Hitching up for the Haul

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I recently heard a fascinating story about a farmer and his horses. This particular farmer harvested crops, and to do so, he had trained his horses to pull sleds carrying very heavy loads. There came a day when the farmer decided to test the weight of the loads his horses could pull. First, he tested each horse individually. On the individual tests, the farmer’s best horse was able to pull a sled carrying up to 4,500 pounds. The second-rated horse could pull a sled with up to 4,000 pounds.

With the single-horse tests noted, the farmer decided to try an experiment. He hitched those two horses together and tested for their best pull as a team. Curiously enough, the two horses could pull up to 12,000 pounds together. If you do the math, this means that, as a team, the pair bested their combined individual capabilities by 3,500 pounds. It’s almost as if, together, the two became as strong as three.

I married my wife Jane forty-one years ago, and we’ve been hitched ever since. The two of us have been married for almost two-thirds of my life. This means several things, of course, including one key thing: when I have a heavy load to carry, Jane shares the burden. If I’m facing a challenging circumstance, the weight of it all feels more manageable because she’s by my side. If I imagine my life without her, it’s not a pretty picture. For starters, parenting alone would have been a nightmare. Jane brought such a softening effect into our children’s lives, and, on countless issues, her calm, cool perspective made mine so much more focused. Without her, I’d be bouncing all over the place.

Without her, I know I would be lonely for companionship. If I didn’t have her encouragement to spur me on, I think I would be disheartened a lot. Life would be lopsided and uneven without her by my side to help balance me out. I can’t explain it, but somehow, I’m stronger in this pair than I would be as a separate individual. The math doesn’t make sense, but I know it’s true. It’s like I signed up for an addition and got a multiplication instead.

As it turns out, there really is strength in numbers—whether it’s in a marriage, a family, a friendship, or otherwise. When it comes to relationships, the combination of two has the power to make each one profoundly better. And, let’s face it: we could all use something like that. Human beings have a built-in desire to be connected to other human beings. Complete solitude doesn’t serve any of us well, but we thrive in community. Often, it’s through our relationships with others that we build individual strength.

Have you built personal relationships that help to make your load seem lighter? Are there people in your life who help to make you stronger? Have you discovered the power of partnership? Think about it: there’s you, there’s me, there’s your neighbor and mine. There’s a co-worker, a counselor, a cousin. There are spouses and sisters and stepbrothers and mothers-in-law. On our own, each of us can manage—but together, we can manage enough to surprise ourselves. And, trust me, the experience is delightful. I guess it’s because somehow, the weight lightens when you’re pulling with somebody else.