After many months (seven, I believe), I now return with a renewed vision and set of goals. As a gesture of thanks for joining me, I have decided to include a short retelling of an anecdote regarding the definition of power. I hope you enjoy it. In coming days I plan to focus my writing on a common thread, but for now I want to get the ball rolling the best way I know how; humorously.
Hand of the Master
The Mississippi sun glinted bright on the point of the pick axe as Jimmy’s massive arms plunged the blade deep into the earth just in front of his feet. One would be tempted to be impressed by how casually Jimmy handled the tool until one realized that he had dug ditches up and down the Delta for over twenty years. Shoulder to shoulder with Davis – his ‘prentice as he he called him – Jimmy stared into the dirt as he had day after day with nothing in particular on his mind. His life was one of blissful simplicity. He would wake up and eat breakfast – consisting of plain oats and whatever beer could be salvaged out of the warm bottles from the previous night – before shuffling down the road to the foreman’s house to pile into the work truck. He would then dig ditches until the sun gave out and eventually go home to cold beer and a warm bed just to start it all over the next day. This was his routine and it occurred with few variations. Until today.
Today, Jimmy was getting annoyed with Davis. Davis manned a huge shovel with which he scooped up loose soil and tossed it out onto a growing hill at the side of the ditch. Standing there in the bottom of that earthen trough, Davis was dripping sweat into the dirt caked on his neck and arms so that small rivulets of mud ran down into his clothes. Unlike Jimmy, however, Davis didn’t seem contented with the simple things in life. Sometimes it seemed to Jimmy that Davis might not want to do this work at. It was as if he thought himself above it somehow. Finally, Jimmy spoke up.
“Who pissed in yer oats this mornin’, Davis?” He asked not even varying the rhythmic picking of his axe.
Davis almost seemed startled by the question. “What do you mean, Jimmy?”
Jimmy was not-so-secretly proud of himself for discerning such a deep truth within his silent, ditch-digging apprentice as he pursued his line of questioning, “I reckon yer a little put out that you ain’t manning a pick or up there driving a barrow or somethin’. That got yer panties twisted up?”
Jimmy was confident that he had pegged Davis for a youngin’ that didn’t believe in paying his dues to climb out of the ditch. Davis rested his shovel and looked over his dirt-covered, sweaty shoulder to see the foreman leaning in the shade against a large oak trunk. His broad sunglasses hid his eyes beneath a wide-brimmed hat that was bumped back every so often as he took a refreshing sip of ice cold lemonade.
“You want to know what’s stuck in my craw, Jimmy?” Davis began. “I want to know what that som’bitch did to earn a sweet piece of shade, while my sweaty ass is down here diggin’ like there’s no tomarra’.”
Jimmy did not notice that his pick had hung in the air as if God Himself had stepped down from His throne and grabbed it with His hand. Jimmy’s eyes were fixed on Davis as his mind reeled at the implications of Davis’ discontent. He had assumed pushing a wheelbarrow or maybe, in a few years, driving a truck would be the pinnacle of success for Davis. But to question the position and authority of the foreman-
“Now whatchu boys yammer about down ‘nere?” called out the foreman. “Yer payed by the mile, not the hour! We need to discuss the complexities of swinging those sticks around or can you ladies figure out which end is handle?”
Jimmy just stood there in a stupor as his perfect world seemed to be spinning out of control.
“Jimmy, get yer ass up here and let’s have a talk!” shouted the foreman.
Jimmy climbed up out of the ditch and slowly walked to the shade tree with his head hung a little. The foreman had an easy smile, but Jimmy knew that didn’t matter a hill of beans. The foreman could flash like black powder.
“Now Jimmy, what seems to be the problem down ‘ere? You look like yer having a stroke. Do you need an ambulance? Maybe want to curl up and take a nap? I could scrounge up a blanket if that’d make you cozy?”
“No’sir. Davis and I were just having a talk about… Well… Sir, we have a couple of questions. Well… just one question really.”
Jimmy was surprised to discover that Davis’ questioning of authority had planted a germ of discontent within Jimmy’s own mind. He wanted answers. What he didn’t realize was that the foreman was aware of the germ as well.
The foreman slowly took off his glasses and looked Jimmy in the eye and said, “Jimmy, I am intrigued.”
Jimmy just stood there with a blank expression on his face until the foreman said, “Jimmy, that means I want to hear the question.”
“Oh! Well, while we were down there digging today, me and Davis had us a thought. We wondered just why it was that you were up here sippin’ lemonade and enjoying this shade tree while we were down in that ditch diggin’ til the sun gave out.”
Jimmy was astonished at how easily he could ask that question and by how generous the foreman seemed to be while hearing him out.
“Jimmy,” said the foreman, “run and fetch that shovel from Davis. I need to show you something.”
Jimmy jogged over and retrieved the shovel from Davis, who was standing in the ditch, slack-jawed at the unfolding of entire event. Handing the shovel to the foreman, Jimmy said, “Here y’are, boss.”
“No, you hold that shovel a minute, Jimmy. I am a firm believer in teaching through example, like our Lord Jesus did, and that is just what I’m gonna do now.” He took a small step sideways and held his right hand open in front of the oak tree with his palm facing Jimmy before continuing,”Now, Jimmy I want you hit my hand as hard as you possibly can with that shovel you got there. Don’t you hold back.”
Jimmy was sweating profusely now and said, “I.. Uh… I’ll just get back to work, boss.”
“No, Jimmy. You asked and I’m answering. Give it all you got.”
“Boss, I ain’t about to strike you. My momma taught me not to bite the hand that feeds.”
“Jimmy, you ain’t about to hurt me, ‘cuz your ditching-diggin’ ass couldn’t hurt me if you wanted to. Now, you swing that shov-“
Jimmy swung the shovel with all the force he could muster. Nobody had ever tried to tell Jimmy the he couldn’t do a thing due to weakness and it was not about to start now. At the last possible moment the foreman jerked his hand out of the way and the shovel collided with a horrible force, flat against the trunk of the mighty oak. The vibration and shuttering that was sent up the shaft of the shovel nearly broke Jimmy’s arms and he bellowed in surprise and pain.
While he rubbed his arms and stared dumbfounded at the shovel lying on the ground, the foreman smiled and put his sunglasses back on. He took a long sip of lemonade and said, “Now Jimmy, run hop your ass down into that ditch and get back to work.”
Jimmy sorely scooped up the shovel and jogged over to Davis in the ditch and got back to work. After several minutes of labor, Davis could stand the silence no longer.
“Well, what’d he say to you?” Asked Davis as they both continued heaving dirt out of the growing hole in the ground.
Jimmy stopped and thought a moment. “The best way to ‘splain it to you is by example. You know like, Jesus.” Though Davis looked very confused, Jimmy continued, “Take that shovel there and hold it tight. Real tight, now.”
“I got it as tight as I know how,” said Davis defiantly.
As Jimmy held his hand up in front of his own face, palm toward Davis, he said, “I want you to hit my hand as hard as you can with that shovel. Don’t hold back a bit!”