Reading: Empire Falls

I read this book years ago but still think about this passage all the time, usually when I'm planning for something I don't want to do (like an upcoming trip for work that will require long hours and multiple modes of transportation over unfamiliar territory) or something that will unfold over a long period of time and require both patience and perseverance. But I suppose the Capricorn in me survives in general by breaking processes down into discrete, tolerable pieces—while bearing in mind that it can all fall apart in a flash anyway. Even the best process is only insurance.

Grace had never before encountered a woman quite like her new employer, and she quickly realized that to completely withhold her admiration was impossible. After months of close observation, Grace finally discovered her great trick. Mrs. Whiting remained undaunted for the simple reason that she never, ever allowed herself to dwell on the magnitude of whatever task she was confronted with. What she possessed was the marvelous ability to divide the chore into smaller, more manageable tasks. Once this diminshment was accomplished, her will became positively tidal in its persistence. Each day Mrs. Whiting had a "To Do" list, and the brilliance of that list lay in the fact that she was careful never to include anythng undoable. On those rare occasions when a task proved more complicated or difficult than she'd imagined, she simply subdivided it. In this fashion, the woman never encountered anything less than success, and each day brought her inexorably closer to her goal. She might be delayed, but never deterred.

Her daughter, on the other hand, was forever being deterred. Tempermentally unable to master her mother's simple trick, Cindy Whiting immediately envisioned the entirety of what lay before her and was thus in one deft stroke overwhelmed and defeated by it. She wasn't so much a dreamer, Grace came to understand, as a believer, and what she believed in, or wished to, was the possibility of complete transformation. At some point in her young life she'd come to believe that the whole world, the totality of her circumstance, would have to change if change was to do her any good. Therefore, what she sought was nothing short of a miracle, and it was in these terms that she'd judged her most recent operation. On Monday she would enter the hospital as a caterpillar; on Tuesday she would emerge a butterfly. Not long after the anesthesia wore off, the girl would've concluded that not only had no transformation taken place, none whatsoever was under way.

Did this disappointment make her foolish, even stupid, as her mother suggested? Grace thought not. After all, her whole world had undergone a complete transformation in the terrible instant when, as a little girl, she'd been run over and dragged by that car, an event that had taught her how quickly everything could change and that the stroke accomplishing such change is swift, powerful and beyond human comprehension. She was simply waiting for it to happen again.

Empire Falls
By Richard Russo