Dogs Can’t Fly
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“Dogs Can’t Fly,” New Era, June 1990, 44

Dogs Can’t Fly

Unlike the dogs, Rhett learned to break through those imaginary barriers. And when he did, he soared higher than he had dared imagine.

“Relax, boys. I’ve seen that kind of sign before.”

“Maybe so,” they shouted, “but that sign isn’t fooling!”

I glanced again at the Beware of Dog sign attached to a tall wire fence. Just beyond the fence were two large black and white dogs. I thought to myself, “An English setter and an English pointer; both breeds are considered fairly even tempered. In fact, they are usually very good family pets.” I was considering those thoughts when my eyes began to focus on the steam coming from those snarling jaws.

I was the replacement driver of a school bus route and was on my first run. It was late in the fall, and I had been thinking about the many things I had to do. Every half mile or so my thoughts, along with the bus route, changed course. I was enrolled in graduate school, as a teacher I had my school lessons to prepare, I had Church meetings to conduct, it was hunting season, my oldest son needed assistance with his Scouting requirements, there was firewood to be cut, and I was trying to finish extra rooms in our basement for our seven children. In light of that schedule, I suppose a reasonably sane person would definitely not be interested in driving a school bus, but we could certainly put the extra wages to good use.

At each stop the students would cheerfully give information about the sites along the route. I guess this job won’t be too bad after all, I thought. That is when the barking dogs snapped me back into reality. Big deal, I thought reassuringly, what are they going to do—eat the bus?

“Hey, Mister,” the kids yelled in unison, “you better get going before they jump that fence and eat this bus!”

“Very funny, very funny.”

However, I noticed that as I shifted gears and pulled away, I kept my eyes on the dogs.

When I returned home that afternoon I related the incident to my family. My three older boys were a bit mystified.

“Come on, Dad, you didn’t really believe those dogs could hurt you in that big bus, did you?”

“I guess I was just concerned about the students, but those dogs certainly looked like they wanted to get over that fence pretty bad.”

The conversation then jumped to the other events of the day, both at school and at home. At supper, my oldest son asked me to help him with his Scouting requirements. He was progressing toward Eagle rank but was having difficulty in completing the high jump skill in the Athletics merit badge. Although he was a fairly good athlete, he just couldn’t seem to find enough spring to jump the additional inch that was required for a boy his height and weight. In fact, he had finished every other skill rather easily, but the high jump seemed to be a tremendous obstacle.

I suggested he try the long jump alternate. He admitted he was even worse in that area and reasoned that he had given it his very best effort, failed, and now needed some extra reassurance. I watched him attempt the long jump. He was right. After inspecting his shoes for traces of Superglue we both concurred that the high jump was his best chance for success.

We went over to the school high jump pit. I reminded him that David had a difficult challenge in the person of the formidable Goliath. I stressed that a person can accomplish goals that appear to be impossible, if they have enough faith and work hard.

After a short warm-up and his first attempt, I was beginning to see how tall Goliath really was! We worked on his approach, his speed, his takeoff, his head position—everything I could think of. As failure began to take its toll, the inch became two, then three. The old wedge of discouragement finally found the mark and sunk deep into my boy’s heart.

“Dad, there is no way I’ll ever make that jump!”

He was trying to conceal his emotions, but it was obvious that his spirit was almost broken. His hair was tousled, his face was wet with perspiration, his shirt was torn, and he looked as though he had been through the first cycle in a washing machine.

“Rhett, the only limits you’ll ever know are the ones you place on yourself. I know you can do it. Just don’t give up. Now get up and …”

“Look, Dad,” he shot back, “I’ve given it everything I have. There’s nothing left to give. It’s not that I’m quitting. I’m just smart enough to know when I’m beat.”

“But Rhett …”

“Dad! Let’s go home. There are plenty of other merit badges I can earn.”

The winter months soon had our valley home in Idaho firmly tucked in under a blanket of deep snow. That year winter seemed determined to show off some muscle. It seemed that snow was falling continuously in record amounts, making driving hazardous and causing frequent cancellation of school. After a particularly severe storm I was proceeding along my bus route, being extremely cautious about the driving conditions. I was concentrating so intently that it wasn’t until all the students at my favorite stop had been seated before I even looked around at the surrounding scenery.

Ah yes, the dogs were barking viciously at the bus. As I reached toward the gear shift I found myself doing a quick doubletake. Both dogs were there, ears back, tails low, warning us in no uncertain terms that they were the meanest critters around. There was no doubt that they wanted to get at me, the students, or the bus itself, if only they had the chance. But that was the amazing part of the scene. At the sight of the bus, both dogs had raced the length of the yard and stopped abruptly where the fence was—I mean used to be! The deep snow had drifted completely over the fence giving it the appearance of a small ski ramp.

I couldn’t believe how ridiculous those dogs looked. The obstacle that had always prevented them from enjoying their meal of orange metal and rubber tires had been eliminated, yet they were stopped from pursuing us by some invisible force. Invisible, but apparently very effective.

While driving away, I noticed in my mirror that the dogs were still barking furiously but refused to give chase. As I pondered this scene, I considered how often people find themselves in situations very similar to the one in which the unfriendly canines were. How unfortunate that we place unnecessary limits on what we think we can achieve. Of course there must be a certain degree of realism in our goals, but if we are to attain great things we must set our standards high.

“High?”

Of course, the high jump! Rhett had talked himself out of a goal simply because he had failed and no longer believed he could surpass that invisible inch. I had to convince him that he was wrong. I couldn’t wait to get home and recall the story of the dogs to Rhett.

For some reason he didn’t share my enthusiasm, but I still encouraged him to try again. My pleading pep talk was beginning to wear down his resistance, so I applied the finishing touches. Assuming the role of Knute Rockne, the famous Notre Dame football coach, I sternly said, “Those dogs can’t fly, but Eagles can!” He was silent for a moment, but then agreed to train harder and continue jumping until he overcame his obstacle. I was pleased with his devotion. Every day he would jump rope, jog, do exercises, or practice his jumping form. It looked like he was getting serious.

In three weeks the weather began to clear, and the theory was put to the test. Rhett was measured and weighed again to make certain he was still in the same skill group. After a word of prayer and some warm-ups, he went to his starting point while I set up the bar. He was unaware that I had set the bar a full two inches above the required height. It was a gamble, but I could tell by the way he glared at the bar that he was determined to clear that height if it took all night.

He began to rock back and forth to establish a rhythm. As he took his first step I could hear my heart pound anxiously. His pace began to increase, and so did my pulse. Faster, faster until he gathered himself for that final spring. He grunted as he swung his arms high and arched his body toward the bar. There were three or four inches of blue sky between the boy and the top of his “fence.” It was hard to believe he had cleared it with such ease on his first attempt.

As he lay on the pile of foam rubber, staring wide-eyed into the sky, smiles began to appear on our faces. There was no “S” on his chest, no cape around his neck, he was not capable of leaping tall buildings in a single bound. He had not earned an Olympic medal. Yet he had more than tripled the output necessary to achieve his goal. Perhaps he had gained something far more valuable than any award. He had begun to see the importance of hard work and determination.

I realized there is no reason for us to allow invisible fences to limit our righteous aspirations. Anyone who has overcome the barriers to success has had to eliminate the invisible fences that would prevent achievement. I am convinced that the prophet Alma taught a profound truth when he said: “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass” (Alma 37:6).

Lettering by James Fedor

Illustrations by Rob Westerberg