One of the places we lived when I was a child was an old antebellum house in Georgia that survived Sherman’s march to the sea. A former carriage road ran in front of the graceful (but falling down) house which was serviced by an outhouse just off the carriage road. The house had no bathroom, no running water. A log cabin off to one side of the house and surrounded by a sea of yellow daffodils in the spring was the first slave cabin in our county. The house had history galore…but no comfort.
The highway ran behind the house instead of in front of it. Every school morning we had a long trek down the red clay driveway to the bus stop. Because the field surrounding the house was by default our front yard, one of my jobs was to mow it with a push mower. Mowing the actual front yard that adjoined the carriage road was a relatively quick and easy job except for twice—once when a swarm of bees took objection to the mower and once when I moved some debris out of the way and unknowingly disturbed a wasp nest. Mowing the three-acre back yard/front yard, however, was pretty much an all-day job.
No one else in the family—parents, grandmother, six younger siblings—wanted to mow. They rather questioned my sanity for enjoying the arduous task. That’s because they didn’t know my secret.
My secret was that even though I pushed the mower through grass and weeds, picking up rocks that were in the path, and avoiding harmless snakes and baby rabbits—I wasn’t just mowing the yard. I was building stories. With every forward thrust of the mower characters emerged and conversations evolved. Every time I tugged the mower to life with the pull rope and started through the enormous field—new stories, new conversations, new book plots materialized from the green expanse in front of me.
I don’t remember if I ever came in from mowing and wrote down any of the stories. I rather doubt it. I was probably too hot, too tired, too sweaty—and with no running water in the house and no bathroom—I couldn’t jump into the shower and wash off the sweat. With a household of ten and no privacy, baths were sponge baths in a basin and timing them right for the sake of modesty was challenging. Nonetheless, I loved to mow. I still do.
Any physical task that requires more brawn than brain is an ideal opportunity to people my head with characters, conversations, and story plots. It’s not work, it’s not a chore—it’s an exercise in imagination building.
The Bible says, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do with all your might,” Ecclesiastes 9:10.
Work presents an opportunity for imagination building.