Aftereffects

Alone behind a mule in a stranger’s black-dirt field, the sweating boy used all his strength to lift the plow and start another furrow.

Something happened then that changed your life forever.

The mule shifted, the harness tugged, the boy slipped, the plow blade fell and the boy’s foot was sliced in half from front to back. Medicine was crude in East Texas during the Depression. They saved the foot somehow, but only at the cost of missing bones and toes piled up together. The boy’s plowing days were over. He stayed at home and did his best not to be a burden to his mother and his sisters. While his share-cropping father and brothers labored in other men’s fields, the boy read and learned. Unable to make his living behind a mule, he harnessed words and set them to work. He became a smooth-talking salesman and ended up making more money for the family than his father and his brothers combined. Then, twenty-eight years after he split his foot with a plow, he himself became a father. He taught his son to love words. And eighty years after that plow fell in that East Texas field the boy’s son wrote the very words you are now reading, words which have already changed you, however slightly.

How have you changed? Well, now you know a little something that you did not know before, and because you know about that poor boy and his plow and foot and words, you will think of some things just the slightest bit differently from now on. That small difference will influence someone else, however slightly, and they in turn will touch still other lives, and so on and on forever. Everything we do has an aftereffect.

Sometimes when I think these big thoughts, I get melancholy. Thankfully, it’s too late for a mid-life crisis, but after living more than half a century I do wonder sometimes if my living was worthwhile. There are so many things I could have done better, or should have done, or should not have done. I think of great men who built nations or cured diseases or led multitudes to faith, and realize I have lived a mediocre life by comparison. I have dwelt too long on trivialities. I have wasted months and years on naps, complaints, pulp fiction and television. It is too late now for so many things I might have done: so many wonderful, glorious, important things.

And yet there is still hope, because my father dropped a plow some eighty years ago, therefore you are reading this.

If I step outside my door today, and speak kindly to a stranger at just the proper moment, might that minor kindness have a similar long-term effect? Might a small act of forgiveness, a moment’s pause to help, or a little unexpected gift send ripples through eternity? Who knows the aftereffects of everyday behavior? Only God could know it all, of course. But such things will have some effect on others, for better or for worse, and as long as people influence people even slightly, the aftereffects will ripple on and on.

Think of a man and woman eating forbidden fruit, and the immediate effect: "Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life… By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground.” At the dawn of human history came forbidden fruit, and then the curse, and then countless other aftereffects until a sweating boy in painful toil slipped and dropped a plow. Now here you are, reading this, and changing.

How wonderful this is! It means anyone at all can leave a splendid legacy. We may be getting old. We may have wasted half a life or more. We may be lame and crippled. But it takes countless little acts of love rippling through time to shape and mold the ones who will build nations, cure diseases and lead multitudes to faith. A piece of stolen fruit, a curse for countless years, a boy who made the best of things, a son who wrote a few words on the Internet, and now it’s down to you. You are not insignificant. Even your smallest acts are everlasting.

Let love be your aftereffect.

Posted byAthol Dickson at 10:20 AM  

2 comments:

Kay said... February 4, 2008 at 11:01 AM  

I've been thinking a lot about this lately.
Very good.

Nicole said... February 4, 2008 at 11:43 AM  

And, thus, you have summed up the very reason for why I write. To transfer one tiny nourishment of truth to someone, anyone, who is starving for it. Please, God, let me bear your fruit.

So meaningful to know of your and your father's history.

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