The first time I heard this story I had just turned 13 years old. Maybe that’s one of the reasons it had an impact on me — I could identify with it.
The details of the story were written in the 1961 book, “An Only Child” by Frank O’Connor, an Irish writer. As a writer, O’Connor would often use episodes from his boyhood to illustrate important situations that people, communities and even countries might have to face and, through his experiences, he would offer ways to deal with the situations.
Here is an abbreviated version of the story. While writing about himself and one of his friends, O’Connor wrote, “…how, as a boy, he and his friends would make their way across the countryside, and when they came to an orchard wall that seemed too high and too doubtful to try and too difficult to permit their voyage to continue, they took off their hats and tossed them over the wall — and then they had no choice but to follow them.”
The first time I heard this story, it was used by President John F. Kennedy to explain how, as a nation, we had to commit ourselves to the space race; we had to commit to landing a man on the moon and returning him safely to earth by the end of the decade. As a country, we had to throw our hat over the wall.
Scaling a high, sheer wall is not an easy thing to do.
Years ago, I was one of the chaperones on a mission trip with our church youth group. We were spending a week at the Heifer Ranch just west of Little Rock, Arkansas. We learned about the challenges facing Third World nations. We learned about and experienced hard work, heat and hunger. We learned how a donation of a pair of animals to a village could change and improve the dynamics and economics of their entire community.
Part of the experience at Heifer Ranch also involved working as a group to overcome a challenging ropes course and a difficult obstacle course. One of the rules was that we could leave no one behind. We were only a success if everyone finished the course. One of the hardest obstacles was a 10-foot wall — no handles, no footholds, no ropes … just a bare 10-foot high, wooden wall.
On the other side of the wall was a platform on which people could stand and help pull others up and over the wall. But, first we had to get somebody over the wall and onto that platform. So, we formed a tripod of adults beside the 10-foot wall and had some of the youth climb onto our backs, our shoulders and up over the wall. The smaller youth had trouble helping the others get up and over the wall, but they persevered.
The kids refused to give up. With strength and spirit, they worked until the last person was grabbed, yanked and muscled over the wall.
We got it done. Even without having a hat on the other side of the wall, we got it done.
It’s always a good feeling to accomplish a goal; to get the job done.
This will be my last column as the Mayor of Wilmington. Four years ago I threw my hat over the wall and challenged myself to go after it. After becoming mayor, I was determined to work with others to reverse the job loss trend we had experienced since the DHL departure and the nationwide recession that started in 2008 and 2009.
My first State of the City address in 2012 was about optimism, but optimism without hard work would not bring jobs back to the community. We all worked hard. The community was ready for job growth. We worked together on the challenge of bringing jobs back to Wilmington.
My second State of the City address was about new jobs that were in the pipeline and were headed to Wilmington. I estimated that we would have over 1,000 new jobs in Wilmington by the end of that year. Councilman Rob Jaehnig even challenged me by posting our new job count on the windows of the city building. The community worked hard. Businesses were successful. Over 1,000 new jobs came to the community in 2013.
In 2014, I talked about hope and pursuing every opportunity that might come our way. More jobs were coming. In January of 2015, nearly a year ago, I talked about the importance of serving our citizens, improving educational opportunities, while securing well-paying jobs and promoting progress.
It seems that every year we found a new wall to climb and every year we collectively threw our hats over the wall and determined that we would scale any wall and bring more opportunity and more jobs to town.
Today, there are probably somewhere between 350 and 500 jobs that are now, currently available and, as of yet, untaken. If you’re looking for work, we have jobs available.
I like to say that, “We have not only rounded the corner, but, like a NASCAR driver, we’re accelerating through the curve.” Together, we have surmounted many obstacles. Together, we have climbed over the wall. Our hat is just within reach. Let’s keep up the progress.
Our future is bright.
Thanks for allowing me to serve.
Randy Riley is Mayor of Wilmington.