The Cracker Barrel: With the help of my friends

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Craig Nagel, Columnist

We’ve all had them—those early-in-the-morning (or maybe middle-of-the-night) times—when, lying abed between sleep and wakefulness, moments of insight arrive fully formed in the brain. My most recent one occurred the day before Thanksgiving, when the names and faces of dozens of people I’ve known began scrolling through my head.

It took me a while to understand what was happening. But gradually things began to form a pattern, and I realized that every face that appeared belonged to someone who had helped me.

Well, that might be stretching things a bit. Some of the people I was seeing could hardly be considered friends. And some I hadn’t seen for decades. Mister Buscher, for example. When I was a kid, Mister Buscher’s back yard abutted our own and one day, watching me weeding the garden, he called over the fence and asked if I wanted to work for him.

“Doing what?” I asked.

“Cutting down weeds in my yard,” he said. “The ones growing against the fence. I’ve got an old scythe you can use. I’ll leave it on the back porch.”


The next day, after he’d gone off to work, I set to work—and halfway through the job I hit a hidden rock and broke the blade of the scythe. Did I place the broken parts back on the porch and explain what happened when Mister Buscher came home? Or did I conceal the pieces in the weeds and hide out for the better part of a month until our paths crossed and I finally admitted what happened and offered to pay for the tool.

“No big deal,” said Mister Buscher. “It was an old scythe anyway. What do I owe you for your work?”

“Nothing,” I said, so deeply relieved I can still feel tremors of thanks decades later. And thinking about it, I realized my thanks was as much for a lesson learned as it was for not having to pay for the tool.

Lying abed, I realized that none of us gets through life without the help of others. Lots of others. Think about it. Even if you happen to be skilled at dozens of tasks, your well-being depends on the efforts of others. The parents who raised you. The mate you share your life with. The brothers and sisters, the aunts and uncles, the grandpas and grandmas, the pastors or priests, the teachers, the coaches, the mentors, the bosses, the fellow workers, the teammates and even the opposition—all have a hand in shaping and aiding your life.

And the list of helpers doesn’t end there. Dozens of people you’ll never meet built the car you drive. Dozens more probably grew much of the food you eat, made the clothes you wear, the tools and appliances you rely on, the medicines you swallow, the TV shows you watch, the songs you dance or sing or tap your foot to, the books and magazines you enjoy, the paintings and sculptures you take delight in, the sports teams you cheer for, the individual athletes you revere.

The more you reflect upon it, the more you have to admit how foolish it is to think that any of us are “self made,” or that we’ve somehow outwitted gravity and lifted ourselves up by our bootstraps.

As the old Beatles song has it, we get by with the help of our friends. And neighbors. And all our other fellow citizens, even ones who belong to the wrong political party, or go to the wrong church, or don’t go to church at all, or have different-colored skin, or favor Fords instead of Chevys or Toyotas. Or Jeeps.


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