Piles of rocks.
If you were driving by Don Davis’ house, you probably wouldn’t even notice them. And if you did, you likely thought those jagged stones had been deposited there for some sort of project. Heaven knows, when you’re on the ranch in rural Oklahoma, the work never truly ends. It just lingers like old friends at the main street diner, long goodbye-ing until they meet again tomorrow morning.
Indeed, those piles are a work in progress, but they aren’t for a project that anyone had planned. Least of all, Mr. Davis himself.
You see, Don spent his life working the land. A petroleum engineer by trade, he began his career drilling holes in the earth to tease out the nectar beneath, providing heat for homes and fuel for freeways. And, after climbing the ladder in his chosen profession, even owning his own drilling company, he ultimately retired to the family ranch to focus his efforts above the ground, raising cattle and operating a bulldozer business.
The venues may have been different, but it was all rewarding work.
However, as the years passed, time was a double-edged sword for Don. In one sense, it was kind. Giving him a proud list of accomplishments and a growing circle of friends. In another sense, time was cruel. Slowly taking away his mind and the treasures held within.
His daughter, Shannon, is a nurse. Gifted with a nurturing spirit, she was well-equipped to handle the challenges of his failing health. To hear her tell it, even in his decline, there was a part of her dad that never left. As she cared for him over months and years, his easy-going style, salty language, wry sense of humor and warm spirit were all intact. Even as the fog began to roll in and cloud his memory, he continued to show his love in small ways. Washing a load of dishes for her. Leaving a kind note. Or sharing quiet evenings with her on the porch while the dogs and roosters milled about their ankles. Theirs was a special relationship. Dappled in ordinary kindness made extraordinary by time and circumstance.
Eventually names and faces began to fade from memory for Don, replaced by somber silence in response to a world that grew ever more confusing. Moving was a challenge. Communication was labored. Planning was impossible. It was evident that he still wanted to contribute to the good of his farm and family, but his mind and his body simply wouldn’t cooperate.
Except for that one thing.
There you would see him. Head down. Propped up by a walker. Taking short strolls around his property, meandering in ways that would fool even the wisest of GPS systems. Sometimes he might randomly hop into his truck, keyless and curious, examining whatever might be in the glove box. Other times, he might check on a wayward cow or lazy dog. Whatever the case, when his gaze came upon a stone on the ground, he would pick it up,
slowly walk it over to the front of his house,
and drop it on the ground.
At first, it wasn’t much. Just a scattering of rocks. No rhyme or reason. More accident than intention. But slowly it changed shape. One by one. Stone by stone. Hundreds. Maybe thousands. Growing. Forming pyramids until he placed his final stone just a few short weeks ago - his soul passing on from this world to the next.
Although Don’s not here to tell us, I’m fairly certain that as he picked up each rock, he wished he could do more. After all, what’s a single stone to a man who has drilled holes through bedrock and moved mountains of dirt with a bulldozer? Still, he kept at it. Doing this tiny job day after day.
Maybe you’re like me. You feel a nagging pressure to do something significant with your days on this planet. Something to make your mark. Write a bestseller. Save a life. Rescue orphans. Invent something to change the world. And every day as you tear off another page on the calendar, you’ve squandered yet another chance to move a boulder. So many things to accomplish. And so little time left.
How wrong I’ve been.
The way I see it, Don built those piles to show his daughter – and all of us – how to build a life. Over time. Little by little. Each rock representing a small act of kindness.
A smile to a stranger passing by.
Encouragement for a friend who is losing hope.
A hug for someone who hasn’t felt love in a long time.
It’s true that casseroles and compassion may not seem like much in the grand scheme of things. Just pebbles on the earth. But taken together, over the span of a life, they add up to something weighty and meaningful. You might even call it a legacy. Life’s work that lives on.
How do I know?
Because these days, if you’re in the neighborhood, you can find Shannon taking short trips to a tiny cemetery in Ingalls, Oklahoma. It’s peaceful and quiet there. A good spot to talk to God and say whatever she feels. And she talks to her dad, too. Depending on the day, she might even ask him how he feels, just so she can make a joke that he’s likely feeling a bit “stiff”.
After all, Don never wanted things to be too serious.
And there amid the tears and the laughter, you might just watch as she gently opens her hand and lays one of his rocks there beside him as she says good bye. A small gift before heading off to her next shift at the clinic. Where she can offer a hug. Or a smile. Or a joke.
Paying it forward.
Stone by stone.
“Here is a simple rule of thumb for behavior: Ask yourself what you want people to do for you; then grab the initiative and do it for them! If you only love the lovable, do you expect a pat on the back? Run-of-the-mill sinners do that. If you only help those who help you, do you expect a medal? Garden-variety sinners do that. If you only give for what you hope to get out of it, do you think that’s charity? The stingiest of pawnbrokers does that. “I tell you, love your enemies. Help and give without expecting a return. You’ll never—I promise—regret it. Luke 6: 31-35 (The Message)
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