Monday, September 6, 2010

Endeavor to persevere

Ah, now back to work. I can safely say this has been one of the most frustrating summers I can remember for the work we do: the care, feeding, growing, selling and delivering of fall flowers like mums and asters. In past years, we've battled bugs: beetles making shredded wheat of hibiscus blooms, grasshoppers leaving naught but the steeliest of stems, a dizzying array of caterpillars that would work their way from beneath the ground cloth or hatch within the crown or crawl out from under the leaves. All these creatures had as a goal the destruction of our ornamentals, our summer crops. Wait a minute, I know, I know, these are not competitive intelligences. It is irresponsible and erroneous for me to anthropomorphize bugs. But, to paraphrase Jim Croce, 'that's not the way it feels'.

We've had droughts, windstorms, floods, summers that were cool and encouraged
the mums to bloom too early, summers with weeks of hot nights that delayed mum bloom til frost, early frosts, too, come to think of it. Compared to hybrid seed corn or soybeans, a mum is a fragile fainting thing, subject to fungus and bug. A mum will root from nearly nothing and grow from 3 leaves to fill a two gallon pot in a mere two months. But, like bunnies, or baby turtles, it doesn't take much to screw things up.

And this summer, instead of acres of lovely uniform pots budding, we have....rows with no plants because they cooked and rotted in July before they put on any growth at all. We have one variety with more yellow leaves than it should have. We have mums that are going to bloom late. We have varieties we didn't order that are clearly not suited for our daylength and temperature regime. We didn't get varieties that we know size up and bloom in a timely fashion in our part of the Midwest. It hasn't been fun.

But....we have worked. We've fertilized, sprayed, laid off the water and nursed til we're purple. Maybe some of our labor has paid off: after all, you can never prove a negative. If we hadn't taken these measures, perhaps they all would have died. We don't know.
I'm not used to futile efforts. That's one of the great things about growing for a job: you can see, measure, count your results. Plants get dry; you water; they revive. Five weeks after you transplant a little impatiens plug, you have a lovely carpet of bloom in the flat. It is tremendously satisfying to see a bay in the greenhouse transform from the color of peat to the colors of the rainbow. That's what we usually get for our work. That's not the end of it, obviously, but its a good start.

So the results of our labor this summer have led me to question the value of my work. I get up in the morning and I don't like what I see. I don't know that my efforts are bearing fruit. Sometimes I think I may be making matters worse. I wonder why I am doing what I am doing at all, and, worse yet, whether this job is a useful task that has God's blessing. Is this some kind of not so subtle message? Am I just particularly slow to take the hint?

Never fear, says the last issue of World magazine. In the nick of time as far as my attitude goes, there is wisdom straight from above regarding work.

One of the gifts of the Reformation is the adaptation of the word "vocation" to daily life. No longer did the concept of a vocation apply to the work within the sacred walls of abbey or chapel. Now each and every believer could be certain that his daily tasks, whether indoors or out, artisan or peasant, cleric or king or midwife or child, were intended, by God, for the glory of God. Ours not to judge the results; our task to supply the effort. Work may be interpreted by some to be a result of the Fall; no, Man was given the Garden to care for, the beasts and birds to care for. Husbandry and agriculture were gifts to us all; the Fall and expulsion from the perfect world left us to deal with disease, hail, drought, aches, pains and age. We weren't born to be ornamental. We were born to get out in the world, being "in it" if not "of it" and to make it better if we could. Congratulations and reward were never guaranteed; but believing that we are working His will when we work makes it possible to rest at night.

When we work with this attitude, we can be free of envy, preoccupation with remuneration, and discouragement when we fail in any of the myriad ways it is possible to imagine in the working world. We don't have to worry about the relative reimbursements of "working" moms and "stay at home" moms. We forget about comparing apples and oranges. We cease to struggle with our occupation while never ceasing to strive. We thank God for hands, heart, mind and the ability to use them each day to win our daily bread. Whether we work for our family, our parents, our church, our school, our country or because we are driven to a goal only we see, the bottom line is the same.

So, I guess I can think of this unpleasant summer, not as unproductive, but as another object lesson. There is room for improvement. Sometimes it doesn't get better. But there is still next year, God willing, whether you're the Cardinals or the folks growing and selling flowers at Hurst Greenery.

By the way, how many of you remember the quote in the title? Its from 'The Outlaw Josey Wales' and one of the top two I remember from the 1976 show. After looking it up, there are far too many to list here. The other quote is also from Lone Watie (Chief Dan George). " I didn't surrender. But they took my horse and made him surrender..."

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