It was a beautiful day: calm, blue, and bright. Before me was a partially plowed field stretching as far as I could see. The rows were straight as a ray of sun and followed the bend of the horizon in the distance. Standing in the middle of this unending field was a farmer and his workhorse and plow.
I approached the farmer and asked, “Can I help?”
“Can you?” came the reply from the farmer. With a wink and a twinkle in his eye, I was reminded of my 10th grade english class and realized my grammatical error. Obviously this farmer had an appreciation for words.
“May I help?” I asked again.
“It is my will” replied the farmer.
I opened a backpack slung over my shoulder. I pulled from it a saddle. A small, shiny saddle. The kind of saddle used for a show horse. The kind of saddle used for performance and show competitions. I placed the saddle on the back of the horse, struggling to get it to fit. The farmer stood still. Not an expression on his face. I stepped back from tightening the cinch with a pleased look on my face. It may not have fit well…but it was on the horse. Even I knew that something wasn’t quite right but was unsure of what else to do.
“Will this work?” I asked.
The farmer looked at the horse and then at the saddle, turning his head slightly he said, “I’m not sure. There’s not much work to be done with this shiny giddy-up. Do you have another?”
“Another horse?” I asked.
“No,” he quickly replied. “Another saddle. This is the only horse in these parts.”
“Let me check” I mumbled as I looked again in my shoulder bag. To my surprise I found another saddle, one with which I was a little more familiar. From my bag I pulled a worn, slightly dusty, western type saddle. It was a saddle well used. A useful seat for a cowboy to enforce his will on his herd. It had experienced its fair share of work. Moving cattle from pasture to pasture. Chasing down an occasional rogue calf. The worn marks on its side were a sign of the many hours of use.
I began to saddle up the workhorse with this second saddle. It fit a little better, even looked a little more fitting on this big horse. But I was again aware this wasn’t the right fit for the moment. None-the-less, not knowing what else to do, I cinched it up and began to bridle the horse. The horse willingly accepted the bit, but seemed to shudder at the idea of it.
I stepped back. Admiring the well-worn leather saddle. “Will this work?” I asked.
“I suppose it has” he replied. “But this workhorse doesn’t have need for that bit-and-bridle and we have no need of a cowboy to ride in that saddle today. Do you have another?”
Again, I looked into the bag. For some reason I looked with hope and expectation that I would find another. I desperately wanted to please this farmer. At the very least I needed to find some answer to the question stumping me. But when I looked, the bag was empty. I reached in, feeling around the very bottom, as if trying to buy some time before responding with an empty hand. Finally, I pulled my hand from the empty bag and replied, “I have nothing. I’m so sorry.”
The farmer looked at me with a smile. The look you give to a child who is about to receive an unexpected gift. “No need to apologize. I didn’t ask for a saddle anyway. I didn’t ask for you to determine the kind of work. You asked if you can help, and I agreed. Would you still like to help?”
“Yes!” I replied, but with more determination to listen and follow the lead of the farmer.
“Alrighty. Let’s get to work” he said as he walked toward the iron three-bottom plow next to the horse. The horse responded in unison walked toward the plow. The farmer harnessed the horse, firmly linking the plow, the horse and the farmer into one unit of work. They turned and began to plow the unending field. I stood and watched as they disappeared over the bent horizon and remained standing until they came back over the horizon again.
As the farmer approached he asked, “Do you know why we work?” But as soon as he spoke the words, he turned the horse and plow and headed back over the horizon.
I stood still, in silence, seeking a response to the question. And finally the horse, plow and farmer came back in my direction. But I didn’t have an answer.
As they approached, turning over the dark soil beneath them, the farmer again asked, “Do you know why we work?”
But as soon as he spoke, he turned and headed toward the other end of the endless field.
I stood still, waiting for his return. As I saw them slowly approaching in the distance, I determined to answer.
“Do you know why we work?” This time the question was not a surprise, but an opportunity to respond.
“No” I said. Speaking the only truth I could. The reality was I didn’t know. I couldn’t know. I was my not in my experience to know. I was not the farmer, not the horse, I’ve never had my hand on that plow. No, I don’t know. As much as I wanted to know the answer, or to make up my own, my knowledge didn’t contain his experience.
The farmer looked at me with a pleased look and said, “Let us show you. Wait here and watch.” And once again they turned and disappeared over the horizon.
I waited. Somewhat impatiently. Wondering what was on the other side of the curved horizon. But as I waited, once again he faithfully returned, slowly plowing his way toward back in my direction.
This time they stopped. The farmer stepped out from behind the plow and turned to look at the overturned rows. Then he simply said, “Watch.”
I looked in the direction the farmer was looking, and then I saw the most marvelous sight. The freshly plowed rows of dirt suddenly changed into the brightness of green. As I stood watching, slowly emerging from the ground were rows of lettuce, corn, beets, peas, green beans, fresh sprouts of grain, and even in the distant I recognized the purple heads of alfalfa clover.
The farmer spoke again, “Now do you know why we work?”
I stood silent, aware I still didn’t fully understand.
Then he continued, “We work to eat.”