Well, my wife made an honest man of me today. That is, the weather became warm enough that I was sent out with a wheelbarrow and a shovel in hand to work the soil, just like the Bible says, “by the sweat of your brow” fighting with nature.
I have to admit, I have no inherent love of the soil. I am more of a craftsman. I like making things, not growing things. My outdoor work generally begins and ends with grass cutting, unless some “man-power” is called in (literally) by my wife. Still, I have rural roots and I have observed certain things about those who have an honest connection with the soil.
Next year country is the title of a book I have. It is a collection of stories from people of the Canadian prairies, where I come from. The gist of the book, is enough stories to knock you over, about people whose lives have been knocked over, usually by a turn in the weather like a hailstorm, drought, or something really catastrophic like a tornado. The stories are gathered as a recollection, once sufficient time has passed, because it gives context to how people get knocked over and just keep on looking to next year, for things to get a bit better.
It’s something you could dismiss as a farmer’s fate, and yet it seems to be the situation that we find ourselves in collectively in the midst of the Covid-19 worldwide pandemic. We used to think ourselves superior, and inured to real misfortune because of Science. We controlled the world through technique. But now we are in the throes of a pestilence that has plunged our own country into at state of shutdown and disarray. Science is of no real help here. People are still dying from this virus for which we have no present cure. And the economics... better to be a fortune-teller at this point.
Just like the book, the real story of what happened and where it went will be told by survivors, how it all spins forward into some kind of normal again. Maybe a different kind of normal. That’s what happens to next-year people. They are the kind of people who now have no recourse but to be forward looking. Maybe next year will be better. You could even throw in a “God willing” there.
And so it is that in an odd way, calamity leads to faith of sorts. At least, it robs you of the kind of detached third-person self-certainty the West has always observed things with, the kind of attitude that says, “this could never happen to us”. The reality of nature is capricious and sometimes evil, if you call floods, hail or lack of rain some of the evils that are common to man.
Covid-19 somehow reduces us all to children of the soil. “From the dust you have come and to dust you shall return” from Genesis chapter three now rings more true. It also makes me appreciate the matter-of-fact kind of faith that comes with country people. It is different from TV Preacher kind of faith because it is realistic and does not demand instant miracles. There is also a skin-in-the-game kind of moral relevance going on here that speaks of PERSONAL loss. It has no buffer. It is not like the kind of morality you might expect from a guy who sits far off in a room making money from stocks. That guy can rub his hands together and profit from others’ misfortune. A farmer, not so much. He realizes that what happens to him, happens to an entire community of people. It is loss which ties him to his neighbours and in some way makes him a better man. More empathetic. He is the kind of person who might look at the morality of the boardroom, and call that, “unnatural”.
It seems that we are now “next year” people. Maybe next year will be better. I see the smile on my wife’s face at the anticipation of this fall’s crop. I think she is planting more tomatoes. I see our eighty-seven-year-old neighbour across the field out back (the one we call the General) also turning the soil in his beds. He is undaunted by disease, pestilence and the throes of fortune. You might say he is old enough to know better and to understand what faith really means. The birds are also out, looking for some seed in my bird feeder. The Bible says, “See the birds of the sky... they don’t sow, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns. (Yet) your heavenly Father feeds them.” It is the miracle of “next year” thinking that does not predict where things will come from but welcomes them just the same.
Next year has a way of coming around that is gratuitous. It just seems to arrive no matter what with fresh sunshine in the spring, and rain to wash away the dust of what has already passed. Farmers know this, and lean in with trust and assurance, because it as tangible and real as bad luck.
True faith rides the waves and understands the benevolent hidden hand behind all, that still gives no matter what else the world may dish out. Like hope, real faith is perennial - it picks up where the bad stuff has left off.