We’ve started a new chapter in our lives around here. We have moved Connor to the big bed – no backing out this time. Today, I spent 3 1/2 hours trying to get him to stay in bed and take a nap. During that time, alone, he woke up his baby brother from his nap twice. Suffice it to say I’ve had better days.
As I was washing dishes tonight, I was lamenting how stressful this day has been, and after bouncing around dozens of thoughts and nearly letting the tears flow a few times, I was reminded of a story I heard at some point as a kid. It’s about a farmer and his farm hand, and I thought I would relay it here for you to read. Just something to ponder on as you go through your day.
There was once a poor farm hand who worked for a rich land owner. The farm hand had worked hard his entire life on other men’s lands, growing their crops, and, inevitably, growing their bank accounts. Through all of his work, however, he was never able to get ahead. He just barely scraped by, unable to provide any more than the absolute necessities for his family, and sometimes not even that. As the years passed, his hands grew more calloused, his back more stooped, his feet and legs more sore. His employer, however, was able to buy more land, hire more farm hands, and spend more time inside his recently upgraded and enlarged home. The farm hand was in the fields day in and day out, from sun up to sun down, and in every kind of weather. He was weary.
One particularly hot summer day, as he sat in the shade of an old oak tree eating his meager lunch of left-over mashed potato cakes and water, he conversed with his fellow farm hands. One of the younger men, a newly-wed, talked of his big plans to save as much of his paltry wages as he could and eventually buy his own piece of land – to become his own man. The poor farm hand remembered having those same thoughts a good twenty years before, and at once, he felt sorry for his young co-worker and resentful at his own lot in life.
Lunch ended, and as the man headed back to the field with his canvas bag slung diagonally across his chest to pick more green beans among the buzzing wasps, he began to ponder why he had to work so hard for so little. The thoughts consumed his mind as he worked for the rest of the day. At long last, he came to the conclusion that it was simply because life is not fair. Why is life not fair, he lamented in his mind as he walked the mile to his two-room house, crowded with him, his wife, and their four children. It was a thought that he turned over and over for the next several days. He was finally forced to admit that life was not fair because there was sin in the world. Life-long Sunday school lessons had taught him that sin had entered the world through the act of one man and his wife several millennia before he was born.
Once the man had reached that conclusion, a new mantra was constantly on his lips as he worked: “Oh, Adam! Oh, Adam! Oh, Adam!” With each whack of his hoe to a weed, “Oh, Adam!” With each pull of a vegetable from a vine, “Oh, Adam!” With each slice of his spade into the earth, “Oh, Adam!”
After a few weeks, the land owner heard the man’s mantra. The foreman said he didn’t know what the man meant by it but that he had noticed the man saying it. After several more days, the land owner called the man to his office and asked him why he was saying “Oh, Adam!” The man felt a bit sheepish for a moment, but then, noticing the land owners austere office space with fresh paint, plush rugs, a book-lined wall, an ornate, hand-crafted desk, and other trappings of great wealth brought about by his own poor, work-worn hands, he felt that old resentment and bitterness rise up. He told the land owner of all the hard work that he did each day and how he never was able to get even, let alone ahead in life. He complained of how he worked in the dead heat of summer and the bone-chilling cold of winter and everything in between. He complained of the pain that his body felt all day, each and every day. And, at last, he told the land owner of how he had reached the conclusion that if only Adam hadn’t sinned in the Garden, then he would not be working his life away for nothing all these thousands of years later.
The land owner studied the farm hand in silence for several minutes. Finally, he said, “When you get here in the morning, I want you to come meet me on the porch first thing. I will speak to the foreman, so do not delay in meeting with me. I think I have a solution for your problem, but I will need the rest of the day to prepare it. Now, please, go finish out your work day.” The farm hand agreed to the land owner’s vague plan and went back to work. The next morning, he did just as he was told and met the land owner on the porch of the house. The land owner was sitting on a plush armchair with a small spindly table sitting beside it. On the table, there was a plain wooden box, a pitcher of sweet tea, and an empty glass. The land owner stood as the man came up the porch steps and greeted him with a handshake. “Come, let me explain my plan,” he said.
As they walked toward the chair, the land owner said, “I have decided that since you are having so much pain and discomfort from the conditions of your work, that I will allow you earn your pay by simply sitting in this chair each day, all day, enjoying some tea, reading books, taking naps, whatever relaxing activity you wish. You may have the chair moved from the porch to inside the parlor if the weather does not suit you, and at lunch, you will be welcome to eat what my house servants eat. They have instructions to bring it to you for you to eat from your chair or you may go eat in the kitchen with them, if you please. I will also have my driver come pick you up each morning and take you back home each evening. And as an added bonus, I am even doubling your pay.”
The farm hand could hardly believe his ears. It was a dream come true, to earn money and not work. To rest, to eat, to be out of the weather, to do nothing and earn twice what all his hard work earned him. “What is the catch?” he asked his boss.
“Catch? There is no catch. There is a condition, however,” answered the land owner. “You see this box here on the table?”
The man nodded. “Yes, sir.”
“You must not ever open it, under any circumstances.” The land owner looked the farm hand in the eye. “I will know if you do. And, if you do open the box, everything will go as it was before: You will come to work and go home on your own. You will work in the fields, bringing your own lunch. Your pay will return to its normal rate. And you will never again utter the phrase, ‘Oh, Adam!’ Do you agree to my terms?”
“How long will you allow me these luxuries?” asked the farm hand.
“For as long as you keep the box closed,” answered the land owner. “Are you in agreement?”
The farm hand studied the land owner. The man was known to be honest, a tough employer, but honest, and he seemed to be playing no tricks now. He slowly held out his hand and agreed. One signed contract later, and the farm hand was sipping sweet tea on the land owner’s porch. He leaned back in the chair, closed his eyes, and said to himself, “Finally, my ship has come in. I’ll sit on this porch the rest of my life. Not open a box…Ha! How could I fail?”
The first week of his new “duties” was a cinch. He hardly thought of the box on the table. No matter where he had his chair placed for the day, the little table and box followed. He enjoyed warm, filling lunches from the kitchen staff each day and was never short on tea or even cold water or hot coffee, if he preferred. He read the newspaper each day, enjoyed naps, and even made a list of what all he would do with all the money he had coming to him. His wife was suspicious of this development in his job, but she would be convinced of his good fortune with time. He couldn’t blame her hesitation; life had been hard for a long time. Each day, the land owner would stop by for a few minutes and visit with man, making small talk and asking him how he was enjoying his new life. The man had no complaints.
The second week, the man found himself feeling a bit bored from time to time, but he just started bringing books to read and blank paper to write. This kept his mind busy for a couple of months. And he hardly ever thought about the box that sat beside him day after day. However, he eventually became bored with reading, and he turned to writing. He sat an entire morning, one day, trying to come up with an idea to write about with no success. However, when his lunch was brought to him, the box caught his eye. I could write a story about what is in the box, he thought.
Soon, the box was consuming his thoughts. He would write page after page, each day, on stories about the box and its mysterious contents. Each day was a different story: a box of money, a box of jewels, a box of love letters, a box of the land owner’s will, a box of human hair and finger nail clippings, even a story about a box of air. The man would hold the box, feeling its weight, his fingers detailing every bump, groove, and smooth surface of the box. He would gently shake it, put his ear to it, even sniff it. Before long, he had abandoned his stories and spent his days inspecting and thinking about the box. He wanted to know what was in the box. It became all he thought about. He dreamt of the box. He spoke of nearly nothing except the box. He could get no hints from the land owner of its contents, only reminders that if it were to be opened, he would know.
Three and a half months after signing the contract with the land owner, the farm hand had had enough. He sat on the porch in his arm chair with the box on his lap for the umpteenth time and said to himself, “Just one peak. The boss will never know.” He glanced up and down the porch. He looked out to the fields behind the house. No one was around. No one was watching. He lifted the box up to his face and very slowly eased up the hinged lid a tiny crack. It was too dark to see inside, so he lifted the lid further and further. He had it half-way open when suddenly his nose was accosted by a large monarch butterfly escaping from the box. He immediately dropped the box and lunged toward the butterfly, but it was fast. It flew to the ceiling of the porch. The man jumped to catch it. It fluttered frantically towards the open air beyond the porch. The man made one last dive towards it, his fingers missing it by inches, and doing a painful belly flop onto ground just past the porch.
The land owner heard the ruckus and came rushing out to check on the man. The man was winded and stiff, but unhurt, unless you counted his ego. Once the land owner was satisfied the man was okay, he turned to see the empty box on the porch floor. “Hmm…I see you opened the box. It would seem you’re no better than Adam was all those years ago in the Garden. Your crew is in the western fields. Get your hoe from the shed and see your foreman for your assignment.” The land owner reentered the house without looking back, and the farm hand got to his feet and slowly trudged to the tool shed. Never again did the farm hand complain of his lot in life or blame Adam for how unfair his life felt.
I did embellish this story some. I have no idea who originally came up with it, nor do I remember who told it to me. I just find it useful for keeping perspective.