Many Hands

Last Saturday was amazing. Our kids and son-in-law were home, the weather was cool, but nice, and all of us were anxious to be outdoors and get our hands dirty. It was the perfect storm of yard work.

I don’t know if the Shakers said it first, or Benjamin Franklin (as Poor Richard), but it is really true that many hands make light work, or in other words, things go faster if lots of people help.

When they were young, our kids were about as anxious to help with yard and garden work as, well, as I was when I was that age. They did the work without too much attitude, but getting them out the door to get started was like extractive dentistry, if you know what I mean.

Now, they live in cities and spend most of their time indoors, and they live in apartment buildings. So, the chance to do something physical that involves fresh air and sunshine is a real treat. Not only that, but there is something so satisfyingly tangible about pulling weeds, raking leaves and grass, and burning last year’s debris. You get to see the before and after picture on the same day, and it feels good to see the results.

The conversations that we had while working in the garden weren’t like what you’d see in a Hollywood movie about a family. No deep-seated issues surfaced, and no life-changing statements were made. By the same token, working together gave us much more chance to talk about this and that than if we had been watching TV or a movie.

It was a really nice day, in every respect, and when it ended we were all really tired, and predicted that we’d be really sore the next day. That prediction was correct. In a strange way, the hamstring pain (from reaching down to pull weeds and pick up rocks) serves as a reminder of that time we all shared.

As Saturday wound down, we stood outside tending the fire in our burning pit, we heard geese and cranes in the distance. A pair of Canada geese coasted past at low altitude, and it was so still that we could hear their wings. Those geese were getting ready to settle down for the night, and so were we.

A lot of things pull families together. Laughter, tears, conflict, shared joy, and shared loss all add to what makes a family cohere. Working together on a beautiful spring day isn’t significant in the scheme of things, but it’s one of those little, incremental memories that become more and more important the older we get.

Sometimes people feel that it would be nice to be able to hire a gardener to take care of all that outside work, but I’m here to tell you that the opportunity to have a day like last Saturday is truly priceless, despite a little lower back pain.


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