The Burning Platform – Every Summer we are approached by the sons of neighbors, or their mothers, asking if we have work on the farm. For some it is curiosity, for others a desire to earn a few dollars doing something other than sitting around playing video games. Sometimes they work out, others times they don’t, but we almost always give them a shot if we are asked and in some cases it becomes an annual ritual that ends when they go off to college.As a practice I send the off to the chicken coop with a pitchfork and a wheelbarrow and after a brief period of instruction leave them to clean it out. If they return the next day we’ve got a keeper and we move on to other tasks, if not we save each other a lot of time and frustration. I ran into one of them recently, a young man now, who once drove hundreds of cedar fence posts with a sledge hammer for us the first year we began our life in this place and he lit up with a huge smile when he saw me and rushed over to shake my hand.
He had just graduated from college and was back home to watch his younger sister graduate from high school with the same class as our son. He said that he had been meaning to stop up and visit and that he had wanted to tell us that the day he spent on our farm were some of the best days of his life, that he finally understood how important the time he had spent with us had been for him and how he would always think fondly of the hours he spent working on our farm. I don’t know if someone could have given me a better compliment and I was proud to know that whatever he did in his life he would have the memory of having done a good job for someone who appreciated his efforts.
Over the course of my lifetime several truths have revealed themselves to me not through intentional seeking, but rather by the constant and repeated proofs of their validity. Certain behaviors net specific results, again and again without fail. Some of these outcomes are negative, others clearly on the positive side and it always the underlying purpose of the initial actions that guarantee the desired- or undesired- resolution. Living a self sufficient life- as far as that is possible in this day and age- requires the maximization of every hour spent, every calorie expended, every dollar invested. You learn to make do, repair and re-purpose, save and store up, do with what you have or do without. While there is often time to enjoy the beauty around you and to suck in all the sights and sounds and smells of life itself, it is often done with a tool in hand.
The other morning I was explaining a chore done poorly by one of these teenage charges in a way I hoped he would understand, demonstrating that what he had failed to do was not the result of failing to do something expected, but rather to do it correctly. He smiled an nodded his head and I asked him to repeat what I had said and he did and the next day when I passed by I saw that he had done what I asked perfectly and has every day since. The chore will likely fade as a memory for him by the time Fall arrives, but the underlying lesson of doing something right will likely last a lifetime. As I sat in bed the other night drifting off to sleep I thought about these lessons, most of which I have learned through trial and error and decided to write them down
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And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.