Stop Digging


Endless. As vast and empty as the snowy white landscape of a blank word processor page. Blinding white light with no end. No shelter for warmth. No place to rest. Only one foot, one word after another beset by the heaviness of their own gravity, these foot falls leave tracks on the landscape of word processing tundra. Just as easily erased by the white void. The weariness of every sleepless night, every knot in the stomach uncoiling like a serpent. A nest of vipers each one a memory coiling around the next. Deadly to the touch, they hunt at night. There is no turning back now. Forward, ever farther into the blank consuming land of this page. I have saved nothing for the journey back because there is nothing behind me to go back to. Not for any of us. Behind you are the ever-shutting doors of time, each second barring you from reentry. You can’t hear the noise of it but each moment slams shut in your face. We don’t have the sense for it, we deny that we die minute to minute. This is the lie we will tell ourselves until the last door shuts and the last breath leaves us. This is the endless journey of failure and we have all failed. So, what’s the point?


They say that if you want to get out of a hole you should stop digging. What if you’ve been digging for years? What if you inherited a hole that someone else dug for you before you could even pick up the shovel? That’s life. You’re born into it. A world of diggers on a race to the bottom, all starting at different depths. We stand in the holes we inherit from our parents. Some of us start at altitudes so high they couldn’t dig down far enough in a lifetime to know what the earth was made of. The harshest moment is the minute you look down at your hands - the endless summer of green grass and youthful laughter are gone and in their place is the shovel you couldn’t see. It’s got names carved in it. Where you were born; your parents names. Their parents’ names are there too – faded and worn smooth by time and other hands. You look up to see where the sun went because you swore it was there just a minute ago. You look back and you’ve dug another few feet. Your mind does the digging and your hands just follow through. Every action, every choice can see you further down. Though that’s not always the case. We all have the power to stop digging and start climbing - even those of us who have dug so far down they haven’t felt warmth in years - can dig their way out. The bottom is different for us all. Fortunate are those who have always had blue sky over their heads. Who never left the fields and the sun and never picked up the shovel - or maybe they just don’t know they’re digging yet?


In our lifetimes we will all dig. We will make choices that cost us friendships and loved ones. We will have our hearts broken by life and by people we trust. We will be hurt, and we will hurt. Digging further with each time we commit the same crimes we have been the victim of. Each time we have made the selfish choice, let the wrong person in and let the right ones out. Each time we’ve chosen to escape instead of facing our fears. Every breath wasted in contempt of others and taken for granted that the next one we draw is guaranteed and not needed to be earned. We dig further ignoring the lessons that death teaches you as it holds up the mirror of your own mortality. We must be brave enough to look at the corpse in the mirror and muster the courage to listen to what it says. Further we dig. You may feel like you’re so deep that you’ll never feel another breeze and the only air you’ll taste is the fetid stench of decaying earth. The only thing you will know is you breaking your own back to go further down because it hurts less than putting down the shovel and crawling back up. Every moment you ignore your dreams for the sake of what the world may think, when you give into the voices in your head that aren’t your own. You’ve dug a little deeper.


I dug deep. I couldn’t stop myself. At least that’s what I told myself at the time. I dug past where my friends could go. So, they let me keep going. I threw heaps of dirt in the faces of the people who cared most as they leaned down to lift me up. I guarded that shovel with my life because it felt real; it was real enough. The hole was mine and I slept in it. For a time, I had help but it was help in the wrong direction. Just another person on their way down who didn’t want to look up. We dug together. Until I found the bottom. Until I looked around and there was no light from above, until I was alone in the hole I had dug. My hands bloodied and worn down, my back broken, and the only company I had were the worms crawling at my feet waiting for their next meal. If you are reading this, put the shovel down. Climb up out of that trench and let it go, no matter how long you have been building it. Let the others on their way down go their way to their own bottom. They can’t hear you anyway. You will be there for them at the surface. Where the sun shines, where the wind blows, where life is lived. You will be there for yourself.




Mike Baumgarten grew up in Southern California and joined the Army in the summer of 2001. He completed the Ranger Indoctrination Program in June 2002 and served in the 1st Ranger Battalion for eight years. He went on to serve another two and a half years as an instructor attached to NSWG-1, during which time he deployed multiple times in support of OIF and OEF. He separated from the Army in 2013 and subsequently enrolled in the San Diego area Junior College system with a major of Anthropology. After a short stint in the film industry he returned to school where he continues to study Anthropology.

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