It is a law of the Universe that if you take two Type-A, slightly angst-ridden moms and give them too much free time and a challenge, they can accomplish anything. Who cares if one chases corporate criminals for a living and the other is a former news anchorwoman? A project more fit for bearded, beer-bellied lumberjacks becomes a mission that cannot—MUST NOT—fail. And if a mere man (Ethan) insists the mission is impossible, that estrogen-fueled determination doubles.
At first glance, the job my friend Tania and I decided to take on was simple: thread a hundred foot long rope thicker than my ankle through twelve holes in wooden stakes, which, when finished, would create a nautical style railing down the steep path from our Maine house to the sea. The old rope had finally frayed into brown, worm-like pieces over the extraordinarily harsh New England winter, leaving nothing to stop an unwary walker from launching head over heels into sticker bushes and poison ivy. Our replacement rope—a thousand pounds of the strongest eight-plait nylon–lay coiled at the top of the path like a fat, somnolent snake. Ethan and I had scavenged it from a tugboat at Marshall Wharf (a freebie, the captain said, if we hauled it away that day!). The problem was that it proved to be a few nylon threads too big.
Tania, who was visiting from Los Angeles, is a lawyer. She’s also a Harvard Business School graduate. So when she refused to quit, even after we tried to force the rope’s duct-taped end through the first hole for ten minutes with minimal success, I believed she must have some trick up her sleeve to get the job done–a law of physics perhaps, known only to over-educated smart people. But since Tania is also a mother of three, her solution was much more practical.
“Lubrication,” she pronounced, both of us panting from being rope-a-doped by a real rope.
I will tell you now, in case you ever find yourself trying to squeeze a too big rope and a too small hole, lavender baby lotion, pomegranate hair conditioner, and plain old Ivory soap do not help. But when I grabbed some WD-40 and an entire can of olive oil from the kitchen, Ethan insisted these stronger lubricants would just ruin the rope. I pointed out that the former tugboat hawser was going to the dump anyway if we couldn’t fit it through those freaking holes and left him grilling tofu and peeling a cucumber for Ado’s lunch. Walking back to the job site, I muttered that it might be better if he stuck to household chores and let the women do the real work.
The fog had pulled back over the Penobscot Bay when Tania and I again went mano-a-mano with the rope. In the muggy sunshine, our sweaters gave way to wife-beater tank tops and we were soon grunting like Venus and Serena Williams at the French Open. Tania, recently separated from her husband and staring down the barrel of a divorce, funneled frustration and pain into every shove.
“It’s awful!” she said, pulling hard, and the rope inched forward. “The issue now is custody.” She yanked again, and the rope suddenly slithered several feet, nearly crushing my fingers between it and splintery wood. “So, how about this?” Tania was not so much talking to me now as to the rope, which stood the chance of a porcupine in a bulldozer’s path. “I’ll take the kids and he can have Thomas!” Thomas is the couple’s dog–a blind, incontinent pug that, even in his prime, was no prize pig.
The rope stopped moving as we both cracked up. The physical exertion felt great—and the task of bending that rope to our collective will so satisfying that even difficult problems seemed somehow less earth-shattering.
This is when the second law of the Universe hit me. Hard physical labor can cure existential angst much better than Valium or Xanax! I mean, who has time to worry about a career change, aging, or self doubt when their muscles are screaming in pain? After my “Oprah And Me” post, my friend Ann had commented, “The squirrels couldn’t possibly run the wheels in your head any faster,” and suggested “a weed whacker, twenty gallons of gas and several acres of tall grass” might help slow them down. Now, with blisters biting into my hands and the ropy veins of my arms pulsing with old-fashioned exertion, I knew she was right. Lumberjacks must have very low anxiety levels, being too exhausted to obsess about which looks worse: crows feet or frown lines.
The result of the Rope-A-Dope Mission Impossible was beautiful. The slightly oversized rope, stained moss green where it had spent years in the ocean and bleached bone white where it had baked in the sun, filled the empty space between forest, water, earth and sky like Martha Stewart herself had chosen it. As Tania and I admired our handiwork, the Penobscot Bay glowing a peculiar pink in the dying sun as a backdrop, the third law of the Universe suddenly seemed pretty obvious. Good friends, especially in times of upheaval and change, are as life sustaining as oxygen. Had I not been so tired I might have tried to analyze this—or cried thankful tears that I have so many wonderful people in my life. But instead, I simply refused to let the squirrels start running again.
“Tomorrow,” I said, “we can reset the loose stepping stones on the path or cut firewood with the chainsaw.”
Tania stretched her sore muscles, looking as relaxed as I’d ever seen her.
“Your choice,” she replied. “I’m game for either.”