Growing up, I used to enjoy reading Erma Bombeck’s columns and books. While I didn’t fully appreciate her commentary on parenting until I was older, even in my teens I found Erma’s writing entertaining and informative. She reminded me to find the humor in everyday life, and that sort of outlook comes in handy now that I have a houseful of kids.
One column in particular spoke to me. Years ago, Erma wrote a column, “Sometimes There’s No Audience.” I cut it out posted it on my bulletin board. When I moved, I took the column down and carried it in my wallet for years. That column is now creased and yellowed, its folded lines frayed by time and wear. For reasons that escape me, my favorite column now resides in my sewing box where I see it every time I start a new project.
In that long-ago piece, Erma wrote, “We don’t always have an audience for our talents. Sometimes there is no one to applaud or rise to his feet when we do our jobs. We don’t hear anyone breathing out there. It doesn’t mean no one appreciates us. It doesn’t mean that what we do isn’t important. All it means is that the instant rewards aren’t always there.”
I thought about that old clipping one summer as the Yuba Sutter Fair was winding down. We have often enjoyed looking at the animals at the fair, but 2012 was the first time I went to observe the judging. I had no idea what the judges might be looking for, but I knew — from talking to a friend — all the work that had gone into those animals.
Simply raising an animal requires a lot of work. Adding in the showmanship piece increases that work exponentially. I also know that it is hard to send an animal off to the butcher, even when that was the plan all along.
The hard truth is that not everyone makes a profit.
The FFA and 4-H members who show animals invest so much of themselves into their fair projects. Operating at a loss or simply breaking even adds its own level of heartbreak to the equation. A couple years ago, I knew one of the kids who barely made enough to cover the cost of raising the animal he’d raised. I suspect there were others who weren’t even that lucky.
I heard the story, felt his disappointment, and I was reminded of Erma’s advice. I rummaged around my sewing box to read my favorite column once again. “The instant rewards,” Erma reminded me again, “aren’t always there.” She hadn’t been writing about raising animals, but her long-ago advice is true across so many situations in life.
My kids haven’t been involved in FFA or 4-H, but, like all of us, they’ve had times where their hard work seems to have gone unnoticed and unrewarded. When that happens, I want them to know that the work had value. It might not have been awarded the money or attention that the work deserved, but it was worthy. A hug, a smile and a sympathetic ear help to heal the hurts.
We all have days where we feel overwhelmed and underappreciated. Sometimes there is no audience for our achievements.
And yet, the little things we do matter to someone. Wipe a tear, give a hug, mentor a child, encourage a parent. You might not see the results today or tomorrow, but you’ve planted a seed of kindness that will grow in time.
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