The Harvest List
THESE are the times that try men’s souls…. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly: it is dearness only that gives every thing its value. Heaven knows how to put a proper price upon its goods; and it would be strange indeed if so celestial an article as FREEDOM should not be highly rated. Thomas Paine, The Crisis
My good friend was recently thrown into the abyss of unemployment, a casualty of the catastrophic climate changes that have engulfed the financial services community. He was sharing with me his journey to find employment and how he found himself interviewing at a surviving bank for a position that he had held years earlier in his career. “I was interviewing with a kid ten years younger than me. When it was over, I wasn’t sure whether I wanted to shake his hand or slap him”. We talked for a long time. It seemed our summer fields were infinitely more vulnerable to the vagaries of life’s winter storms. I knew that in the next few years, we would see more turbulence, uncertainty and financial insecurity sweep across our land. The barometer was dropping, twilight had arrived and all we could do was watch as the storm rolled towards us.
For many, the current financial crisis is a catastrophic storm wreaking havoc after years of Indian summer – – a placid stretch of warm days and cool nights propped up by a high pressure system of easy credit and leverage. During periods of fair weather, even the most veteran of farmers can gain a false sense of security and begin to believe in their own power to prevail over the forces of nature. Affluence is a warm wind that lulls us with a sense of independence and a belief that we have gained immunity from misfortune. In periods of abundance we attach enormous value to our “things” and at some level, to ourselves. When the unexpected occurs, our self-esteem, now lashed to the limbs and stalks of our personal possessions, sometimes breaks at the very time we need courage and fortitude. Fear becomes a tornado touching down indiscriminately, conjured in the depths of our imagination, blocking out all light. We can give up, or we can carefully replant, giving thanks for the real wealth we have harvested in our lives.
In the days of agrarian America, Fall was a time of harvest – – reaping the benefits of good weather and their own hard work of ploughing, planting, gathering, mending and managing. The harvest was a time to take an inventory of what one had accumulated for his/her efforts and to give thanks. In a period before science and technology had conspired to de-mythologize life and the cosmos, uncertainty was a silent stalker, following each person just out of the corner of their eye. Disease, famine, wars, and economic downturn could sweep unannounced into lives leaving wreckage and devastation in their wake. People had to cope with tragic events as a condition of human existence. It was rare to find the man who did not understand his fragile contract with the fates.
Society was more religious. People understood out of necessity that a community bonded by common interest was significantly less vulnerable than a fragile archipelago of self absorbed islands. Churches and societies became critical affinity groups for people who sought the companionship and support of a larger foundation of shared values. These groups were defined by principles that advocated service as a framework for survival – – serving each other and in doing so, ensuring that the most at risk did not suffer. In the Great Depression, families were keenly aware of one another circumstances, not out of the human frailty of being preoccupied with another’s misfortune but out of the understanding that “no man is an island” and any family’s failure diminished another. A mother might gently suggest to her child to invite a particular friend over for dinner, knowing that that child’s family was struggling and that one less mouth to feed might provide some modicum of relief to a family navigating the white water of misfortune. At dinner, grace was shared to remind everyone of the essential blessings of life, health and community.
Each of us possesses a harvest list. It’s assets might include the laughter of a child who sees the world as a magical place of endless possibilities. It’s the warm fire of humanity kindled by a thousand tiny sparks of those who serve others. It’s a house jammed with friends and family. It’s having somewhere to go and someone to see. It’s not being alone. It is knowing someone will always be there for you. It’s the smell of autumn smoke hanging in the early morning air. It is seeing someone we love achieve something important. It is watching a close friend beat an illness. It is holding hands and waiting for the darkest hours to pass to witness yet another glorious dawn. It’s having the courage to ask for help and having the magnanimity to offer it. It is the bounty of a community that cares about one another. It is generosity. It is people who serve as the mortar that connects the bricks of our daily lives.
Eleanor Roosevelt once said that each person has a choice of either lighting a candle or cursing the dark. The sand foundations that we all periodically build our lives on eventually destabilize. The rocks that form the strongest foundations in our lives rest near us. They elevate us so that we might rise above the clouds of fear and see our possibilities and breathe the deep fresh air of hope. Those rocks are our family, our church, friends, neighbors and even those whom we have never met but through the act of helping them, they actually enrich us.
Life will carry on. The autumn leaves still play chase across muddy ground, restless after falling from treetops colored from a miraculous divine palette. The low rock walls predictably curl and duck along narrow roads as dark ponds slowly prepare to for winter. It’s the perfect time of year to remember that everything happens for a reason and that there is a plan for each of us. The darkest moments precede the most magnificent personal awakenings. Fear has no role in the passion play of life. It disables us and distracts us from realizing our potential. It causes us to ignore the bounty we have been given. In this time of loss, change and challenge, our harvest list remains rich. We just need to be sure to take the time to recognize everything that we possess – – physically, intellectually and spiritually. It’s all there, right underneath our noses, between the lines – – our priceless intangibles that rest on the other side of our temporal ledger.