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Tuesday, April 23, 2024

Before You Go: Life on the Farm

CRL columnist John Gray's latest short story teaches a lesson in healing.

Ronald Thorn lived on a farm. While it was normal to him, it was strange to his eighth-grade classmates, whose parents had regular jobs like plumber, cop or nurse. Sometimes the kids would tease Ronald about milking the cows or baling the hay, but he just smiled and bragged about all the free eggs and butter he had come breakfast time.  

Ronald argued there was an undeniable charm and blue-collar simplicity to life on a farm, but most couldn’t see it. To them it just sounded like a lot of work. Then one day his teacher gave an assignment, asking the children to each give a presentation on one important lesson they had learned in their lives. 

 Most kids gave predictable speeches that bordered on the cliché, with themes such as “a penny saved is a penny earned” or “look before you leap.” Then it was Ronald’s turn.

He stood before the class with four brown envelopes. In the first was a picture of his older sister. He explained to the class that he and his sister loved each other but would sometimes argue. One day a fight got out of hand and to win the verbal duel, Ronald said something to his sister that was personal and so hurtful it cut to the bone. The words barely cleared his mouth when he regretted them. He told the class that the insult hurt his sister deeply. He apologized to her more than once, but Ronald’s sister remained cold and distant in the days that followed. 

Ronald then took out the photo that was in the second envelope, which showed a beautiful green lawn with a single hole dug in the middle. It looked ugly and out of place. He explained that when he told his father that his sister would not accept his apology, his father had him go in front of their house and dig the hole. Ronald didn’t understand why but did as he was told.

After staring at the eyesore for days, Ronald’s father told him to fill the hole back in, place lawn seed on top, then water it religiously every day until the grass returned.

That’s when Ronald opened the third brown envelope and produced a photo of the lawn all lush and green again, the hole now gone. Or was it? He asked the class to look closely at the photograph and see if they could find the spot where the hole once was. Everyone nodded and pointed to the same small patch of grass because it looked slightly different. Try as he might, Ronald could not restore the lawn exactly as it was before he took the shovel to it.

One of his classmates asked aloud, “What does any of this have to do with the assignment, lessons in life?”

Ronald explained, “My father wanted to show me that a careless tongue can do damage as surely as a closed fist or a shovel to the earth. And sometimes it is near impossible to go back to the way things were before you hurt someone, so we should always take care with our words and deeds.”  

A young woman in the front row raised her hand, asking timidly, “So the lesson is, when we break things, they stay broken?”

Ronald smiled and answered, “With a glass vase yes. Not with those who love us.”

It was then that Ronald opened the fourth envelope, revealing a photo of the lawn again.

The entire class inched closer, but none could see where the repair was made; all was perfect again.

Ronald concluded, “Time and tenderness can heal all wounds if we are patient and keep an open heart.”

Nobody ever teased Ronald about being a farmer again.            

John Gray
John Gray
John Gray is an Emmy-winning journalist and writer. In addition to his 32 years of television experience, John is the author of three children's books and two novels. He is married with three children. He and his lovely wife Courtney have five dogs, three of them are rescues with special needs. They make their quiet home in Rensselaer County.

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