Some of the most accomplished individuals are those who forge ahead in silence. Songwriter Frank Ocean’s words that have stayed with me touches on this. “Work hard in silence. Let success make the noise.” Few who spend their life singing their own praises or complaining about how tough they have it are putting in the work that matters.
Any good coach will tell a kid to work hard — good things come to those who hustle. How is it that some are born with this realization, and find a way to quietly build a thriving life with so little, while others who are born into excess can so easily fritter it away?
The question poses an interesting study of human nature. I spent a large part of my childhood working beside my father, a man who was so productive but so often silent that it forced deeper thought. A ridiculous statement by one of us might bring the most subtle nod from him, a slight lifting of the head that silently said, “Hm … are you sure that’s the way to look at this situation?”
He made us reconsider any particular challenge without a single word ever said. Emily Dickinson once wrote, “Saying nothing sometimes says the most.” I think that type of wisdom must have somehow been born into my father. Silence isn’t always empty. Sometimes there are big realizations reached in those silent moments.
When my parents married in 1951, they moved to a farm that they would operate on the shares. Dad was 19, and owned a small tractor and a few very used implements. My mom left the home where she had grown up, moving to this no-frills rental house with no running water.
Dad pumped and carried water to the house in between chores and his full-time job. Mom sewed curtains for the old windows, heated water on the stove, and kept an old wringer washer busy.
“We had nothing, but that proves it was true love!” my mother still says with a laugh. Two years later, they would bring their first baby to that home, and my dad said this began the happiest years of his life.
Mom says that she had complete faith in this quiet young man who was wise beyond his years. He had solid ethics and impressive business sense with the drive to build a successful life with his bride by his side. Just recently, my mother said there were many times when Dad was lost in thought, setting pencil to paper as he contemplated how to turn a dime into a dollar.
“I knew to let him be,” she said. “A meaningful silence meant he was working on answers. I never questioned his decisions, because I had full faith in him.”
As I’ve grown older, I realize how much my parents accomplished in such a short lifetime. They had just celebrated 44 years of marriage when my father died at the age of 63. He had purchased six farms and turned many dimes into dollars. He did it by putting in long days and short nights, quietly keeping his shoulder to the plow.
I’ll never forget one evening in the milking parlor, somewhere around 1975. I was busy sanitizing the pipeline and the milking inflations when Dad walked in, just returning from his accountant.
“She tells me I’m a rich man,” he said with a chuckle. “We will be paying a considerable amount of money in taxes … we’ve had a good year.”
He said there was selfishness in complaining about paying taxes when good things were being accomplished.
“There’s one thing I’ve learned from farming,” he said. “If you have a big bill to pay, be grateful you have the money to pay it.”
Those words have stayed with me over the years. I’ve learned to be grateful as I pay the bills. I’ve learned to treasure the solace of a farm, sharing a happy life with a good husband. I have learned that wisdom, and joy, grows in quiet places. And that, I know for sure, is worth more than silver and gold.
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