The news couldn’t be worse for the general.
After all, his opponent had the most professional army in the world. The troops in the area didn’t just outnumber him, they outnumbered the city he was defending. Well, supposed to be defending – that same enemy army had pretty much kicked him around at will, overwhelming him at every point, sending his own troops not just into retreat, but often outright flight.
Only some convenient fog and a masterful escape had kept them all alive this long. And if the enemy ever committed to a hard pursuit even that might not last. After all, no one had told George Washington that he was going to win in the end. And if they had, at that moment, he might not have believed them.
“I am worried to death,” Washington wrote to his brother, as his army was uprooted from New York and chased into New Jersey and then Pennsylvania. “I think the game is pretty near up.”
This isn’t how we like to remember the American Revolution. Oh, sure, we take pride in having fought a giant. We may even remember images of Valley Forge, where the army starved and froze before coming out tougher than ever.
But we sit with the vantage point of centuries in our favor. We know we won. Of course we did. The British were fighting a different kind of war. They had an impossible situation in terms of logistics, communication, and coordination. And that was before French, Spanish, and Dutch allies turned it into a world war. The rebels had to win. Obviously.
Except it was anything but obvious at the time.
It never is, when you’re in the midst of the fight.
Washington wanted a clear-cut win on the battlefield. With rare exceptions, he wasn’t going to get it. His win had to be longer-term – to keep his army alive and together another day, another week, another year. When you can’t outfight your opponents, you have to outlast them.
But over time, outlasting becomes its own victory.
It’s a lesson I think most of us have had to learn. A lot of life’s problems don’t allow for a quick knockout punch, an easy resolution, and a fade to black with a wry quote on our lips. We get outmatched, even overwhelmed.
For Heather and me, it’s her medical situation, dealing with a laundry list of chronic illness – sometimes with Crohns, sometimes with multiple sclerosis, sometimes with the melodically-named but painfully-endured ankylosing spondylitis. It’s a situation that laughs at plans, where a day’s schedule may be completely rewritten because a condition decided to flare up.
For somebody else, it might be an impossible family situation, or a budget that’s circling the drain, or a change in the political winds that threatens fundamental needs for themselves or their loved ones. Everyone is fighting their own fight, and sometimes the fight can seem pretty darned hopeless.
But if we stay standing, if we stay in the fight, if we refuse to go down and go away, we can reach beyond hopeless. And then come out the other side.
Struggles are won by the side that gives up last.
Oh, it’ll be painful. It’ll be frustrating, even dispiriting. Washington himself famously shouted “Are these the men with which I am to defend America?” when his troops refused to rally and stand. There are no guarantees.
But if we stand, if we last, if we persevere and continue – one day, down the road, we may look back and realize how much we’ve done. And how inevitable it now seems.
It’s a shift in perspective that can be pretty amazing.
Maybe even Revolutionary.