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