Like you, I’ve been inspired by the many kindnesses shown to those impacted by Hurricane Harvey. Neighbor helping neighbor.
But it shouldn’t take a crisis for us to show love and compassion to those around us.
I have a favorite story about a chance encounter years ago when I was learning to ride a motorcycle – and it happened on Labor Day Weekend. It taught me a lesson I’ll never forget about the opportunity we have as leaders to impact others for good every day. Please enjoy…
“By the fall of 2009, I could confidently say I had made the turn toward a journey mindset that brought balance to my destination style of leadership. I wasn’t there—I’m still not there—but I was on a better course.
So when Labor Day weekend rolled around that September, I had no problem rolling away from my work and enjoying a ride on my bike.
Raye and I met his father, a good friend, and another couple just as the sun came up for a beat-the-heat ride through the Ozark Mountains of Northwest Arkansas. Our self-appointed navigator was born and raised in these hills, so we fell in line behind his Harley as we started out from Fayetteville. The general plan—after a pit stop for biscuits and gravy in Huntsville—was a ride through Newton County, a sparsely populated county with winding highways that are quite popular among cyclists.
The first hour or two of our ride took us through small towns, some beautiful rural areas with tree-covered hillsides, sprawling farms, and tiny churches with inspiring signs like, “We use duct tape to fix everything. God used nails.”
By mid-morning, we decided to stop at a bend in the road called Fallsville. The small gravel lot had a lone white building with a single glass door, and three old-timey gas pumps. No credit card swiping here. You’re gonna have to go in, which was our intention anyway. We needed a stretch.
We discovered the only available restroom didn’t require a key—outhouses apparently don’t need that much protection. As we laughed about this, I noticed not far from us an old pickup sitting under a tree. An overall-clad gentleman was perched on the edge of the passenger’s seat with the door standing open.
Sprawling around the truck were piles of plump green-striped watermelons. I didn’t need a cutting to know they’d been picked at the height of their juicy glory. I decided to wander over for a visit, and Gentleman Gene, as I think of him now, broke into a smile at the prospect of a buyer approaching.
“How’s business,” I asked, curious if he had—or if he really expected—to sell any melons that day.
“Picking up,” he said. “They’re beauties, and better than anything you’ve ever tasted.”
Certainly a convincing argument, especially on a hot summer day.
“You raise pretty melons,” I agreed as I looked them over.
He got out of his seat and leaned on the side of the truck. The entire bed was filled with dozens more melons.
“I’m just trying to get whatever I can for them today,” he went on. “They’re not mine. They’re my neighbor’s.”
Gene, as it turned out, was a proud farmer who just couldn’t stand the thought of letting perfectly good watermelons rot in the field. So he had driven to his neighbor’s house that morning and convinced him to let him load up his truck and come to the gas station to try to find a home for as many as possible.
“Why wouldn’t your neighbor bring them himself,” I asked. Seemed like a nice but strange thing to do, hauling off your neighbor’s bounty. Was his neighbor lazy, tired of eating melons, tired of giving them away?
His answer caught me off guard. “He’s just not up to it this year. He’s got cancer pretty bad. He’ll never make another harvest. This is his last crop.”
A new appreciation for the melons flooded over me, and their natural beauty just shone. Gorgeous shades of green, smooth round skin, plump centers. Just the way they were at rest on top of each other looked as if someone had carefully placed each one in a certain spot to catch the morning’s light through the trees. I began taking pictures of them.
Gentleman Gene went on to tell me how his neighbor had lived off the land his whole life, reaping what he sowed and scraping together enough along the way to feed and clothe fourteen children. An experienced chef after a fashion, he had taught all the women in the area to make homemade sorghum molasses. Gene grinned, “I think the most he ever made in a year was $1,200. Some of it from his melons.”
Our conversation was interrupted by the sound of motorcycle engines. I looked past him to our group. They were putting helmets on and folding maps. Time to get going again. I thanked Gene for his story and apologized for not being able to take some melons with me.
“They don’t make saddle bags big enough for melons,” I said. “But I want you to do something for me.” He leaned forward. “Please tell your neighbor you met someone today who thought these were the most beautiful melons she had ever seen. That she took pictures of them and promised to share their beauty with others.”
He laughed. “That will make him smile, and I haven’t seen him smile in a long time.”
As we rode away, I thought about fall, but not with the welcome anticipation I’d felt that morning. Harvest is a time of plenty but it’s also a time of endings. I never used to think about things winding down in life; I was always too wound up. But of course there is a time of harvest that comes for us all. The real question is what are we harvesting?
Gentleman Gene had done his neighbor a favor, but he’d done one for me, too. It may have been a last crop, but it won’t be one that’s forgotten. ”
P.S. You’ll find this story at the end of Chapter 12 in my book “Leading Through the Turn.”