred yards?" The young stallion survived only the first mile, while the seasoned stallion ran on.
We learned valuable life lessons as we tackled difficult projects and learned skills that would serve us well as adults. My stepfather was a tough taskmaster, and I remember thinking back then that he was a tyrant. Later, I realized that he was preparing us for life. Before he died at a good old age, I thanked him for being willing to put up with our complaints as he accomplished his purpose, pushing us out of our comfort zones to learn to work and do productive things—and I never forgot his adage.
But, after a day's recovery, I resumed the task.
As the calendar days flew by, mile-markers would come into view, pass, and then disappear around the meandering bend. My thoughts were always rambling. I was constantly anticipating the next part of the winding road ahead, ever hoping with all eagerness the completion of a new fraction of my daunting task and the eventual stop sign that marked the end.
The last week of this self-inflicted torture arrived. I had finally achieved the ability to speak, run, and breathe in concert. This was a necessary achievement for me to finally ask the question that had been rattling around in my oxygen-deprived brain for days. With a hearty gulp of dusty air, I finally asked: "Dad, what do you think of as you are running?"
The answer almost stopped me in my tracks. It sounded so simple but also profoundly wise. After weeks of my own vacant thoughts, his response became a life lesson that I have always tried to remember: "I focus on where I am placing my foot."
A 3000 year old proverb came to mind, "Ponder the path of your feet, and let all your ways be established." King Solomon's words were derived from his father's instruction, who understood that he was responsible for his actions but also realized that there was help available.
My dad, a wise, calculating man, learned to diligently apply this principle. And through the application, he paced his life in every aspect by understanding the direction of his feet, the weight of his actions, his focus to arrive at a determined conclusion.
The remainder of my month on the old dirt road was spent contemplating where to place my foot as I ran. If life we should ponder our decisions and consider the implications of our words or actions, measuring choices against the tried and true principles of an ancient moral code. This is elaborated in our video "Moral Code".
Adapted from "The Old Dirt Road" by Lehman B. Lyons Jr.