God is in the details

September 4, 2020

I can stop wishing for a tornado.

 

We painted our farm buildings.

 

Let me explain. 

 

For a hundred years or so, this was a real farm, with half a dozen different barns and buildings scattered around the grounds, most of which I built or helped build. Over time, they all got a little beat up. If you back a grinder mixer through a narrow doorway a few thousand times, the edges are liable to get battered. If you need to put in another bulk bin, you don’t worry too much about the hole the auger leaves in the side of a hog house. And if you build onto a building three times over three decades, the fact that each time you use brown painted steel does NOT mean the steel is going to end up the same color.

The farming ship has sailed. The buildings that remain are all used for different purposes, and even I had to admit they were looking a little tacky.

 

Plan A was for a tornado to sweep away the buildings without bothering the house, garage or chicken coop. I realize that was kind of a specific ask, but this is 2020 – I’m thinking anything is possible.

 

Didn’t work out. It’s not that there haven’t been storms all around us, and it’s not that there haven’t been people all over who’ve suffered horrible losses they DIDN’T want to occur. It’s just that my ugly buildings were still intact.

 

So, we bought twelve gallons of paint. I spent a day cutting down all the weeds and saplings that had grown up around the buildings, dug the paint sprayer out of the shop, and spent another day and a half slapping on a coat of Pewter Gray.

 

They looked better.

 

But not that good.  So, John Updike.

 

I’m not saying John Updike is the patron saint of aging hog houses, but he is the guy who wrote the essay about Ted Williams with the lines, “…the tissue thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.”

 

In my case, I think he was talking about trim. 

 

We’d used up the Pewter Gray, so we bought a couple gallons of Tarnished Silver - basically the same color, but with an extra couple shots of black in the mix.

 

I don’t know if the world is a better place because there’s Pewter and Tarnished Silver as opposed to Light Gray and Dark Gray, but nobody asked me.

 

It took us twice as long to do the trim as it did to do the main walls, in part because a week ago my orthopedic surgeon suggested that for the time being, it might be best not to fall off any ladders. It seemed like solid advice.

 

When we finished, the buildings looked about 200% better.

There’s the lesson. The old proverb, “The devil is in the details,” isn’t actually that old. It dates back only thirty years or so. Before then, the quote is in German and it reads, “God is in the details.” It supposedly comes from a German architect named Ludwid Van Der Mehr. I like his version a lot better.

 

Either one works, because dealing with a million tiny details can seem like the devil’s work. On the other hand, putting in the time to make something as good as it can be certainly feels like the work of the Lord.

This is new territory to me. As a farmer, I always wanted to do the best job I could, but Mother Nature always set deadlines that determined how much time I could spend on any one project. As a writer, I’m always searching for the best words, but by 8:00 a.m. Tuesday morning, my column has to be on its way, perfect or not. It actually felt kind of good to say, “Well, we’ll be done when we’re done.”

 

God is in the details, and spending a little extra time on the trim can often be the difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.

 

Copyright 2020 Brent Olson

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