“Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring.” Proverbs 27:1
The writer of these proverbs must have known this truth through experience, don’t you think? Better yet, he must have seen unexpected events and circumstances which brought him to his knees, much like our current reality, as we struggle through yet another surge of COVID-19 cases.
In the early months, deemed essential by the powers that be, we in rural America carried on without so much as a hint that anything had interfered with the status quo. We went about our morning chores, feeding cattle and taking care of their needs, fixing fences, and talking with family, neighbors and friends who came by.
Spring planting, wheat harvest, scouting fields — all activities continued as though the pandemic was the scourge of mega cities like New York City, Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle.
Two months ago, I could rely on my own judgement whether a face mask was necessary when working with folks who crossed my path while working in the fields, my shop or while picking up farm supplies.
Today, my approach to COVID-19 changed.
Concerns over spread
Rural America is currently the number one hotspot in the nation, posting the highest infection rates and death rates per capita than anywhere else.
I know people struggling with the ravages of this virus. They require oxygen 24-7. They are dealing not only with pneumonia, but also needing medicine to stem attacks on their vital organs. This battle may also require a lifetime of medical assistance as the virus damages internal organs to the point where they cannot be restored to full health.
So, now is not the time to risk not only my life, but also the lives of everyone I meet while at home or on the farm. After several close calls with friends and even with folks who work for me on a part-time basis, we are observing safety protocols. That said, I cannot defeat this virus alone. It requires a cooperative effort of every single individual within our communities.
Help others in need
There will be pressing issues requiring our attention in the days ahead.
Farmers testing positive require bed rest, oxygen, medication, and in some cases, hospitalization. They also need assistance completing farm chores, whether it is feeding livestock or harvesting crops.
This is where folks who are still healthy become an essential part of their community, by being the hands and feet for those who are unable to complete those tasks.
If you are part of this army of people providing necessary labor and skills to assist other families, we, the people of rural America say, “Thank you.” I understand the incredible value of families helping other families when harvesting crops must take place. I have been there on the receiving end of this wonderful, compassionate tradition.
Safety at festivities
The truly difficult time comes as we begin to celebrate Christmas.
Family and friends have long been the most important component of any get-together during the holidays. We are a highly social species; we humans are without a doubt desirous of human interaction which strengthens familial bonds.
So, what happens now, with COVID-19 safety measures such as social distancing and mask wearing? How will we celebrate Christmas this year? As one Twitter friend responded, “within a bubble of protection.”
Despite a self-imposed absence of family and friends, I have always maintained a family friendly atmosphere in my surroundings. My cellphone, iPad, PC, and my office walls and the walls of our home have always been used to display pictures of family.
On my iPad, I have files of music playlists, each aptly named after our granddaughters — Grace, Lucia and friends, and Eva, beautiful child of God. Their images remind me what is truly important in this world. Each time I engage the playlist, I see them and give them another gentle hug in my heart.
This Christmas season, let us remember the reason for celebration. Christ Jesus, the holy Son of God, came down to earth, born of a virgin, to set his eyes towards his glorious act of the redemption of man. We can only do one thing in response: we bow the knee, acknowledging our sinful state and submit to his redemptive work.
Penner is a Marion County farmer and past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.