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Irons in the fire: Great Expectations

Paul Published on 12 November 2014

My son is a senior in high school. Through 27 years of raising kids, I’ve discovered the path through the teenage years is fraught with peril for both parent and child. One of the latest perils we’ve faced is a book report for his honors English class on Charles Dickens’ classic tale, Great Expectations.

I’ve never attempted to read the book, nor do I suppose I’ll ever attempt it in this life. In the next life, if St. Peter sends me downstairs, I may have to spend an eternity browsing Dickens’ classics, but until then I think I’ll steer clear of them.

The closest I’ve come to reading one is when I had to move a copy of A Tale of Two Cities because it was sitting on top of the Baxter Black classic, “Croutons on a Cow Pie.”

Anyway, since my son’s efforts to read the book and write the report are something short of half-hearted (or half some other part of his anatomy), his mother, in her nurturing, motherly way, suggested that as a family we watch the movie to help him understand the book.

So, in the spirit of family harmony, last night we watched half of the movie. Aside from my not being able to understand half the dialogue (spoken in authentic British English), it wasn’t half bad for half of a movie. I’m not sure I understand the whole plot, what with all the weird characters and all, but I think I’m starting to understand the message of the story.

I guess I can give a full report after I’ve watched the second half (assuming I don’t learn much from my son’s book report). Nevertheless, what I’ve gleaned from the story thus far is that no matter the circumstances, one should always be grateful.

Upon further reflection and introspection, I’ve come to the conclusion that gratitude is an underrated and underappreciated virtue.

If you stop to think about it, which is something I think true gratitude requires, I’ll bet you’ll at once be surprised at all you have to be grateful for and may be ashamed of yourself for your lack of gratitude. At least, that’s what I’ve discovered.

It seems I’m always being taught helpful lessons in gratitude, though I probably fail to grasp at least half of those lessons.

Earlier this summer, we were moving cows from some BLM ground to the summer high country on the national forest. We sorted off a couple bulls I didn’t want to send to the mountain and put them through a gate into a pasture where I planned to retrieve them later that day and drive them a couple miles down the hill to the home place.

The drive went relatively smoothly considering the number of baby calves we had and the steepness of the two hills we had to climb. We got the herd through the gate and watched the clouds roll in while we waited for nearly an hour as the cows and calves mothered up.

About the time we got to the pickup and trailer, the clouds busted loose with one of those awe-inspiring Western thunderstorms. Mother Nature’s timing of the storm couldn’t have been better except for the fact that I had to gather up the two bulls and drive them home. No matter, though – these summer thunderstorms never last more than a few minutes.

Everyone but one of my boys and I loaded their horses and piled in the cab of the pickup. One of us was smart enough to have packed a raincoat. I, of course, had no slicker – and I hadn’t worn my chaps that day because I figured it’d be plenty warm and we weren’t going to be in much high brush or real rough country.

We located the bulls and got them headed down the hill without much trouble, but the 15-minute thunderstorm transformed into an hour-and-a-half downpour.

By the time I got to the tack shed to unsaddle my horse, my boots were full of water, my hat felt like a gallon of 2 percent milk on my head, and I was an hour past completely soaked.

I was not in the jolliest of moods, especially when I reached under the front seat of the truck to get the keys and discovered the kids had left a brand-new, still-in-the-package rain slicker right under the driver’s seat. My natural inclination was to throw a fit like a cat in a water fight, but my better senses took a hold of me.

How dare I whine about a rare and oft-prayed-for summer rainstorm in country that so desperately needed moisture? Had I not been so wet and cold, I probably wouldn’t have found the humility that guided me to gratitude. I found myself thankful nearly to the point of tears.

I’d just spent the day with a family who, in spite of my irascibility in the midst of working cows, loves me like only a loyal dog would, doing what most people in the world can only dream of, in some of the prettiest country this side of heaven. It was certainly more goodness than I deserved.

For those of us who are lucky and blessed enough to be working to feed a hungry world in God’s most fruitful and abundant land, there are certainly great expectations. But reasons to be grateful far outweigh the burden.  FG

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