At the end of every summer, we would begin to cut the green fields of sod. It was a luscious, green field, the greenest of greens that the cows would always want to dive into rather than the regular green grass and weeds that they were eating. It made sense, who wouldn't want to run, play, dance and even eat up the luscious fields of green.
I always wondered why we would cut the green sod, let it dry in the sun and then make giant bales of hay. Then one day it hit me while I was sitting on top of a hay bale. We set this aside for the winter to help get the cows through the time when there was no green grass. It was at that time, that the golden hay seemed like a sweet treat to starving cattle. When there were no fields of green, the sweet hay was what sustained them through the winter. When the spring came so did the green grass. We would still put out the hay so it didn't go to waste, but the cows did not attack it like before. It was just something more to eat. And cows, they do like to eat all day long.
I used to run across the tops of the hay bales seeing if I could jump from bale to bale without falling in between. Sometimes I felt like a giant jumping over valleys from mountain top to mountain top only to grow weary and land flat against the side of a hay bale. Sure it hurt, but I would laugh even if I was alone. It didn't take much to remind me that I was human but being human as a kid is still a super power.
My uncle Edsel spent many years working his dairy farm and cutting the hay every season, just like his father before him. One year the size of the farm and the ever growing responsibilities of keeping a farm running literally took his life. He was out guiding the tractor and hay baler over the cut hay to roll up and tie into huge bales. He was working late at night, feverishly trying to make ends meet and finish the chores of the day, they never seemed to end. It wasn't greed or trying to do more than he had to. It turns out there is a very small window to harvest the hay. You have to have the right balance of dryness and moisture in order to last the winter, not to mention making it a tasty meal for the cattle.
While Edsel was gathering the hay, the hay baler suddenly stalled. The baler rope was caught and he need to fix it to move on. He was supposed to switch off the tractor and baler for safety, but like he had done hundreds of times before he just hopped off the tractor reached into the baler to fix the problem hoping to move on.
It was an instant that drastically changed his life. Out in the middle of a country field with no one to hear him scream, the baler pulled him in only stopping him fully from going in was his head crashing against a metal plate. In an instant, the damage was done and his arms were gone. He should have died that night, for all logic and reason, for all reasons of timing and the repeated assault on his body, he should have passed that night.
When you hear his story, you will know that he did pass that night for a while, but came to when one of the farm hands was drastically pulling him out of the machine and waiting for help. Help eventually came but it had been a long time. I was in disbelief when I heard he survived knowing how long he had open major arterial wounds but somehow managed not to bleed to death in what should have been a matter of minutes, he survived through the damp of night, screaming for his life for well over an hour before he saw an ambulance, many hours before he was flown by life flight to Savannah for major surgery. I still remember his screams as I came down the hall that night to visit him coming from Statesboro, Georgia and college. I came because I loved him and his family, but also because I knew that his chances were not good that he would live through that first night.
I kept in touch with Edsel on and off but never really was there for him when I should have been. I have so many excuses for being busy starting life, then a family and so on, but no real reason for not being there for him. It wasn't until a few years ago that we started talking again and it was if we hadn't missed a beat. And what brought us together was the tragedy and pain that has beset my life. He understood my pain and how it changed his life overnight. We don't pretend to understand the depths of each other's pain because pain is pain and neither of us would trade each other's fate.
At the time of his accident, the grass was looking greener and business was going well. At the time of my accident, the grass was looking greener and things had been going well. We were both struck in our prime, both struck down in an instant. Both left to ponder what was left to do in our lives and how long do we have to suffer.
We both know that we will suffer the rest of our lives save some miracle of science. We both have tried to make the best of a bad situation trying to tell our stories and help others along the way. You could say that we may have lost everything but have gained a life richer than any man could ask for as far as having your soul filled with the presence of God through each person that we help or listen to along the way. We both pray for an end to our suffering each day, but also for God's will to be done. Sometimes I selfishly ask for an end to my suffering and ask that be God's will, I can't speak for Edsel but with the pain he suffers I am sure that he wants to be free of that as much as I do.
So, years ago, a kinship was reborn. A kinship of love, kindness and a mutual respect that we never could have attained through the work we did before. Not a respect like this. You do have a choice in suffering. You can give up and take the coward's way out, which by the way, takes more than a coward to do even though it is thought to be an easy way out. Your other choice is the unthinkable, not only live with the pain, accept the pain, but turn that suffering into a doorway to others. It is a doorway sometimes, other times it is a giant gate where you are flooded by and overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in this world.
So where once we were laying in green pastures and enjoying the fruits of having a good life, we now look forward to the sweet hay, that which most would look upon as inedible and would move forward to greener pastures, we don't have that luxury and choose to not only eat the hay, but be thankful for that which is given unto us. We are thankful for the daily breath of life, no matter how painful, no matter how filling to the soul, thankful all the same that we are being used for a greater purpose than personal gain and personal achievement.
No, it is not an easy path, but we are thankful for what we have in the gift of life and seeing life through others. We don't celebrate suffering nor would we wish it upon others or even ourselves. We would love to be free from suffering in every aspect. But that will come in good time, we trust in that.