Hand on the Plow

I watched the morning news but turned away when feelings of hopelessness washed over me as they reported infection rates and death tolls. Isolation is helping end this nightmare, they say, but for any one individual it can sometimes seem an exercise in futility. When a reporter stressed the importance of continuing our social distancing practices, an old memory crossed my mind:

“No.” Ms. Wade shook her head. “Here’s what you’re going to do.” She put her arm around my shoulder. “Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I knew what she meant.

Having grown up around farming and plows I understood the metaphor, but until then I’d never heard anyone describe so succinctly a situation pertaining to myself. Don’t dismay, was her message. Simply continue doing what I’d been doing.

It was early 1980s and I was a twenty-year-old kid working a part-time retail job. Ms. Wade was an older African-American woman who had done that same job full-time for decades. She trained me, showed me around, and only a couple weeks into the job had become my mentor and good friend.

New in the position, one day I rang up something incorrectly. Technology not being then what it is now, that was easy to do. My inadvertent mistake, realized later, cost the store less than twenty dollars but that was serious stuff for them – and I assumed it would be for me. I waited to be fired.

For an entire week I came to work expecting the worst and it was a tense few days. During that time Ms. Wade listened to my worries but encouraged me to keep my chin up and just keep doing what I was doing. I didn’t feel like it. I thought maybe I should quit.

“You can’t quit when things seem worthless. That’s exactly when you don’t quit.” Ms. Wade looked at me and put her hand on her hip. “Just hold on, I told you. Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.”

I whined to her again anyway, so bothered by the thought of being fired and having to explain the embarrassment to everyone as well as find another job. For me that situation seemed pretty gloomy, and I told her so.

Ms. Wade patiently encouraged me to keep going, even through moments of confusion and fear. It was ok if I didn’t know the outcome. The point was to push on, doing all I could do, taking it day by day.

“This is a mustard seed moment, honey.” Ms. Wade said as nonchalantly as if she were telling me the time of day. I was getting the impression she’d kept her hand on the plow many times in life.

A few days later I was informed, unceremoniously, that personnel had discussed my mistake and chalked it up to inexperience and a learning curve. Because I’d continued working and demonstrated my determination, they decided to let it all go. Wow. Just as Ms. Wade said, the best thing to do was carry on, regardless of apprehension.

Yes, what a memory of the valuable lesson that good woman taught me.

I turned back to the television. More reports of infections and deaths. So much uncertainty. When will this end? How much can any of us really do? I’m not the only person experiencing moments of confusion and worry, those feelings are swallowing the entire world as we wait for a resolution.

For now, our responsibilities are to be careful, follow advice, and keep at it even during moments of doubt. Especially during moments of doubt. A solution will eventually come. In the meantime, I can’t offer an answer to this mess, but I can offer one bit of advice.

Just hold on. Keep your hand on the plow and hold on.

Stuart M. Perkins


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119 responses to “Hand on the Plow

  1. Great advice. And lovely story telling. 🙂

  2. Pete

    Here in South Africa, the rate of infection dropped from 43% to just 4% during nationwide total lockdown. I can’t, for the life of me, understand the whining from Americans about their supposed human rights when a little third world country takes the lead in fighting the virus, albeit at a bit of discomfort. I had no income since early December and we are having a hard time at home, as I am also disabled. Out income was informal and occasional but we can’t go out hunting, so we need to start chewing the windows frames, I suppose. Having said that, I wrote about having been “medically incarcerated” from 31 Dec 2018 to July 5, 2019 – when I had stroke #11. Staying in one little square of 129 feet didn’t kill or damage me. Some still live in comparative luxury, have hoarded resources, conceviences and accoutrements my wife and I surely lack. But we see the virus die down and welcomed the recent extension of the lockdown from April 16 to April 30.

    • I agree. No complaining. Just do what we can do and and as long as we need to! And congratulations on moving on past a stroke! Not as easy feat, I am sure. Thank you for the comment!

      • Pete

        I should point out that the complaining I refer to happens on Twitter, which is a sad place I left this morning to take up a new career in playing Klondike Solitaire, of which I am an absolute master down at Easy level. 😀

      • Ha! No I’ve seen the same complaining. I just try to focus more on those who think like we do – just be quiet and do what they say for the time being, it’s working! And now I’ll have to check out Klondike Solitaire…. lol

      • Pete

        Trust me, it is incessant. It is as if Trump and Biden and Bernie were raptured and they need a new topic today. I haven’t seen anyone demanding the right to treat other nations fairly, still waiting for that to happen. It is as if some us us are only here to fill up space or to serve as collateral damage. Now, if someone at WHO, UN and those high places sat up and listened in December, this may never even have happened.

  3. Pingback: Locked Down the Hand on the Plow — Storyshucker – WhimSickle

  4. Reblogged this on Chelsea Ann Owens and commented:
    I feel we’re all struggling to find hope as the world slowly turns. I love Stuart’s story and advice, and think we also need to keep our hand on the plow.

  5. Such nice memories in these difficult times. Thanks.

  6. A super analogy. But please tell me what the mustard seed meant. A great post found on Chelsea Owens page. I think I may have just participated in a Hans n Grettel moment.

  7. blindzanygirl

    I had a similar experience in 2013 when I had cancer that was very serious. I had no idea at all whether the chemo would help me, and I was very sick. They told me just to keep going, even without knowing it would help me. It did help me in the end, over a six monthe period. I had to keep my hand to the plow through terrible illness. I am cured now, but left blind and wheekchair bound and in lockdown. I can see nothing so have little to do. I cannot walk either. So I do know what that feeling of imprisonment is like but we just HAVE to keep going. Thankyou for this reminder.

  8. The lesson is as simple as teaching a toddler how to walk – put one foot in front of the other, and when you , get up and keep going. For me, and I’m sure for a lot of people, the new stories are conflicting at times… some say we should be okay by June, others say we’ll see a new spike of cases in the summer. All any of us can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other, practice common sense in heeding the warnings, pray and trust that God is, as always, holding us in His hand.

  9. shann273

    Awesome story, Stu! It sucks for all of us right now, but we will get thru this If we keep doing what’s recommended. I had a friend years ago call negative or challenging experiences as ‘damned opportunities’ to find the silver linings or improve upon things even if it’s keeping your house cleaner(me). Hand on the plow! 😁😁

  10. Keep your hand on the plow, your thoughts and memories alive for those angels in your life who’ve taught you such valuable lessons, and your finger on the pulse of positivity. We will survive these days and emerge stronger for them! Happy Easter to you!

  11. lilaskid01

    Great message

  12. This post is a very powerful message to all those who are beginning to despair over the worldwide pandemic, Stuart. As a young man, I had many similar experiences, when I was tempted to throw in the towel when things appeared to go terribly wrong for me. Looking back, I am glad that I kept my hand on the plow and held on. Happy Easter, Stuart!

  13. Sharon Eshler

    Thanks, Stu, for all the lessons you learned with Mrs. Wade and your situation. This story is a perfect reminder of what I needed today… Just keep on, with that mustard seed faith.
    And “the hand on the plow” is fitting me just a little too closely… instead of focusing on the news, I’ve got a huge pile of dirt to wheelbarrow into the garden. But you’ve given me things to think about as I work.

  14. What a beautiful story, beautifully told.

    Thank you for the message and the light this morning — where a freak snowstorm has taken over Easter!

  15. Melvy

    Thanks, Stuart. Loved Ms. Wade’s, “mustard seed moment.” So appropriate. Keeping my hand on the plow!

  16. This is such a wonderful story. Thank you for sharing. The mustard seed from the bible story is a good reminder. The law of attraction has the same analogy. Another excellent story about this kind of faith (keeping on), is that of Angus Buchan, a Scottish farmer (from Zimbabwe and Zambia) who came to South Africa with his family. There is a movie called “Faith Like Potatoes”. It’s a heartwarming movie filled with hope. The message of Easter is relevant: after death is hope, triumph and recovery/rebirth. Stay safe.

  17. Great article and advice. I’d also add to quit watching the news. All is not as it seems.

  18. What an inspiring blog entry … giving hope in our current situation backed up by a life experience on a smaller scale that is pertinent. I do a blog & attempt to do an entry at least monthly. During this frightening, unusual & uncertain time it is hard to move away from our current reality & write about a different subject because the weight of our current reality is all around us. Before writing my most recent entry yesterday it occurred to me that I should keep addressing the situation the world is struggling with & attempt to find a way to offer hope through my blog. I think maybe as bloggers with a number of followers, that is our JOB right now. This piece is an excellent example of how we share our strengths with others. In doing that, we gain a measure of personal strength that encourages us as well. Thank you again Stuart.

  19. Can we clone Ms. Wade? She sounds wonderful and I think we could use a lot more of her right now.

  20. Thank you for posting this. Great story. I have had many “Hand on the plow” experiences of my own. They seamed so harrowing at the time, when I looked back on them, I realized that they are all a part of growing.
    My Great Grandfather said, “A problem is an opportunity in disguise.” Buddha and countless others taught that death is a part of life.

    My heart goes out to those battling COVID-19. Those of us who still have some health can help by finding a source of joy at home to share with others. I appreciate those who post stories of encouragement, such as this one, photos of birds, kids, wildflowers, etc.

  21. We need to do our best for those whom we love and hold dear. Maintaining a sense of humour as well as behaving sensibly are very important. I agree that one must keep going and believe that we will win through in the end.

  22. Paulina Radzisauskas

    Thanks for the great story. We will win in the end.

  23. What a wonderful mentor you had.

    For me, the wisdom of the Tao greatly helps during this time of dramatic change because it teaches that the only constancy in life is change. Accepting that fact keeps me in harmony with life’s natural cycles which are composed of beginnings and endings. Remembering that “This too shall pass,” and “It’s always dark before the dawn,” also helps. And as a spiritual guide once said, “When you pray, move your feet.” Wishing you all the best during this transitional time.

  24. Farming is a profession of hope. Lots of wisdom shared to me in my younger years by them. Proud to have that heritage! Love the story

  25. Thank you. Both of your metaphors via the words of Christ are excellent for all of us during this time. Mustard seeds and hands to plows, folks! Don’t look back. Don’t despair. Do the right thing and have faith that doing the right thing will multiply goodness and love. Loved this –thanks for writing.

  26. Pingback: Jour 10 – Day 10: Darkest before the Dawn | Life and Random Thinking

  27. Thanks, Stuart! Yup: hand on the plow!

  28. She sounds like a wonderful mentor. Thank you for sharing your story.

  29. Good advice, Stuart. Stay safe, stay sane.

  30. Hi Stuart, thanks for these kind words and beautiful story during this difficult time. During these days filled with anxiety, I have been thinking of the difficult times I have faced in the past and how, as Ms. Wade reminded you, I had to keep my hand on the plow. When my son was diagnosed with a stroke at eight months old, we were confused and scared. I had no idea what to expect and worried about everything. I eventually learned that I had to focus on what I could do each day. I learned to do what I could in the moment and the little things I could do to plan ahead- but not spend my energy trying to control things that were out of my control. (it took a long time to get there) Those mustard seed moments! I didn’t always see results immediately, but last year I watched my son (now sixteen years old) walk out of the children’s hospital with a skip in his step after the doctor said he no longer needed a leg brace! It was a huge moment that all those little things added to along the way…and what an uphill climb it was. There are things I still cannot change, but every victory (big or small) is a celebration. So, how will worrying about the things we can’t control, help us? It won’t. All we can do is our best, follow recommendations, and use common sense. Maybe they’ll help us avoid the battle, but maybe they’ll help us in the battle. Like you said- we don’t know the outcome. I do know that stressing, losing sleep, and constant information overload will not help us fight this illness if it happens to us. Like you explained here, worrying will not change our outcome but we CAN keep our hand on the plow. Thanks again for writing this and for sharing Ms. Wade’s words of encouragement! I wish you good health during this time- but mostly- resilience. Take care!

  31. petespringerauthor

    What a great life lesson! The world needs more Ms. Wades. If we got fired anytime we made a mistake, unemployment would be at an all-time high. People shouldn’t get into trouble for admitting a mistake, but they should lose their job if they try to cover it up or makes someone else take the fall.

    • Thanks Peter! And I agree. I didn’t cover it up because I didn’t know I’d done it until they audited the cash register, or whatever they did at the time! I suppose they understood and since I kept working they thought oh well, he must be ok. And this was the 1980s… a very different time! Thanks for the comment!

  32. What a delightful post! It was most encouraging when all around us are full of doom and gloom.

  33. What a sweet story, yet again. To me, Ms. Wade exemplifies the esoteric wisdom of “Be here now,” meaning that true power is in the present. You can’t control the past or future, but you can sow that “mustard seed” in the present by staying focused on the current challenge.

    Meanwhile, you can turn off the TV for your health and sanity.

  34. Your words are so true! Hang in there, we’ll all get through this together -#whilestayingapart

  35. Good advice and excellent storytelling, Stuart. Thank you so much.

  36. Great words of wisdom. Thanks for applying your story to the struggle we experience today – staying home, considered the best thing to do, and having no idea what the future holds. Carry on, Stuart !!

  37. Thank you. I’m holding on too!🙂

  38. Lovely piece. A “mustard seed moment.” Perfect. Thank you!

  39. Excellent advice! This is a great piece, Stuart.

  40. tucker perkins

    so well written and such a timely story. well done Stuart!! we need more of this!! get your hand on the keyboard!

  41. Mariana

    I think we can all relate to needing to turn away from the news when they become too overwhelming. Thanks for the reminder, Stu! I look forward to giving you and F a big hug when this is all behind us! in the meantime, please keep writing. Your words are an inspiration to all of us!

  42. Holding on – and grateful for everyone else doing the same. Together we push forward, and that is so much better than the alternative. A wise lady you met all those years ago. (It’s okay to turn your eyes away from seeing all the field all the time too). Thanks for sharing.

  43. Beautiful and meaningful storytelling. Thank you so much for sharing! I have had a few tough moments in life where others have asked “how did you get through that?” My answer was always that there really isn’t any other option. If you don’t keep going you never find the other side. “Mustard seed moments” indeed.

  44. Love reading your stories again Stuart. And I couldn’t agree more about these anxious times we live in.
    Gotta just keep in keepin’ on.

  45. Thank you! This really encouraged me.

  46. Pingback: This and That and a Blogging Schedule | Chelsea Ann Owens

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