Digging for a Purpose

How dirt and a shovel changed my perspective.

Simrill’s UNIV class at the Habitat for Humanity sight.

“How hard could digging be?” I thought to myself, shovel in hand under the beaming sun. The goal was to dig a ditch, 6 inches deep, between two houses. This was the task assigned to me by the hardworking men at “Athens Habitat for Humanity.” I had dug some holes previously to replace a septic tank, but that was in the fall and nothing had prepared me for the fatigue that would soon ensue with the addition of heat. As I stood looking at the ditch I had no idea what it would soon become to me.

Of all the jobs assigned to my Habitat group the first day I thought I had it easy. The ditch was in between two houses so the shade blanketed over me as I stood on the digging ground. Six inches would be nothing. “Me and the three guys working on it could probably be done by the end of the class” I thought, putting the end of the shovel against the dirt. With confidence, I lifted my foot up, placing it on the back of the shovel and thrusted it into the red dirt. Lifting the dirt out of the ground I was dismayed to see the amount of dirt sticking to my shoes. Surly they would be ruined and I would have to buy a new pair. A few more shovels in and I felt a bead of sweat across my forehead. It had rained the past couple days and the humidity was ridiculous in the area.

Thirty minutes had passed and I felt my body getting more and more fatigued. With each shovel of dirt my arms would burn with a dull fire inside them. As I continued to work my mind began to wonder, why were we digging this ditch? It was going to be directly in-between two houses that were fairly close to each other. Putting a ditch there would just make it hard to walk around. Why else then would these guys want it dug right here? At that moment, I concluded that it must be for a pipeline. The houses here were pretty much trashed and I wouldn’t be surprised if they needed new plumbing. These thoughts came to me as I continued digging away.

Student breaking up some dirt in the ditch.

Further into the day, while I continued to torture my arms, head of the operation, Doug, came by to explain to us the real reason behind digging the ditch. Come to find out there was a wall behind the houses, and every time it would rain water would flow over that wall. All of that excess water was creating a flood in-between the two houses that would get inside and ruin the house. I was shocked by the graphic images of this flooding shown to us by Doug. The ditch was to create a path for that water to flow so it wouldn’t flood the houses. It was at this moment that my whole mindset on the situation changed.

I was no longer just mindlessly digging without any real purpose or reason besides being told I had to. Now I had a reason to dig, because I was doing it to save this house and the grateful people that would inhabit it. This purpose to my work gave me a newfound energy to continue the project and save the house from water damages. I told myself the heat was nothing I couldn’t handle. I had mowed my Uncle’s grass a thousand times before in the summer and was alright. Why should this be any different?
 I was mistaken with that thought because digging is very different. It was about an hour and a half into the ditch when the heat really started to sink in. With every shovel of dirt, the amount of sweat on my body grew. It wasn’t just my forehead anymore, my entire body was covered in sweat. My shirt looked as if it had just been thrown in a pool. Very few moments in my life have I ever been this utterly hot. Water was my paradise and I relished in it, finishing off my third bottle of water. As I looked up from my drink at the ditch, it seemed to me like we had almost finished the three inches assigned to us to dig. I was excited to finish the project because I knew it would immediately help the area. It was supposed to rain again that day and the ditch would be effective in helping to drain the rain water out.

At the end of the day I was overcome with a sudden since of accomplishment. I took a step back and admired the ditch we had just finished digging. It would have a lot more work to be done on it in the future, but in that moment, I felt prideful of what I had done. This ditch would not only go on to help Habitat with their work, but it would also serve to save a house and family that would soon live there. It wasn’t until this moment that I realized the gravity of what I had done that day. I was no longer filled with pride, but was overtaken with humbleness. There is a world of people out there without homes or places to stay, and that day I helped to give them that place. That day will forever stick with me as the day I did something for a cause greater than myself. Who would have thought a ditch could ever provoke such a feeling?