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It’s a soft and pleasant Fourth of July morning.

I don’t know when the rain started coming down. I dimly noticed the sound of drops on the window as I drifted in and out of sleep, but when I got up at 6:00 the puddles were well established.

Puddles in July. Spend a few decades as a farmer on the edge of the prairie and you’ll know just how magical those words can be, and no matter what I do or where I go, inside I’m still a farmer hoping for an inch of rain in July.

I don’t have much of a view out my office window – a bushy black walnut tree, two out of control lilacs, and some unidentifiable-by-me shrubs my wife planted. At this moment it looks like I'm living in the middle of a rain forest - five vivid shades of lush green, an orange cat strolling through my field of vision and nothing else in sight except the corner of the garage. The view does expand after the leaves drop in the fall, but I’m not eager for that.

I’m barefoot, wearing loose white pajama bottoms and a stained tee shirt. My goal is to finish my column early, because later in the day the family is gathering for food and fireworks. I’m also multitasking - writing and relaxing after kind of a long week helping our daughter and her family with an all-hands-on-deck backyard remodeling project that included cleaning up storm damage and making a few improvements, too. One day on the drive home I told my wife, “I think I’m working a little bit harder than someone my age and general level of disrepair should.” Ibuprofen and acetaminophen helped me complete my share of the project and Sunday was spent recovering and getting phone updates of the finishing touches that my daughter and her family put in place.

It’s a good morning for reflection, and I’ve been reflecting on something I saw this week. I was in a store that was running some sort of contest – enter for a chance to win a prize. I don’t know what the prize was, but on my way in, I noticed people signing up, signing up like they meant it, diligently filling in all the lines and putting in as many entries as allowed. Appearances can be deceiving – the wealthiest guy I know often looks like I should sponsor a telethon for him – but these folks looked like they hadn’t won many lotteries in their lives. Stringy unkempt hair, dirty mismatched clothes, and a shopping cart half full of the cheapest possible foods. When I finished my shopping, there was another couple signing up, with the same intent looks on their faces. I went out the door and watched one couple driving off in a $500.00 car, and another trudging up the road, carrying shopping bags that looked too heavy. I didn’t know any of the four people, which always surprises me, having lived over 65 years in a county of fewer than 5,000 people.

I don’t know their stories, don’t know their challenges. I’ve never had a lot of money, but the last time I was hungry because I couldn’t afford to buy food was in 1974. I’ve always had a roof over my head and for at least forty years, I’ve had a job and a reliable vehicle. Nice wife, nice kids, nice grandchildren – nice life. I’m often sad, depressed or sore, but it’s been a long time since I’ve been desperate. It’s a morning for reflection and I’ve been reflecting that I’ve missed these people. And that makes me wonder how many other people I’ve missed, how many others teetering on the edge of a cliff that I just don’t see.

It seems like a reasonable thing to be wondering about on a Fourth of July morning, because as a country we’ve managed to make not seeing each other kind of an art form, looking past and ignoring the pain, worry, and bone deep anger and frustration that fill so many of our fellow citizens.

I’m done with my column now. Time to help finish cleaning the house, get the food set out, and the charcoal and lighter fluid in place. I’m taking the rest of the day off.

Tomorrow, though, tomorrow there’s a lot to do.

Copyright 2022 Brent Olson


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