I’m not into trucks. I don’t own a pair of boots. I’d never be caught dead in a cowboy hat. When someone asks me if I’d like to go see some live country music, it makes me feel nervous. What kind of country music? I have to ask. I also don’t own or regularly wave an American flag.
But regardless of all of this, my roots are in Oklahoma. I grew up in a small community with farmers. I grew up doing farm type work – clearing land, building fences, mowing, harvesting pecans. My grandfather is a farmer. Both of my great-grandfathers from Oklahoma were farmers, and their fathers before them were pioneers, immigrants and… farmers. The story of farming in my family goes all the way back to Russia and Germany. Apparently Wilhelm Brunz (my great great great great great grandfather) was a gardener in Hamburg in the mid 1700s. By the way, could I get away with saying “my great5 grandfather” in that case, do you think?
Anyway, the Dodge Ram Superbowl ad the other day caught my attention. I’m not usually an ad-watcher at Superbowl time. (Ok, I won’t lie, I’m not usually an anything watcher at Superbowl time – I’m lucky if I know who is playing at all.) So I wouldn’t even have looked up at the TV if I hadn’t suddenly recognized Paul Harvey’s distinct voice. It registered in my brain like a blast from my past, heavy with memories from my childhood: getting picked up after school, listening to news radio on KRMG, and going on shopping trips with my mom at the old Scaggs at 51st and Harvard (and the fact that the ladies in the bakery there always gave me a cookie.) It’s interesting that Paul Harvey’s voice could make me suddenly recall of all of those small things.
Harvey was a fellow Tulsan, and his segment “The Rest of the Story” came on the radio almost every afternoon as I was getting picked up from school. He captivated me even as a child with his slow, deliberate, theatrical pauses, and the way he emphasized words like a kindly old preacher. “I’m Paul Harvey… and THIS… is the REST of the story.” When his voice came out of the radio, it was time to shut up and listen. We were all mesmerized, and we really, truly wanted to know… what was the REST of the story? He was a masterful storyteller, and could bring tears to your eyes. As you might imagine, the “rest of the story” often revealed everyday unsung heroes, redemptive love, and random acts of kindness.
Now, I know that there are many things that some people didn’t like about the Dodge commercial – the fact that it was using a deep emotional pull to sell a truck (yeah, well, welcome to advertising) the fact that there aren’t very many farmers left like the ones shown on the screen (very true), and the fact that a lot of people didn’t like the folksy religious undertone of the commercial (understandable). But putting those things aside, isn’t there some truth to it?
There is indeed something special about a farmer. There is something profound about purposeful hard work, connecting with the land, being a part of something much larger that is happening in nature, and waiting for the harvest. Real farming forces a difficult balance between strength and gentleness, action and patience, and hard work and restful reward. There is a calm, diligent, quiet purpose, and an intense satisfaction when the day is done. Anyone who has worked a long hot day in the midwest sun knows how good it feels when you see the sky deepening, signaling that it’s time to walk home. In early evening, all of nature seems to sigh and take a deep breath as the birds, frogs and insects begin to sing.
Aren’t all of us farmers? Shouldn’t we be? There is something sweet in working hard, resting, and doing it all over again. As a culture, we idolize a life of luxury and “rest,” and we think that rest itself will be the magic solution to clear our heads. But what is rest without the work? Doesn’t it feel good to take that walk home at the end of the day? Doesn’t it feel deeply satisfying to see something grow over a long period of time? I have realized that the only times that I’ve truly rested well are the times that I’ve worked well. Only then can I truly sit back in peace and appreciate it.
My fields may not be made of earth, and my harvest may not be something I can physically reap, but don’t I have fields, nonetheless? My fields are fields of family, fields of friends, fields of work, fields of faith, and fields of talents and hobbies. They must be constantly tilled, planted, watered, weeded, harvested, – or they grow wild. Even with constant tending, they are unpredictable. They are messy. They require me to get my hands dirty. Some days must be spent in the rain, the muck, the cold, and the hot sun. My fields are affected by unpredictable droughts and storms. They change and evolve with the changing seasons. Sometimes there is new life, and things are reborn, and sometimes things die.
Farming requires patience. A farmer is both a long-term caretaker and a watchful shepherd. A farmer knows that changes don’t happen quickly, and that the best crops don’t grow overnight. There is a season for tilling, for planting, for tending, for harvesting. There is no such thing as immediate gratification, but even so, a farmer’s hope for the harvest remains constant. Even when the worst happens and a crop is lost, the next season always promises a new chance to start over and try again.
I’m not a very good farmer. I’m impatient. I worry too much about the changes that the seasons will bring. I often forget to take a walk home at the end of the day and truly stop to enjoy the rest and reward after hard work. I forget that every new day is a chance to start over. I forget that my fields can be messy, and that that things won’t always grow the way I expect them to. I forget that new life can sprout up, even when it looks like all is lost.
Regardless, I plan to follow in my family’s footsteps, whatever my daily vocation or profession may be. A farmer is who I am, and a farmer is who I want to be.