Anyway, what I have not mentioned here all that much is my childhood. But as I was sweating bullets behind a rototiller this weekend, I hearkened back to the days of my youth.
You see, I grew up on a dairy farm. And although I chose not to pursue farm life as a vocation in adulthood, I have largely fond memories of life on the farm. My summers were filled nearly every day with work responsibilities. Sounds great, eh? Well, yes… it was. At the time, I’m sure I would have preferred to be off doing my own thing all the time, but I know in retrospect that I turned out much better for having worked most summer days. For one thing, I certainly appreciated the free time I had when it was available.
As parents, my wife and I struggle a bit with trying to find ways to instill a work ethic and sense of responsibility in our kids. I’m sorry, but 90% of us (or more) either have too low of expectations of our kids, are too lazy ourselves to find ways to get our kids working, or flat out run out of meaningful things for them to do. And it shows often enough in different ways, even with well-behaved kids. We are guilty of all the above at times.
There was no risk of any of that on the farm. Not enough hours in the day was a bigger issue.
Sorry. I write as I think, and this post was not intended at the onset to be a dissertation on parenting towards a work ethic. So, I’ll try to get back on path here.
So anyway, in my younger days I was on the tractor often. You drive the tractor to cut the hay down. You drive the tractor to rake the hay. You drive the tractor to bail the hay. You drive the tractor to spread the manure – I have a nice story about that… but not now. Let’s just say that the story involves a younger sister, a misunderstanding, few unfortunate curse words, and multiple showers. But again, I digress.
You often hear about how much “noise” we have in our society today. When we speak of that, I think it’s important to differentiate between the “noise” of distraction and audible noise. Watching TV, talking on the phone, texting, scouring the internet, e-mailing, listening to the radio (music or ball games), listening to an iPod (I prefer generic mp3 players myself), reading spiritually desolate material, any work we do that engages the mind in a way that prevents us from contemplating other things… the list goes on. When our attention is somewhere that disallows meditation or even random musings, then that is “noise.” It is not that we can’t incorporate these things into our lives. They range from things that bring us pleasure to things that are necessary for our livelihood. But when we inundate ourselves with these things from morning to evening, we do not take time for prayer or contemplation of any kind. Further, when we try to take a few minutes of silence, we are distracted from it and find it difficult to focus. It seems a foreign thing to us.
But in those countless hours of driving a large piece of farm equipment that was anything but noiseless, I found silence. I can remember many times engaging my mind in completely different ways as I rode around in the field. I prayed many a time out on the tractor as I looked around and appreciated God’s creation around me. I simply contemplated many spiritual profundities and formulated both questions and answers to other questions. And while I was always a relatively faithful Catholic kid, it’s not as though I was an “on-fire for the spirit” Jesus freak. But the time on the farm simply brought me there, and it was a very natural response to the situation I was in. Beyond the spiritual, I “wrote” a number of songs in my head as I raked the hay, later to be translated into actual music. I just let my mind go where it went without disruption, and appreciated the random occurrences of seeing a Badger pop out of a hole in the ditch, or a hawk pounce upon a rodent scurrying about in the field. Nobody around me would have guessed how silent that tractor really was.
I recalled that because I found myself doing the same thing this weekend while working in the garden. As I maneuvered the rototiller, there was little realization that I was in “contemplation mode” until a sudden consciousness about it came over me. I was somewhere between the pumpkins and the cantaloupe as I realized that for the last half hour, thoughts about different Catholic issues that I’d discussed with others were bouncing around my empty head. Similar to not remembering a dream during the night, I was so in my little world, that it is difficult to recall what all had been considered as I traversed between rows of corn, and then moved onto the broccoli, cauliflower, and cabbage. For certain, though, there was no talking, mindless listening to my favorite music, or in any way incorporating LOL into the activity at hand.
I have truly come to appreciate what I’m sure my dad has always loved about the farm. I find myself envious of the amount of time he has probably spent during his life quietly going about his work – as physically demanding as it often is – and offering that time up to God in one way or another, or just mulling and thinking.
Thinking is good. I think…