Posted by: Peadar Ban | August 11, 2010

The Workman Is Worthy of His Hire

A couple of months ago she had been out in her garden pulling up weeds, crab grass, deadly nightshade, something someone told her was Joe Pie weed, and bunches of what-all sneaking through the fence from her neighbor’s yard like hordes of illegal immigrants.  She’s 79 and still spry.  A day or so later she’s got tremendous pain in her left arm.  So, what does she do?  She goes out and pulls up the weeds with her other arm, in the heat, in the humidity.  At the end of the day she’s exhausted.

The pain gets worse, even a couple of ibuprofen only take the edge off.  But, though she can’t pull up any weeds, or do much else, including driving to daily Mass or sleeping through the night, she doesn’t think about going to see a doctor.  There’s two reasons for this.  At her age, pain is a more or less constant companion; pain of one kind or another.  Doctors are, too, and while one isn’t always able to do without the pain, one can put aside the next visit to a doctor.  Besides what can the doctor tell you?  More ominously, what could he tell you?

Time passes while the pain doesn’t and the weeds and brambles in the garden grow, happily free of interference with their undisciplined riot against the flowers; the irises, the gladiolas, the poppies and roses.  Her friends miss her and call.  Friends are known to call her after a few days, even though she has a large family nearby who can be counted on.  They hear the tale and counsel a visit to the doctor, and worry and pray.

June turns into July.  Then August lumbers in, like massed Russian artillery on the Eastern Front, carrying more heat, more humidity, more summertime misery.  It is the hottest summer on record.  Downtown the sidewalk restaurants are booming, and passing by you can catch the odd bit of conversation, always about the heat, often about climate change and sometimes about a grudging acceptance of “that Al Gore and his theories.”  If it was sixty years ago the old movie theater that used to be on Main Street would be doing a bang up business.  She might even be inside on a hot afternoon in the ice cold air-conditioned theater watching, cooling off for a few hours with some of her friends who will have no idea at all what it will be like to live with pain day and night, and wonder what is wrong with them on the odd day when they feel nothing.

After a few weeks, when the pain reaches a level where she cannot even think, cannot even pray, where all there is is pain, a daughter finally compels her to go to the emergency room at the hospital which is only a block or so away.  There the doctor suspects she has had some kind of heart attack.

No, that cannot be.  Her heart is fine!  Her own cardiologist is called and he backs her up. Records are checked confirming both cardiologist and pain wracked patient.  Something else must be the problem.

Upon further examination the doctors finds that all the muscles on the left side of her back are in knots, tightened and bunched up like a pile of snakes in a pit.  This is the cause of her pain, pain translating itself into her left arm, level ten pain that keeps her from thinking, from praying, from fighting weeds; the “heart attack” the ER doc thought she was having.  A few questions later he tells her to avoid any garden work for a while, calls in the PT team and a massage therapist, prescribes some pain killers…which she won’t take when she finally fills the prescription because they make her “fizzy”…and goes off satisfied he’s done some good.

Back at home she relaxes in relative comfort for the first time in a couple of weeks and sleeps the night through, except for those times she awakens thinking about her flower beds and all those weeds.  A survey of the yard the next morning confirms her suspicions.  The gladiolas are disappearing in a jungle of grass and weeds.  The irises have already disappeared, and nothing remains of the poppies, the new roses, the annuals along the borders.  All drowned in a sea of vigorous, undisciplined and wild weeds; a storm of greens and grays and the odd, no doubt dangerously poisonous dark berry bearing, space grabbing monster.

Another week goes by and she can bear it no longer, though her efforts are feeble, and she must stop almost as soon as she’s begun, pain returning and threatening.  On a short trip with some of her friends she mentions this sadness, laments her condition and wonders what she is to do.

He is driving them somewhere, listens to her in the back seat and muses aloud whether or not he might help.  “Would you?”  She asks, the sound of her voice conveying a mixture of hope and joy.  Like that the deal is closed, and dates affixed.  The next morning as the heats grows, as he feels the same weariness, the same stiffness he has felt himself for years he wonders whether he should call her and tell the truth; it was a foolish thing to think he could do.  But his wife prevails on him with the arguments she usually makes in such a situation.

God has a reason for prompting you to do that.,…

So, he goes, and the work is hot, but the gladiolas are free when he has finished, the irises can be seen, and the deep soil beneath some of them, the rich river loam laid down over patient centuries is clear. And she smiles as she brings out a bottle of water just in case he might need a drink, tells him she never thought it would get done.  Then she says, “I’m paying you ten dollars an hour.”

“You aren’t paying me anything.”  “I am,” she says.  “I paid the last fellow ten dollars an hour and I’m paying you the same.”  There is no use, he sees, arguing with her while weeds advance in the summer heat.  Besides he needs the money, who used to earn ten times that much each hour.  “The workman,” he thinks, “is worthy of his hire.”  Smiling, he inclines his head, reaches out and takes the offered water.


  1. Beautiful piece, Peadar, as always.

    • Thank you, Sister, as always.

  2. Indeed the Workman is worthy.

    I find myself thinking, in response, of the fertile soil of the world growing up in weeds and so many hurting people who simply cannot manage to tame the wild growth. Then along comes the Workman; and worthy He is to receive riches, yet how much more He loves the kindness in the offering of water and the gratitude in the smile.


  3. You make me think of my older patients, worrying about their homes and gardens…those of them who remember they once had such things…


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