To the outside world, our 85-pound English Lab is Big Blake – a powerful and adorable eating machine from whom no unattended snack is safe.
Then thunderstorms and fireworks hit. And he becomes Big Shake.
The other night, it happened again. Thunder shook the air. Lightning filled the sky. And a quivering Blake curled up tightly on his favorite flowered couch, doing his best imitation of a lap dog.
It’s a familiar routine. And by now, it has a familiar approach. Stay nearby, both to reassure him he’s not alone and to make sure that he doesn’t do anything impulsive. (Blake is big and lovable, but not all that bright and more than a little clumsy.) Gradually get him comfortable and relaxed. And when he’s finally interested in food again, slowly lure him back up to the bedroom, one potato chip at a time.
What doesn’t work is a frontal assault. If Blake plants himself somewhere, there he is. There is too much Blake to be pushed, lifted, or led on a leash if he doesn’t want to go.
It takes patience. Quiet persistence. And more than a little cunning.
And this time of year, that should sound familiar.
If you’ve studied any history, you probably know that the American Revolution is a bit of an odd duck. Sure, it has its great names, inspiring legends, and painting-worthy moments, some of which actually happened.
But how on earth did a war get won by people who spent so much time losing?
Look down the roster of battles and campaigns. Aside from a few notable clashes like Breed’s/Bunker Hill and some pinprick raids like Trenton and Princeton, our Independence Day heroes spent a lot of time getting chased all over the countryside. If you wanted a title that summed up the military history of the Continental Army, “Defeat and Retreat” would just about do it.
It’s not dramatic. It’s not Hollywood. And even at the time, it wasn’t the sort of thing that inspired recruitment.
All it was, was smart.
You don’t run head-first into a buzz saw. You don’t stand in front of a Mack truck and say “Try me.” And you don’t go repeatedly toe-to-toe with the greatest army in the world and expect to have anything left but vapor and a couple of stray belt buckles.
You survive. You outlast. You exhaust.
Not surrendering. Not quitting. But not expecting to do it all in one dramatic moment, either.
Washington was an expert at it – and hated it, an aggressive general by nature. Nathanael Greene was the master, leading the British a merry dance all over the South, and then handing off to Lafayette to do the same, so that Cornwallis could be led into the Yorktown trap. But the greatest players of incremental victory may have been the colonies themselves, who had spent decades learning how to do without Britain before it was finally put to the test in war.
Slow steps may be frustrating. But they make the big victories possible.
That’s still worth remembering.
There is a lot of evil to fight in the world, a lot of problems to fix. They can’t be ignored, nor should they. But a headlong charge with no preparation often does nothing, and sometimes makes matters worse.
And so … you prepare the ground. You build. You patiently engage in a thousand small ways, erode the rock, undermine the cliff.
And if you do it right, even the big dogs can’t stop you.
Especially if you’ve got a bag of potato chips close to hand.