I sat beside an elderly man months ago. The wrinkles upon his face were so deep that even his sweat became trapped between them. He never wiped the sweat away "Why waste my energy" he would say "they only come back again". Then he would laugh with his deep familiar raspy laugh.
He could be found on most warm and hot days sitting in his wooden rocking chair upon his old wooden porch. He would rock slowly forward and back in almost a rhythmic beat. His pace never changed which means the creaking of his chair also remained the same pace and rhythm.
The shadow from the sun striking his overhanging porch ceiling supplied all the shadow he needed. The water to his right rested on his old coaster sitting on top of the wooden table he had built many decades ago. The waters glass seemed to be imitating him as the glass would sweat down the side as the ice within would melt away from the heat.
I never spoke first. He is my elder. When he would want to speak, when he had something to say, he would let me know. Between the beats supplied by the creaking of his rocking stair, he began his conversation. "Ikie", he would call me, "For over 70 years I would wake up long before the sun would rise and I would be dag burn out there working on the farm or my daddy's field until long after the sun would set. There was always work to do" he would say. "Daddy would tell me to not to forget to feed the hogs. But before I could feed the hogs I would have to husk the corn and get their feed ready. We didn't have none of this stuff you have today. No we just use our hands and get the job done."
This elderly man would reminisce back 70 plus years and remember them like it was yesterday, but truly remembering yesterday was more difficult for him.
"Ikie today you all complain if you get up at 6 am and get off work at 5 pm. I just don't understand it. You (he often said "you" when he was speaking of a different generation) complain you don't get paid enough but don't want to work long enough to get the pay." He lifted up his wrinkled hands "Look at these. I don't need to tell you about them. Just looking at them tells you the story. You see these right here?" He was pointing to the callouses on his right hand. "And these right here" pointing to the ones on his left. "I earned every single one of them. Built them up to have them ripped off to build them up again. Where are yours?" I slowly lifted my hands to reveal the callouses that I too had. "You can't fool me. I am old but not that old", he said laughing. "Dem right there (referring to the callouses on my hands) are babies" he would say laughingly. "You got them for working those weights you do. I got mine from working, and from that work I got this right here." His eyes looked up and around the porch proud of the home he built. "You, (there he goes speaking of a generation of people again) got all these things but you don't own nothing. Some may say this ain't much, but its mine and I worked for it and I built it myself with my friends." Even in his advanced years the pride shown through upon his face.
“Ikie, I want you to get calloused up. I want your hands calloused up by your work. Nobody can take that away from you. I had people take a lot from me over my 90 some years." He didn't mention his exact age because he could not remember. He just knew that he has been on this earth for over 90 years. "But they could never take those", again turning up his palms and showing the results of his work. "Don't let anyone take yours. They can't if you earned them. They are yours forever and so are the stories that brought them."
He fell silent for a while as he continued to rock in his chair. "I know I am old now but I know I earned everything I got and I supplied for my family. Um Hum, I always supplied. We may not of had a lot but we always had something cuz I worked to get it."
As he again fell silent I began to reflect upon the few decades I have been on this earth. Have I truly been working or just doing enough to get those little babies on the palms on my hands that I call callouses. I guess it truly doesn't matter how hard I say I worked. Using his words as the example, the proof will be upon something as simple as my hands.
How do you measure your work ethic? Do you measure at all? Are you chasing the dream of having everything while living the reality of owing everyone?
We had many more talks like that before the day he died. What a life well lived. What a true example of true work ethic. I learned that work ethic can also be described as one thing "consistency". Doing it over and over and over and over and over again. With that work ethic and with that consistency, your results will be easily seen by all.
The result that is yours that no one can ever take away. For some it may be a trophy. For him, and for me, it is revealed by the callouses upon our hands.
My hope is that you will begin to build yours.