Inspiration comes to us from many sources. One powerful source for me was the film “Lawrence of Arabia,” the 1962 desert epic starring Peter O’Toole. In my favorite scene, Lawrence is trying to convince Prince Ali (played by Omar Sharif) to perform a much needed miracle by capturing the Gulf city of Aqaba. The miraculous part would be that Ali and his troops would have to cross the great Nefud Desert and arrive in Aqaba still strong enough to fight the Turks, who were garrisoned there and armed with modern weapons.
The Nefud, Ali protests, was a merciless wasteland without water or shade, relentlessly hostile to man and beast, and that to try to cross it would bring ruin and death to them all. Lawrence grabs Ali by the sleeve and drags him out of the tent into the open desert. Pointing at the horizon across the sand, he fixes Ali with a fierce glare and says, “Aqaba is over there. It’s only a matter of going.”
It was the winter of 1994, and I was living in a log cabin in the mountains, about a mile off the main road that winds through the Rockies of southwest Colorado. It had snowed most of the previous day and, looking out the window, I saw my old Subaru wagon, a vaguely car-shaped bump in the winter landscape.
“Rats!” I thought, “I’ve got a gig this week.”
It was Sunday, and on Wednesday afternoon I was the solo pianist at The Peaks, a swanky resort hotel sixty miles and several icy mountain passes from my cabin. With my car bumper deep in snow, I thought of packing a bag, wading through the drifts to the main road and hitchhiking into town. Then I remembered Lawrence.
Twenty minutes later, bundled up in winter gear, my trusty grain shovel in hand, I started clearing a swath wide enough for the wagon. I knew I would have to be methodical, taking care not to hurt myself, but, with three days and plenty of food and spring water, if I kept focused I could shovel my way out before another storm stranded me for the winter. And with any luck, my neighbor a quarter mile up the road might use his tractor to plow from his cabin to the highway. Then, I’d have only five hundred yards of actual shoveling between me and freedom.
I found a smooth technique: scoop, rock back, fling over the shoulder, step… scoop, rock, fling, step… scoop, rock, fling, step… and kept at it. By the end of the first day I’d cleared only enough snow to turn the car around and make it out to the gate thirty yards away. Drained and doubting my chances, I called it a day, eager for some dinner and a good night’s sleep.
The next morning was cold, clear, and glaringly bright, the sun reflecting off the snow covered hillside—overhead, a dazzling, electric, Colorado-blue sky. I launched again into my Lawrencean (or so I fantasized) task with high spirits. I kept at it all day Monday—scoop, rock, fling, step—and on Tuesday afternoon I busted through the six-foot-high plow wall at the back of my neighbor’s property. Victory! High from endorphins and a sense of accomplishment, my upper body pumped like never before, I felt like a cartoon super-hero. With the shovel slung over my shoulder, I sauntered back up the road to the cabin.
“Aqaba is over there,” I reminded myself. “It’s only a matter of going.”