Tuesday, March 22, 2005

A Dirty Little Story

I watched for a moment as she raked dirt from a huge mound piled in her yard. I thought back to the days when our first church building was nearly complete and it seemed like every week another truckload of dirt would arrive, dumped unceremoniously in the most inconvenient and obvious spot in front of the building. I spent any number of hours, along with a handful of other volunteers, shoveling that dirt...spreading the soil to cover the jagged chipped limestone that seemed to litter every inch of what is now our "front lawn."

It was back breaking work that seemed to take forever and there always seemed to be another truckload of dirt show up as soon as we made headway with the first one.

But she was different. She was raking the soil into her yard down the street from my house as I walked yesterday afternoon. She was in no great hurry, the dirt was meant to fill in trenches where a sprinkler system had been installed but there was far more soil than that job required, so she was raking the rest into her grass as nourishment I suppose. What caught my eye were her children...a small boy and girl...who climbed what must have seemed to them to be a giant mountain...an instant playground. They climbed. They slid down its sides. They giggled and climbed some more.

I kept walking and soon came across a man digging up the grass around a freshly planted tree. It was a small task but he had a lot of help, his three small children...twin girls I would suspect were about four years old and their older brother...wiser and more helpful to Dad at the ripe age of 6 or so. They hovered around their father watching his every move as he used a spade to cut back chunks of grass and toss them aside, obviously making room for landscaping rocks or something similar. The children were anxious to help and their father was making certain they were part of the project. He asked one of the girls to go grab a trash bag and for her sister to help discard what he had dug up. Broad smiles appeared instantly on their faces as they scrambled to do his bidding. His son meanwhile held the shovel as Dad got down on his knees to pull up some of the unwanted items by hand. The boy watched, sometimes asking questions, but most of time standing stoic and alert as if at the ready to be called into action.

The father was making certain his children were involved in the project; whether they actually accelerated his tempo was debatable at best.

I only watched for a minute, I was keeping pace, determined to get in my daily walk but I had left my earphones and music player at home deliberately...wanting to hear the sounds of the neighborhood again.

I listened to the kids shooting hoops, the children giggling, and couldn't help but hear the grey bearded cocker spaniel down the road who barked incessantly at me as her owner gestured that she was so old and deaf she couldn't even hear herself bark. I smiled and thanked God I was able to hear her and wondered how many years of pleasure that little dog had given that family even before her face turned grey.

I thought about the children sliding down that great mound of dirt and the other kids eager to do whatever they could to be part of their father's "chores."

And I remembered.

I recalled sore muscles and shovels. Great piles of dirt at our church and long hours that always ended the same...with aches masked by a sense of satisfaction. No matter the pain it was always nice to be able to look at my day's work and see what I had accomplished. In my real "job" there are many days I come away unable to know that I have done anything of value, and certainly I can not often "see" results. The words go out into the ether...where they land and their impact is measured in broad strokes that have little to do with satisfaction and more to do with competition.

Suddenly I longed for those back breaking days again; the mounds of memories now covered any recollection of my grieving back muscles. In my memories I was like those children, enjoying simple pleasures of soil and eager to "help" their father. Every moment full of joy.

I found myself wondering how often my Father had made sure there was "work" for me to do back then with that rich loam, for it was there He planted some of the strongest seeds of my faith...my investment in our little church.

I must remember to walk more...and listen for the memories.