Harder fall comes for those with bigger egos

By Curtis Shelburne: Religion columnist

In last week’s column, I wrote to extol the virtues of physical labor, reasoning that our minds work a lot better if our bodies do some hard work also from time to time. I closed with the Apostle Paul’s words, “Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your hands” (1 Thessalonians 4:11).

This week another Scripture quickly comes to mind (in the King James Version, for some reason): “Pride goeth before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.”

The Message renders it this way: “First pride, then the crash — the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.” At least one other version translates “fall” as “stumbling.” And no version gives the fallen stumbler much room to remain arrogant.

I should know. I’ve been stumbling around for a week or so in varying degrees of pain.

I wrote last week’s column on Monday after a day’s worth of digging for a garden shed construction project. It was work, yes, but it surely beat making some cardiologist’s Ferrari payment. As I dug that footing, I passed the accompanying heart test just fine, thanks. I lived.

Last week I wrote that physical work is good medicine, and so it is. But so is anything that forces us — make that “me” — to adopt a little humility.

Wednesday did that for me. The corrective lesson fired my way involved concrete.

Just as the newspaper containing my pro-physical work column was hitting the driveways, I was searching for an “in the office on a Wednesday afternoon” doctor. I’ll explain . . .

I’ve been familiar with the law of gravity for a good while. I just didn’t know the corollary to that law which dictates that wet concrete flowing down a shoot from a big truck moves toward you at 148 miles per hour. (I’d vote for mirrors that stick out from those trucks a bit farther so the driver can stop the concrete before it’s up to your left eyebrow.) I knew I was in trouble when the guy backed the truck in, surveyed the scene: “Heckuva job for one man!”

He poured. I shoveled. He left. My three miles of forms did fine. But three miles is a lot of concrete for trowel work. Oh, it’s fine at first. Nicely gloppy. Then you blink, it starts to set up, panic sets in, and you’ve still got a mile left to work and 47.3 seconds before that stuff that had been moving at 336 miles per hour (I think 148 mph is a low estimate) is solid rock.

I learned a lot that day — most notably to use knee pads and a kneeling board and never, never, never again to spend hours with blue-jeaned knees marinating in wet concrete. You see, in concrete is cement and in cement is lime and lime . . .

Second degree burns. Vital bodily knee-juices dripping down shins. Lots of burn salve. A good bit of pain. Knees that were almost unimaginably good-looking (okay, I’m kidding) really messed up. But, just maybe, a much-needed dose of humility.

See, I told you. physical work is good for you!