In the early 1900s, before the age of superhighways, supermarkets, and the giant food manufacturers, things were very different, better in many ways. Small family farmers used to truck or cart each season’s harvest to a small centralized buyers’ market that had been set up in their area. Some farmers, more isolated than others, had to travel great distances just to sell their crops. For these hardy people who lived and worked the small outlying farms, this was about the only time they would see any other people outside of their own families. Everyone looked forward to going to these great open markets. There were crafts to exchange and store-bought goods to buy, the newest catalogs to see, and the warmth of at least a thousand hellos. All of this, plus the hard-earned financial rewards that came with the close of another season, made the marketing of their harvest an exciting, happy time for everyone involved.
That’s why, as he stood there taking the whole festival feeling in, the old farmer couldn’t understand why anyone should be standing around looking tired and distressed. But sure enough, leaning up against the side of one of the large tented areas stood a very unhappy young farmer.
“What could possibly be this boy’s problem?” the old man wondered to himself. The recent weather had been more than kind, and every farmer at the market, including this young man, had brought in a bumper crop. He thought about it for a moment and decided to do the neighborly thing. He walked over to the young man.
“Anything I can help you with?” he asked, as gently as he knew how. When he got no response, he tried another approach. “Hope you don’t mind me asking. It’s just that you look like maybe you could use a helping hand.”
The young farmer looked up at his elder without raising his head. “Thanks, but there’s nothing you can do to help.”
“How do you know?” the old man asked.
A long moment passed, then the young farmer spoke. “You don’t understand,” he said. “It’s that dumb tractor of mine. Dang thing is more trouble than it’s worth.”
“Oh? And what’s wrong with it?”
“I don’t really know. It’s harder to use some days than others. The dumb thing just tuckers me out sometimes to where me and my family don’t want to farm anymore.”
Something wasn’t adding up in the mind of the old farmer as he listened to the young man speak. “Harder to use, you say? Maybe I could take a look at it sometime. I’m pretty fair with these new contraptions.”
“Sure,” the young man’s eyes brightened momentarily, “but I don’t think there’s much you can do. We’d be pleased to have you come by anyway, and we’ll fix you a nice supper for your trouble.”
So they exchanged directions.
A few short weeks later, after half a day’s travel, the old farmer rolled his horse-drawn, tool-laden cart onto the young man’s farmland. Straight ahead of him in a distant field he could see the young farmer and his wife, along with their two sons. They were struggling to push a small tractor along the raised crop beds.
“Hello!” the old man cried out as his cart drew into hearing range. “She’s still not running right, I see.”
The young farmer smiled back at him and said, “What do you mean? It’s going pretty good today!”
The old farmer sat there, shocked, for a moment. It just couldn’t be. He knew he had to ask the next question, but he had a hard time getting the words out.
“Do you mean to tell me,” the old man tried to find the right pitch, “that you always push this tractor to make it work?”
The young man looked back at him as though a little irritated with such a stupid question. “Well, how else do you get it to do what you want?”
Realizing everything all at once about the young man’s deep weariness and defeated appearance earlier on at the farmers’ market, the old farmer said as calmly as he knew how, “My son, a tractor is something you are meant to ride on, not push!”
It took quite a bit of explaining, several trips to town, and a lot of greasy work, but by the time the old man finally said farewell to the young man and his family, the small tractor was up and running in high gear. And so was everyone’s spirit. At last, everything was as it was intended to be. Life was good.
I realize, as I am sure you do, that such a story probably never did or ever could happen. However, this tale of the misunderstood tractor contains a highly valuable lesson for anyone who is genuinely tired of pushing against life. Let’s look at this lesson and see what it teaches us about our everyday experience: stress exists because we insist! It’s really that simple. It is our mistaken belief that we must push life in the direction we choose that keeps us in a strained and unhappy relationship with it. Our wish to have power over life comes from this wrong relationship with life. Reality has its own effortless course, and we can either embrace its way or struggle endlessly with our own. We do not need power to flow. In other words, why push when we can learn to ride?
With a new kind of effort, we can climb aboard an entirely new kind of life that always has fair skies and the wind at its back.