Monday, April 11, 2011

Lawn Tractors, Death and Resurrection: Murray & John

Murray came to live with and work for my grandmother in 1998. I have his papers and pedigree. He was a brand new Murray Select I, with 16.5 hp and a 42" deck, and cost $1,200. He served her long and faithfully. She drove him herself until late into her 80s, mowing the 2-3 acres around the house. Once while she was mowing, a swarm of bees attacked her, stinging her more than a hundred times, almost killing her. That did not prevent her getting back out on the mower and taking care of things herself. She wore a bee hood after that, though. I don't know if Murray required many repairs when my grandmother was working with him, but when I inherited him he was already 10 years old. I figure that's about 75 in human years. He was already blind -- headlights had not worked in some time. I cleaned him up, changed his oil, got him a new battery, and put him back in service.

Murray made frequent trips to the hospital. Once a blade broke. Then the deck broke. The belts broke. The transmission broke. A pulley broke. Tires went flat a couple of times, and once a wheel broke. And one time, the engine gave out in a cloud of white smoke. I thought that was the end. But each time, I figured that a repair would be less expensive than replacing him, so I loaded him in the back of Willie, driving or pushing him (depending on his physical condition) up a ramp made of 2x8's, and taking him to Tractor City on Hwy 97 or Ken's Farm Parts down in Poth. When his engine died, I brought him all the way back to Houston to a repair shop there and had the engine rebuilt. Each time he worked a while longer before something else gave out. I've not kept up with the costs, but I suspect I could have paid for most of a new one by now.

In February he threatened to give up the ghost again. He just would not start. It seemed to be an electrical problem. When I told Melinda it was time to get rid of him, he started again. But when I returned in March he hesitated once more. Finally, he found the gumption to crank up and worked with me for about an hour. I turned him off to go inside and check on the beans, and when I returned, he was dead. I think a new starter might keep him going for a while, but I had already decided that there would be no more trips to the hospital, no more extreme measures. He has served well, but we need to let him go and look for a new hired hand to help keep the place up.

Research led me to Murray's replacement, John (Melinda suggested he be called Juan). I found that he was available just around the corner from me in Waco and so I went to check him out. We negotiated a good price (thank you, Dave Ramsey) and I picked him up to start work on Wednesday. He rode in the back of Willie, all shiny, new, young, strong, and eager to work on a farm like his big brothers on the sales lot. When we got there I backed him down the ramp and he went right to work. I was a bit disappointed in the work before us, since the dry weather hasn't produced much growth. But I wasn't going to bring a new lawn tractor all the way to Floresville and not cut something. He did a great job. I parked him in his new home where he patiently awaits my return in a few weeks to work with him again.

When it was time to go back home, with great effort I managed to get Murray's corpse loaded into the back of Willie one more time. Willie was sad to see his friend in such a state. We brought him back to Waco where the man who had sold us Juan took him off our hands. He will be recycled soon. We will remember him fondly.

I have noticed a theme in recent posts -- aging, mortality, and hope. I'm sure it has to do with approaching 60 soon. Murray is a metaphor, I suppose. We are not machines that can be repaired and sustained infinitely -- transplanting hearts, livers, and kidneys, replacing hips and knees, removing cataracts and being equipped with hearing aids, managing cholesterol with chemicals. We are mortal, finite, "beings-unto-death" according to Heidegger. We are not the only creatures that die, but we are the only ones who live knowing that we shall die. Heidegger says,
If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life - and only then will I be free to become myself.
We are not inherently immortal. I do not believe in the immortality of the soul -- a pagan concept given to early Christianity by the Greeks ("the Trojan horse of Christian theology," William Hendricks used to say to us. "Beware the Greeks even when bearing gifts!") Rather I confess in the words of the Apostles' Creed: "I believe in the resurrection of the body."

Easter is around the corner. Good Friday proclaims our mortality. Death is real. Resurrection Sunday proclaims God's victory over the last enemy, Death. God raised Jesus from the dead. He who raised Jesus will give life to our mortal bodies. Our souls are not inherently immortal. We are dependent on God's gift of eternal life, of resurrection. Unlike lawn tractors, we will be made new.

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