Recently, I embarked upon a northern road trip to the Land of Lincoln…the Prairie State… the Midwest… Illinois. A cousin’s yellow-and-orange-misty-eyed wedding instigated the journey north. My mother, grandmother, and I decided to make this last minute trip with the eager anticipation of hugging dearly missed relatives. Fellowship was the goal here. And it was one that was met with great fervor.
Crossing the state line, we were welcomed into IL with the gracious hospitality of my grandmother’s brother and sister-in-law, Uncle Sherman and Aunt Sue. These two are quite the pair and I can very honestly say, some of my favorite people in the world. Sherman is the quintessential Great American Prairie farmer. He was born on southern IL soil and has farmed the same soil for 70 years. He has a relationship with that land that I can only gaze at from afar with my city girl eyes. He’s got to be the most patient man and teacher I know; people always remember meeting Sherman because they immediately notice the kindness in his eyes. He married a beautiful woman named Sue; she truly is his better half. Sue has the uncanny ability to make anyone she converses with feel as if they are extremely important and their story matters. She really just cares. And she cooks a mean butterscotch cookie.
Disembarking the interstate, country roads led us to Sue and Sherman’s farm. We passed through small towns that made me feel like I had gone back five decades to the days of yesteryear America. Let me tell you, I got a great view of the town square, since I had to circle it multiple times after we spotted a much needed post-office box. I later learned that for Sherman’s 50th birthday, Sue and company kidnapped him, robing him in one of her lovely shawls, and paraded him around the square in an antique wheelchair. Apparently the square has multiple uses as grooms used to push their new brides around the square in a wheelbarrow. Boy if that doesn’t speak romance, I don’t know what does.
Waking up at Sue and Sherman’s is quite the experience. After a sufficient amount of coffee, I was met by Butch the pet turkey. He looked at me as if I was the species who was out of place; I decided he was right and quickly maneuvered myself to a different part of the barn. Don’t get me wrong– I have a great appreciation for the avian species, I just figured I’d appreciate from afar.
About that time, I heard the approaching roar of loud machinery coming into the front yard. I grabbed my camera and ran over to see a large John Deere combine. Now, you may know what a combine is, but let me tell you, I did not. So I’ll explain. This is a massive piece of machinery that is used to harvest six rows of corn at a time. Sherman spotted my wide eyes and asked if I wanted to ride with him. Naturally inquisitive, I did. As I ascended the combine ladder, all I could think about was how I should be tweeting this memorable moment.
As it turns out, I didn’t have the time because we immediately set off to harvest the corn. In his infinite patience, he explained to me how the combine cuts and thrashes grain; he also lent me much insight into a farmer’s world. As he was driving, I noticed the sun spots on his tan, calloused hands. Hands that had farmed for years. Hands that made corn grow. Hands that made love grow.
After half an hour of talking, Sherman pulled the big combine brake and announced that it was my turn to drive this baby. I was pretty sure I heard him incorrectly, but when he started to switch seats with me, I knew he wasn’t kidding. I thought about explaining to him that I can barely work a toaster or that just last week, I managed to break a toilet handle at work.
As it turned out, I didn’t have time to explain any of this as I took the pilot’s seat. I figured this was kind of how life goes– it forces you into something, you aren’t qualified or even quite ready for. With much trepidation, I let the brake off and began aligning the combine to harvest the next six rows of corn. Sherman believed I could do it, so I did too. With his patient voice guiding, I farmed. And as it turned out, I had no time to tweet. Life was happening and I was busy.
About halfway through the weekend, I started to get wrapped up in the 80 items on my to-do list and the internet access that I didn’t have. I started to worry about deadlines and the busy week ahead. But then the night wrapped up with a long-time family friend coming over to extend hugs and lots of laughter. As we sat close laughing about old family mishaps, I realized that this was my to-do list. This moment. And I needed to be present.
Sometimes we are so caught up with the future, that we fail to live presently.
Sometimes we need to slow down and say, this person matters. These people matter. I need to give them the dignity of my full attention. I need to be in this moment because this moment will never come again. I need to embrace this love, this laughter, this joy. Because if I’m not careful, the life I am so eagerly awaiting will pass me by without my noticing and all I’ll have to show for it is a marked off to-do list.
As we finished up the weekend singing hymns at the old country church down the road and to the right, I realized, the Land of Lincoln taught this city girl a lot more about life than just how to drive a combine.
So tell me, what life lessons have you been learning this September?