Lives Worth Keeping

We really didn’t belong out there. We were doing stress-management seminars for rural folks during the farm crisis of the 1980s. I knew stress well—been to the doctor a couple of times. I had studied the literature, talked to people, wrote a booklet about it, and had done seminars on the subject. It was our burden for the farmers that motivated me to focus on farmers.

Not until this moment have I made the connection. The people across the street from my boyhood home were the first folks in my world that had a TV. Test pattern mostly. The “folks” consisted of a single son and his mother. He lived in town and worked his two farms. My sister and I were at their house almost daily to watch TV. We knew them well. There was a murder and my farmer friend hung himself in his barn. I was about ten. Descriptive motivational words—anger, holding a grudge and pressure. I can’t be sure, but I wonder if the memory of “pressure” translated into stress and what it cost that family stirred me to focus on farmers?

I knew the guys who needed the message would probably not show up, but their wives sisters and mothers would. I was pleased that some of the men who had been through foreclosure came and some talked about their experiences. We went to 8-10 states and we were treated graciously. I hope those fine folks understood even though we had never lost a farm, we knew a small percentage of what they were feeling and most of all that we wanted to “be there” for them. I wrote a magazine article about the value of manure on boots.

We went to Georgia because a high-visibility pastor believed we had a message that could help. In more than one of those places I felt like a Yankee that had no business being there. I felt like a carpet bagger. No one suggested that, but I knew how thin my experience was compared to some of the folks I was talking to.

We heard so many stories about suicides. Nine hundred Upper Midwest farmers died by suicide in those days. I felt like a fraud. It wasn’t that I didn’t know the words; it wasn’t that I didn’t believe the stories I told. I had a conversation with a Georgia County Agent who had appeared on ABC Evening News. He told me the best healing voice was the person who had been through a foreclosure and would go visit a couple who was starting over when they should have been thinking about retirement. The words spoken or heard “I’ve been there” adds a tone of authenticity. The power of manure on boots.

Something happened to me today. I read an article on vox.com entitled “Farmers Have a Horrifying Suicide Rate.” I re-lived those terrible days of the 1980s. My body reacted as I remembered. All we had to go on was the belief that God could do a work in those breaking hearts if we made Him visible and available. We gave them some tools that worked for us when we chose to let them and when we worked them.

Some experts say that suicide among farmers is twice the national rate. It is the second highest of any job today. As I think of the drought in California, my concern increases. I don’t know many farmers anymore. It has been too long since I had manure on my boots.

The article featured an Oklahoma crisis counselor named Mona Lee Brock. She is now 83 and retired. Let me quote a couple of lines:

“For years (after the crisis) at Christmas time, Brock says she found her office full of yellow roses and poinsettias sent to her from farmers whose lives she convinced were worth keeping.”

“…whose lives…were worth keeping.”

I’m praying for farmers.

Copyright ©2015 D. Dean Benton—writer, wonderer, boot scraper

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