Spirituality of Shear Bolts

Whenever I find myself growing grim about the mouth; whenever it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul; whenever I find myself involuntarily pausing before coffin warehouses, and bringing up the rear of every funeral I meet; and especially whenever my hypos get such an upper hand of me, that it requires a strong moral principle to prevent me from deliberately stepping into the street, and methodically knocking people’s hats off – then, I account it high time to get to sea as soon as I can.

Moby Dick – Herman Melville

These are the lines I quoted in today’s Farm Journal from the first paragraph of Moby Dick.  I think that they humorously capture the spirituality of the sheer bolt.  We all have limitations; limitations of time, of energy, of attention, of patience.  But, it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what those limitations are and how to recognize them. Melville’s character Ishmael has come to recognize the symptoms of his limitations.  I love the image of Ishmael walking calmly through the crowded streets knocking hats from people’s heads with a nod of satisfaction.  Ishmael knows the signs of a broken shear bolt. 

A shear bolt, if you haven’t watched today’s video, is a bolt designed to break (or sheer) if the blade of the shredder hits something that would otherwise damage the machinery.  Expensive machinery is protected from breaking by a cheap and replaceable bolt.  Brilliant idea!  Stop and watch the video if you haven’t already!

Pause a moment and consider your own shear bolts.  As I mentioned in the video, one of my shear bolts is a particular sort of weariness accompanied by lack of focus or uncontrollably drifting attention.  When I recognize that feeling, I know both that I have not been getting enough rest and that I need to adjust my schedule to get rest, and quickly.  I had both mononucleosis and Epstein Barr virus in my twenties and that feeling of deep fatigue is, I suspect, a lingering remnant of those illnesses. If you have ever had mono, you know exactly what I mean.  But, that particular shear bolt never breaks at a convenient time.  And, sometimes I have made the mistake of pressing on.

It’s often tempting to go beyond our limitations even when we do realize that the shear bolt has broken.  On the day I made the video I was only minutes from finishing when it broke.  So close! And, shear bolts give no indication when they break.  You only know it has happened when you look back to see that, while the tractor is still moving, nothing is being mowed.  In fact, if one is not paying attention, it is possible to drive on for some time ignorant of the fact nothing is actually being accomplished.  And so it is in my life.

I can ignore that feeling of deep fatigue and press on, but once the sheer bolt has broken nothing is really being accomplished that won’t have to be redone later.  But the difference between a shredder and me is that I can do myself damage by pressing on.  This I have learned from experience.  Convenient or not, if I don’t make time for rest I will go on to get sick enough that I am left with no choice but to stop whatever I am doing and go to ground.  And, the recovery period will, inevitably, be much longer.

The other example of a broken shear bolt I mentioned in the video has to do with a feeling I sometimes get during a heated conversation or an argument.  The indicators that a mental shear bolt has broken are a sort of pressure behind my forehead and a palpable quickening of my pulse.  When I feel that, I know that my flight, fight, or freeze response has been triggered.  The last truly rational thought I have is that my brain’s rational thought functions are about to go “off line” while more basic responses are about to take control of my tongue. 

I know from frequent and unfortunate experience that pressing beyond the breaking of this shear bolt will probably result in relational damage.  I suspect that this particular shear bolt broke in our national conversation on a variety of issues some distance back while the tractor races on unimpeded and effective only at running over anything in its path. 

When I feel this mental shear bolt breaking I know I need to take a break, let my liver metabolize the adrenaline, let my rational though processes come back on line, let my heart reawaken, give myself time to remember that I actually love the person I am about to fire on.  I have learned to say, “Let’s pause a moment, take a short break, I promise to come back to this” Then, after the pause, I can come back to the conversation with my best, not my worst.  Or, I can press on and try to pick up the pieces later, if they can be.  What are your mental shear bolts? Leave a comment below with your shear bolts!

Well, something to think about.  The new shear bolt is in place.  I better get back to mowing.  I’ll see you next time!

2 Replies to “Spirituality of Shear Bolts”

  1. My mental sheer bolts are tears. I cry easily, so it took some time before I realized it. When you choke up at a Folger’s commercial when Petey “comes home,” it’s hard to realize that sometimes those tears are a warning sign. When they would start to fall in an argument, it actually add to the fire because I thought it made me look weak. I now see them as my body’s attempt to cool me off and stay somewhat rational.


  2. Mine: overcommitment. When I see more than two big events per day on my calendar, it’s time to re-arrange some events or all three will be robbed of joy.


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