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To glean, or not to glean?

My mother has been gone over twenty years, but it still unnerves me to pass a mirror and see her looking at me.

Where has the time gone? We’ve spent our lives doing everything for ourselves, or for others, and suddenly we can’t do it all anymore.

We came from a different time. Don’t know how to lay brick, repair drywall, hang wallpaper, pull down a high mud-dauber nest, run a log splitter? Then learn how! Read a book, find a mentor, or just bumble around until you get the hang of it.

Now the ladder is high and tippy — the bricks are really heavy — the wasps are now after you. Who will cook dinner if you smash your hand in the log splitter?

We are at the age where we need to learn to glean. Remember Ruth, one of only two books in the Bible named for a woman? She and her mother-in-law Naomi were alone, without support, fairly near desperate.

The Old Testament speaks a lot to the care of the poor and unable, but nowhere more explicitly than the concept of gleaning. When the olives or grapes were picked, the barley or other grain harvested, God’s law mandated the harvester only went through the crop once. They were not to go back for a second run or even to pick up produce that was spilled or dropped. That was left for the gleaners, the less fortunate, the needy.

Ruth, with the help of a distant relative, Boaz, gleaned the food to keep them both alive.

In this time of unemployment, under-employment and economic struggle, it’s time to revive this practice. Since most of us do not have grapes, fruit, olives or grain to harvest and share, we need to come at the concept from a 21st century-angle.

Simply put, we glean when we hire someone to do a job we could — or formerly could — do ourselves. Yes, we did it better, faster and didn’t have to pay anyone to do a job we know how to do. If we see that job given to someone else though — someone younger, stronger, maybe less experienced but willing to learn — we are providing the opportunity to glean. That person will have the ability to help, to share, to provide for their families.

Today’s gleaning may involve firewood gathering and splitting, fence fixing, painting, snow shoveling, yard care, automotive work. A friend called last week to remind us that women need gleaners too — housecleaning, eating out on occasion, getting hair or nails done.

We glean for each other, of course, and call it “caring.”

How would our community improve and thrive if we took the art of gleaning as a sacred act, rather than the last alternative?

When we glean, we do it with joy and humility. Yes, we are allowing others to help us, but we offer them opportunity as well.

Gleaning is an act of self-respect, not a humiliating handout. It is the ultimate win-win for this age.

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