THERE seems to be something especially exciting about taking on a mammoth task. Perhaps we are not sufficiently challenged in our everyday lives, so we leap to answer the call, convinced of our ability to prove to the world that we are simply magnificent when given the chance. Or is it that we merely get carried away by the sheer fun of tackling the impossible?
I have always been aware of the virtue of moderation. I am not given to passionate rages, ebullient high spirits, or suicidal depressions. By nature placid and brought up in the temperate school, you would not think me capable of frenzy. You would be wrong.
For instance, the other day somebody let me loose in a very large garden with a saw and a pair of secateurs, saying: ``If you could just cut out any little bits of dead wood you see in the shrubs around the place I'd be most grateful.''
``Of course,'' I said, ``I'd love to.''
Well, love wasn't the word. I started coolly enough, snipping off a dried-up twig here and there and carving off a small branch or two; but in next to no time I was taken over by some intemperate fiend, and my love became a tearing, unassuageable passion.
Not only did I go in for an orgy of sawing and cutting but I became quite impervious to pain. I plunged gaily into the middle of thorn trees, I seized brambles by the throat, as it were: neither nettles nor Berberis daunted me.
At eventide I had to be forcibly removed from the scene, lacerated, bruised, my hair full of leaves, a bump over one eye, clothes torn, fingernails broken. It took me weeks to look presentable again.
I remember, too, staying with some friends in the country, and our host airily remarking how sad it was that his lake was so weedy. ``Just look at it,'' he said, scooping a great slimy length of weed from the edge of it with his stick.
``Mmmm ... mmmm,'' we said commiseratively. Then a young man knelt down and dragged another big drift of weed from the lake with his hand.
``Oh, don't do that, you'll get in such a mess!'' cried out our host.
``Mmmm ... mmmm,'' we said, pensively, unanimously bending down and very gingerly, very carefully grabbing a fistful of weed and pulling it out of the water.
I remember well this slow beginning, for our host was right and we did not want to spoil our clothes. I remember how we held the weeds away from our bodies and gave little cries when our shoes got splashed: the caution, the moderation. Because the end was very different, with most of the men actually in the lake, heaving up soaking bundles to soaked and muddy women who clutched them to their bosoms and then stacked them in oozing, smelly dumps.
Clothes, shoes all completely ruined, yet I remember the occasion with great pleasure, as I do those other occasions when I have been granted superhuman strength.
All of us have experienced that wonderful buildup of power which accompanies the rearrangement of furniture.
You start by moving a little round table from ``a'' to ``b,'' and a standard lamp from ``b'' to ``c.'' You finish by moving the piano, single-handed, right across the room, and a minute later, right across the room again to the very spot where you had it before.
Massive writing tables and bulging chests of drawers become as small and as light as ornaments. And though you may get a trifle hot from all this moving around you will be able, quite easily, as a sort of final pi`ece de r'esistance, to take an 8 by 4-foot portrait of your grandmother off the wall and carry it, all on your own, into the garage.
Taken over by some demon spirit, lit by some inextinguishable fire, once again not knowing when to stop, this is one of the best kinds of miracle.