I walked across the hot field, each footstep raising a small cloud of grey dust that coated my tennis shoes. For some reason I felt obligated to contain my walking to the narrow tire track that wound itself through the freshly turned earth, as if stepping outside that path would draw attention to me heading their way.
It was brutally hot by Michigan standards – a perfect July day with heat, humidity, and little breeze. Perfect weather for crabgrass, sow thistle, carpetweed and spurge. Not perfect weather for anyone working against those weeds. The smell of the warm earth, the quiet of the field, the slowly dissipating sounds of traffic as I walked south, away from the road, seemed to increase the power of that heat and magnified my fears. The weather report on the radio cautiously noted a cattle and livestock advisory that was in place – as if most of their listeners had ever been on a farm and knew what that meant. Even more disconcerting was the fact that they worried about cattle and livestock but cared little for the occasional migrant worker who would likely be out in those same fields. At first the gathering dust on my clean shoes was funny, but as the sweat from my forehead began to mix with it, a certain amount of humor began to fade. The walk was long enough that my shirt, now sticking to my chest took on the appearance of a Shar Pei puppy’s folded skin. My hopes of an elegant entrance were dashed by the very heat that motivated me. I now looked out-of-place, ridiculous and a cause for concern.
I drove past them on a whim – I decided to take a long route home that afternoon, windows up – air conditioning on high, speedometer pegged at 55. I was enjoying the weather, enjoying the view, enjoying my wonderful life, when an errant glance caught them. Errant glances have ruined many a life you know. King David’s demise began as an errant glance. President Bill Clinton’s dubious demise began as an errant glance by a photographer. Even Lot’s wife paid a hefty price with an errant glance, one quick look over the shoulder and life, as we know it is no more. My heading into the cultivated field was no less an errant glance. I saw the group, little more than a dozen – heads down, clustered close together, all looking odd in long-sleeved shirts, long pants, big hats and each with his own hoe, all this compared to the hundred acre field they were in. My errant glance reminded me of a Gustave Courbet painting of The Stone Breakers – a painting of French peasants, as unglamorous as the tasks they were performing, working in typical garb of the day and amazingly similar to the garb I was now seeing.
I sped past them initially; I needed to get home to see how it was going with Bethany. I knew the helper was there but having help and having help that can deal with her are two different things. Frequently, we need to help the helper work with the helpless. Anyone who’s read anything bout Bethany could surely understand how migrant laborers in a hot green pepper field is clearly not my problem. Who could blame me for speeding by, perhaps offering a prayer on their behalf? Nothing wrong in that – in fact, it would be unchristian to offer anything less, so I drove on. I said the prayer but it had a way of falling dry and meaningless from my lips. Like yelling in an anechoic chamber, the words are literally sucked into a void and you hear nothing, as does anyone else. I drove on, figuring that I’d forget and God would provide.
Those errant glances, the way it worked on King David; likely a simple glance of a nice leg, a well-turned heel, a soft hip. A little too much offered by one, far too much taken by the other. Time has a way of enhancing what the eye records. Its not the initial sighting that dooms you, it’s the perpetual picture in your mind that pulls the trigger. You think about it, you replay it; you change the sequence, the timing, and the risk. You muddle all the variables until you’ve justified your next action and the ones after that. I am no less guilty. I stopped for gas and that’s when the vision took hold. Top off the tank, go into the convenience store, buy enough cold Coke for the lot of them and get it over with.
I am the woman at the well. I offered the cup of cold water to the stranger and they forgave me of my sins. I assumed I was the savior of them and they reroofed me, accepted me in, corrected my vision and sent me on my way with the joy of forgiveness in my heart. Once I finally made my way across those hot fields to the treeline where they enjoyed the shade, once they made sense of the gringo blanco with the sweaty bottles of soda and package of cups, once they got over the shock that someone cared enough to make this effort, they accepted me. They blessed me. They justified me.
The group of men all smiled, all proudly enjoyed the fruit of their labors, all welcomed me as I was, sweaty, covered in soil. No one at the gas station smiled like this, no one there seemed happy to be working, happy to have a bit of shade. There, from the comfort of air conditioning they complained about the heat, here in the field, complaining about such things is ludicrous. Enjoy this moment. Enjoy the beauty of everything, enjoy the company of others, and enjoy the risk of following your heart.
Nothing in this life is by chance. My prayer for comfort for those men, the way it died on my lips – that was no accident. That was the power of prayer being answered as it’s offered. Jesus, like those laborers in the field knew that’s it ludicrous to talk about the heat when you’re in the heat. He knew that I was the one who was to be both blessing and blessed. “Dios te bendega” was yelled to me once in Peru by some children as I left their encampment, this same blessing was now offered by me to the migrants that caught not only my glance, but my entire heart in a sweltering pepper field on July day in Michigan.