Monday, February 16, 2009
Toeing the line.
This phrase has meant a couple of things to me at two different times in my life. The first was in Ft. Jackson, South Carolina, while I attended Army basic combat training. Every evening, by directive of the drill sergeant (DS, hereafter), my platoon “toed the line”. There was a white line forming a rectangle in the middle of the barracks, and every person would stand at this line at parade rest, awaiting final instructions by the DS before going to sleep.
The other night I was thinking about the phrase, toeing the line. Many people who aren’t familiar with military life may not be familiar with it, but I think it represents something we all know well. Toeing the line always occurs before something else happens. Good or bad. Exciting or mundane. Toeing the line always precedes another action.
Thinking of this phrase caused me to remember an exercise at Fort Jackson, which was intended to defy a soldier’s fear of heights, and teach the soldier to trust his or her equipment. The obstacle was a conglomeration of wooden poles, ropes and bars. There really wasn’t much to it. You climb the obstacle and meet a DS at the top. The DS fits you with a harness, which is attached to a steel cable. The DS then directs you to step to the edge of the obstacle, and look down. And the ground, which is 40 feet away, looks much further than it really is. The DS then directs you to “toe the line” which is the edge of the 2X4s you are standing on. Then you are told to place your hands behind your head, crossing your fingers. The only reason I can think of to be in this position is because it creates a very helpless feeling. I remember standing there, toeing the line, waiting for the command.
And with that one word, I took a step and fell two or three feet before feeling the restraint of my harness, which then sent me zinging across the steel cable.
Life is full of these moments. When I examine my own life, I see that I am in the middle of several mini adventures, and I can also see many more in the near future. It is as if, every day, I am toeing an invisible line, and being told to step. What happens after the step? Nobody knows until it is taken. You can’t experience it until you’ve stepped. You have nothing to compare it to, until you’ve stepped. You do not know if your equipment works, if everything will be okay, if you will survive…until you’ve stepped.