I was out of breath and running to help my little brother when my wife’s hand slapped me in the face, waking me from my dream. The phone was ringing and she was telling me to—GET UP.

I was on-call and it was the Highway Patrol needing a wrecker.

I jumped up, put on my uniform and boots, and headed out the door on a cold December night.

When I arrived the Trooper pointed me in the direction of the crumpled Ford Focus. It was up an embankment about 30 feet, lodged between some Cedar trees.

My job that night was to…winch a car down a hill.  And…unless the plan was to just cut her loose and let her roll, it wasn’t going to be easy.   I first needed to dislodge it from the trees, and then…without losing control, bring it down the hill and land it safely on the shoulder. The trick was keeping it from running me over or rolling out into traffic.

Pulling at the tall dead brush to keep from slipping, I made my way up the mound to see what I was up against. Once topside, I stepped back for a minute and scratched my head. And stayed just out of sight of the Patrolman (Couldn’t have him thinking I was stumped.)  And as I stood there scheming for a solution I was reminded of the dream I was having only moments earlier and of the, somewhat similar, dilemma all those years ago.

I was 10 years old and my little brother Troy was in trouble with the neighborhood boys. He’d retreated to as high a spot as he could get, up an old oak tree.  I ran to the sound of his yelling and found the boys gathering sticks and placing them at the base of the tree. Kevin, Marty, and Darrel…their plan was to smoke him out.

Being a year older than the oldest of the boys, my first inclination was to run up yelling and threatening to “kill them all”, but since Marty had his BB rifle I decided against it.

“What’s going on here?” I said as I ran up…out of breath.

Troy hollered down from his perch “They’re trying to kill me”

Kevin spoke up, “He knocked down our club house.”

Now I suppose I could have just let them do what they were gonna do. But I was responsible for my little brother. And since I’d already seen and heard the commotion, I had a stake in whatever happened next.

I assessed my options.

I could try to take the BB gun from Marty and scare them all away. But where would that leave us tomorrow? His dad would talk to my dad, I’d have to give the gun back. And then they’d be mad all over again.

So I looked for another solution.

And just as I was trying to figure out how to get my little brother out of that oak, I sprang back to the present. Back on top of that grassy hill I noticed a sturdy oak tree not 20 feet up from the wrecked Focus.  Could this be the solution I was looking for?

I walked it out, did a little math, added in a splash of geometry and decided it’d work. I then snatch-blocked off the tree and used two winch lines, one pulling against the other. I first pulled the car backwards toward the oak tree and maneuvered it so that I had the control to, not only dislodge it from the cedars, but also the ability to swing it clear and slowly lower it to the shoulder, avoiding additional problems.

I thought I’d been stymied, but everything worked as planned and I walked away with a win. And…in the process I gained a new perspective.

You see I couldn’t immediately see the solution when I arrived. But the reason wasn’t because it was too dark, or too cold, or I was too tired.  It was because I was stuckI didn’t want to see the bigger picture.  I wanted to recover a vehicle that was wrecked down an embankment not up one.  I’d done that a hundred times. But once I was able to get over my instinctive inclination to pull the car toward me and decided that pulling it backwards, up the hill, was a better solution, then everything just clicked.  Going backwards did the trick.

I wish I could say the same for my brother’s dilemma. He was still stuck up that tree and those boys were gonna smoke him out…and I? Well…I was working on it.

I tried reasoning with the kids…that didn’t work.  I tried bargaining… “we’ll rebuild your club house”. But no.  Each solution offered was summarily dismissed, I was a pesky fly and they took turns waving me away.

And just when they were convinced I was out of options, that there was nothing else I could do to resolve the problem…I lunged at Marty and knocked the BB gun out of his hands.

All eyes were on me.

The gun fell at our feet. I kicked it and jumped on it. Marty jumped on me and we scrambled for control. And right when I was about to wrench his prized Red Rider free, twisting it from his grimy little hands, they made a move I didn’t expect.

As Marty and I were wrestling for control on the ground the other two boys had been jockeying for position. Here and there one would pull on my arm while the other would yank on the gun. When nothing seemed to work, Kevin stood up, reared his foot back like he was going for a home-run in kick-ball and kicked me in the face. This move worked. I let go as his rubber-soled size 7 shoved my upper lip into my nose and made my head snap back. All I remember was the taste of dirt, blood, and gravel as I began wailing and bleeding like a water hose.

That’s the bad news.

The good news is…all that blood and hollering scared the shit out of them.

They ran off, Troy didn’t get smoked out, and we didn’t have to fight again the next day. All because I saw an opportunity for a solution and took it.

Now you might not call getting kicked in the face opportunity. But just like that day with the car up the embankment—I was only able to solve the problem once I got out of my own way, saw the bigger picture, and did what needed to be done.