Laatste Loodjes

“It’s the last little bits of lead that weigh the most.”

“Unfortunately peanut butter.”

Some Dutch expressions make perfect sense in English. Others: not so much. “Helaas pindakaas” — “Unfortunately peanut butter” — only makes sense because of the rhyme (though I actually kind of like the randomness of that phrase in translation). This week, though, I’ve been thinking more often about the phrase “laatste loodjes” (“last little bits of lead”). It’s a very common expression in Dutch, drawn from the cultural proverb: “De laatste loodjes wegen het zwaarst.” In English, however, the phrase is virtually unknown.

Honestly, I’m not even sure if everyone in the Netherlands knows the literal meaning of the phrase (etymological explanations vary). The figurative meaning, however, is implicitly understood and appreciated during times of preparation for a university student’s final exams… or in the last few weeks leading up to a major holiday… or in preparation for a sabbatical. It means that things always get hardest at the end. Perseverance is required. Hang in there. You’ve almost made it.

Personally, I appreciate the mental image that I’ve attached to “laatste loodjes.” Muscles fatigued from hauling a big pile of scrap metal onto the scale at the recycling center, the tiniest scraps at the bottom of the trailer can be the most cumbersome. They don’t actually make much of a difference on the scales — but they feel the heaviest to my weary body.

I want to do my best to finish strong — be it with final exams, or holiday preparations, or tying off loose ends before a sabbatical — but these last little bits of lead weigh the most. I’m going to keep after it until I run out of time. And if I get to the end of the line and some crumbs are left behind, I’ll just say, “Unfortunately peanut butter.”

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