Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Truth at the End of a Long Handled Hoe

It's summer and school has been out for nearly a month. Our friends who have children and teens are looking hard for solutions to the seemingly constant complaint of "I'm bored." When our children were that age, I came to dread those two words as much as any others. "I'm bored." 

 I had the good fortune to grow up on a farm -- I was never allowed to be bored. When I was young, summers were for playing outdoors and, when I got bored with that, there was always the garden. 

 In the garden, there were always weeds. And weeds always needed to be pulled. It wasn't until years later that I realized that the places I was assigned to pull weeds from when I was a child were places where there was no danger that my childish enthusiasm for uprooting stuff would damage any of the plants we were trying to nurture! 

When I got older, I was given the responsibility -- today I consider it an honour -- of working with my Dad and Grand Dad to produce the crops that would sustain us through the coming winter and until next year's crop went to market. 

 However, at the age of eleven, working in the fields and tobacco barns was exactly what I didn't want to do with my summer. I recall protesting long and bitterly before grudgingly proceeding do what needed to be done. As a result, I learned a lot of truth at the end of a long handled hoe. 

I learned that being dusty won't kill you. 

Being hot won't kill you. 

Being bored won't kill you. 

 The work had to be done whether I wanted to do it or not and the work I did had to be done right. I soon learned that if I didn't do it right the first time, doing it over a second time was no easier than the first, and having to do it a over a third time was damn sure no easier than doing it the second. 

I think three times is my record for having to redo the same row, and I remember the day I set it. That day, I hoed one particular row of worm seed three times before my work would meet my father's minimum acceptable standard. It was almost sunset when I had finished my third trip down the row and Dad told me "You could have been home an hour ago if you'd done it right the first time." 

 The lesson stuck. I learned that complaints fall on deaf ears when your Daddy and your Grand Daddy are in the same field as you doing exactly the same thing you are. 

 I learned that there was a right way and a wrong way even to hoe weeds. And the right way actually requires less effort and gives better results than any other. Weeds between the rows were removed by cultivating with the tractor. Then, we hoed to remove the weeds from between the plants. When hoeing, the objective was not to chop the weeds from between the plants. Chopping took a lot of energy. Instead, the method is to either pull dirt over the weeds if they were small, or to disconnect them from their roots by sliding the blade of the hoe beneath them if they were not. 

 Doing it the right way, if conditions were right, I would get into a rhythm -- kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk down one row and kerchunk, kerchunk, kerchunk up the next. Hour after hour, day after day until the harvest. And I learned that when I was in rhythm, moving easily up and down the rows dispatching weeds from between the plants, only the smallest part of my mind needed to be engaged with the task at hand and the rest was free to travel as my imagination directed. 

 During those summers, moving up and down the rows, I authored short stories and novels and directed award-winning screen shows in the free part of my mind. I was present at the great events of history. I had conversations with great men. I performed incredible deeds of heroism. I envisioned my future and established in my imagination the dreams I would one day live. 

 Since that time, I have had the good fortune to live a great many of those dreams. I've even been allowed do some of the deeds of daring that I first envisioned while attached to the end of that hoe during those long past summers. 

 I was hot, bored, dusty, and not always willing but, during those summers in those fields at the end of that hoe, God gave me the grace to recognize truth.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Proclaim Liberty Througout the Land!

This year, I have the pleasure of celebrating Independence day in Philadelphia where, two hundred thirty-three years ago this weekend, fifty-six of the leading citizens of the thirteen english colonies pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to the idea of political independence from the mother country. Today, my wife and I walked to Independence Hall where those men met. We saw the Liberty Bell which symbolizes our ideals as a nation. The inscription on the bell enjoins us to "Proclaim Liberty throughout the land, and to all the people thereof." Proclaim Liberty! Proclaim the ideal that each person is free to choose and reap the rewards or suffer the consequences of his own actions. Proclaim Liberty! Proclaim the ideal that each person must stand or fall based upon his own industry or merit. Proclaim Liberty! Proclaim the ideal that government is the servant rather than the master of those governed. Prisoners are confined; slaves are subject to a master's wishes. Yet the same word is used to describe both the prisoner and the slave when they are both no longer confined, or in bondage; they are at liberty! As a nation, we pride ourselves on being neither prisoners nor slaves but at liberty. On this Independence day, join with me and my family and proclaim liberty throughout the land, and to all the people thereof. Proclaim Liberty!