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The hard facts about hard work


Redemptive suffering and the $47 tomato

...we descend by self-exaltation and ascend by humility. --- Rule of St. Benedict, 7.7

In parenting, sometimes you are Sisyphus, sometimes you're the stone.

I have introduced my children to the self-mortifying joys of the family vegetable patch.

Way back in those golden, mythical days before we had kids, I had a frustrating job with a difficult boss. I began digging in the backyard to release tension. The soil was poor, sun-baked, and ant-infested. The local fauna were starved for flora. What began with a gray-market Family Dollar hoe and a dozen happy seedlings gradually devolved into an expensive, Hemingway-esque man-against-nature battle of wills. I busted, mixed, and built up soil. I trenched and tiled to redirect water. I fenced and fenced again to keep out rabbits, cats, and dogs. In the end, my $140 federal vegetable prison yielded just three stunted tomatoes. I was hooked.

I am an allegorical gardener. While others grow vegetables, my kids and I raise intangibles. Blister-popping, Bengay-smeared 13-year-olds hit the pillow and drop immediately into REM sleep without a thought or care for Ashleigh's alpha-chick clique or the eighth-grade crush du jour. A 9-year-old who swings a pickaxe all Saturday morning hammers a kid-pitched fastball on Tuesday night. This is essential, life-framing stuff.

Forget that cursed-ground talk folks pull out of Genesis. In Hebrew, Adam means ruddy and human and Adamahmeans soil, so, Biblically speaking, we are mere blushing dirt. Spirituality doesn't get much more earth-based than that.

Beyond poverty, chastity, and obedience, St. Benedict taught stability. He was right to work his world-fearing, navel-gazing monks to the nub. An hour digging in the dirt aerates the psyche and cultivates perspective. Put that kid to work: hard work. Remember that $47 tomatoes are still cheaper than $100/hour analysts.

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