Posted September 14, 2011:
Grace or Foolishness?

by Derek Pinto.

If there is a more efficient way of doing something, if you are like me, you are always trying to figure out how. If you are like me, the only way of accomplishing a task is the fastest, easiest way. No ifs, ands, or buts!

After all, efficiency is a primary objective in our society. If you increase efficiency, you increase production.

I work at the Madonna House farm. The head gardener, Chris Hanlon, had asked three of us, myself and two working guests, to carry loads of manure over to the rhubarb patch.

Chris told us that both tractors were in use, so we would have to carry the loads in wheelbarrows—about a 250 meter haul or a three-minute walk each way.

I was in charge of our little work crew, and my mind immediately went to: "Hmm… Isn’t there a quicker way of doing this? Maybe we should wait until there is a tractor available and, in the meantime, do some other task that doesn’t require one.

I don’t know if you call it grace or foolishness, but for some reason, in this instance, I immediately quashed these thoughts and went to work.

We worked away at our task. It was a beautiful autumn day. The leaves had already fallen off the trees on the surrounding hills and the manure we were hauling was well decomposed.

Gazing at the big sky, I was enjoying the walk along the bumpy trail, past the now abandoned vegetable patches. With each breath I took in the light, tepid breeze and the mild, delicious odors of decomposing matter. The sun shone warming my face and shoulders, and my orange wheelbarrow bounced as I pushed it along the pathways.

When I got to the rhubarb patch, I gently unloaded shovels full of manure at each plant, just as Chris had instructed, careful not to pour the manure right on the crown, but tucking it in a ring around the plant, so that when the rains came, the manure would filter down to the roots and fertilize them.

"Why don’t we borrow one of the tractors and dump a load of manure right by the rhubarb patch?" asked a voice in French. Bastien, a young man from Belgium, always conversed with me in French, as he was still struggling to learn English.

Given that I was one of the few people with whom he could converse in French, a conversation with me offered him a bit of an oasis from the overwhelming landscape of incomprehension. But in so doing, he had to contend with my poor French vocabulary and with being asked to repeat almost everything two or three times, slowly.

I gazed at Bastien for a moment, then returned to my work. He continued, "If it were me, I would borrow a tractor and dump it here."

I walked back along the path with my empty wheelbarrow. Bastien had a point. Fr. Louis was using two tractors, one to load manure, the other to spread it on the fields. At any given time there was one tractor sitting idle.

But why was I resisting this suggestion? I knew why: I was very content quietly pushing my little wheelbarrow filled with rich nutrients—spring feed for our hibernating rhubarb.

It had been a busy summer. We had worked fast and efficiently. But now, this afternoon, we were in no rush. We had the whole afternoon to complete the task.

The exercise, my little jaunt up and down the path and shoveling loads in and out of the wheelbarrow, was, frankly, bringing me great joy. It was a delight. I couldn’t imagine anything I would rather be doing at that moment.

Bastien and I met again at the rhubarb patch. We unloaded our wheelbarrows onto the rhubarb. Bastien had another question, "Don’t you ever get bored?"

Once again I looked up at him then returned to my work.

"No. No, I don’t, Bastien."

"I would be bored to death doing this kind of work every day."

"Why don’t I get bored?" I reflected as I walked once again back to the manure pile, "Really, I should be bored. I mean, this is boring work. And the pace is so slow and inefficient. Really, this work and the way we are going about it is way below our capacity and the level of technology we have at our disposal. Yet, I am so happy to be doing it."

I reflected further. "Why am I happy? I guess it’s because I am doing the duty of the moment. I am being obedient to God’s word in this moment. I am carrying fertilizer to the plants that will feed this family. I can picture my brothers and sisters enjoying stewed rhubarb with fresh yogurt for breakfast in the morning.

"This fills my heart with joy. And, after all, this is good, honest work. God never said we always have to do everything in the most efficient manner using the best technology at our disposal."

Bastien and I were, once again, unloading shovels full of manure on the rhubarb plants. "Bastien, I’ve reflected on your questions. They are good questions.

But the only answer I have is that I am in love with God. That is why I am satisfied with doing this job this way. That is why I am not bored. I am in love with God!" I sighed in a dreamy emphatic tone, elated at this discovery.

"C’est "débile!"

In my limited French I only knew one definition for "débile" and that was "weak." So, in the same tone I responded, "Yes, yes, you are right. It is weak. But I am so happy that I am so weak."

Later, I found out that débile has another meaning—"foolish"—and that’s what Bastien was saying. But I guess that works, too.


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