We arrived early, watched the safety video, hairnetted and gloved and earplugged, and then waited to be assigned our spot on the production line. The lead looked at me and asked me if I minded getting messy. I replied that I did not, then wondered what made him pick me out of a lineup for a messy job. I must look like the messy job type.
He took me over to a vat at the end of a long conveyor belt lined with 15 stations on each side and explained that peaches were going to come off that line cleaned and trimmed and ready to can. Except that they wouldn’t really be. My job was to ensure that no peach pits got into some unsuspecting child’s tiny little mouth. He did not smile or laugh. He leaned forward intensely. I was infused with a profound sense of mission.
He gathered groups of people along the line, giving them those same instructions: no peach pits for unsuspecting children. They nodded and seated themselves with a similar sense of mission. We were one.
Peaches began coming down that conveyor belt very fast. I was frantic as I looked at them. I ran my thumb across the centers as fast as I could, sometimes 3 or 4 a second, and when I found pit shards tried as quickly as possible to remove them and get my focus back on the line so I wouldn’t miss others as they fell into the vat. I worked frantically for long minutes before I found a rhythm, holding the peach up where I could trim, discard, and still see the conveyor belt behind my hands.
I then noticed the older gentleman to my right, seated on a stool and staring around at the snaking apparatus that took peaches from boxes to cans in one progressive series of processes. “Hmmm,” I thought. “I’m curious too, but if you spent more time checking the peaches coming by you, fewer of them would come to me with pits in them, determined to impale the throat of an unsuspecting child.” I quickly refocused on checking for peach pits. I would have to redouble my efforts since my colleague was suffering from ADD.
As the peaches continued to come down the line, I noticed their many different shapes. Some had been trimmed, some were a bit mushy, some still had stems, some were only half the peach. I noticed in the quick glances I would allow myself up the line that the peaches actually came down on two conveyor belts either side of the higher one that was feeding them to me. People were sorting through the peaches, trimming, and tossing the trimmed ones up on my belt. An entire conveyor of peach trimmings was coming down either side and falling in the cart that I was also throwing my trimmings into.
Suddenly I began to see the scope of this work. My colleague to the right of me, seated on his stool and staring about, was the last hope of all those peaches that had grown, because he was the last one who would touch them before they suffered a final judgment: the disposal cart or the saving can. I stole a glance into the cart and saw peaches I never would have thrown away landing down there. “Hmmm,” I thought. “What about all those?! Waste is a terrible thing. You are letting them go because you are not paying attention! You are their last hope! Wake up!”
I tried to refocus on my belt. There are a lot of peaches on here, I told myself. Many, many more than in the cart. I stole another glance at the forlorn, lost ones. Perhaps they were not as choice as I thought the first time, I told myself, seeing squishy spots and darkened flesh. The ones on the belt were beautifully trimmed. I considered that each one had been handled by someone on that line who had done a good job. And as time went on, they were doing a better job and there were fewer pits. I could relax a bit.
I stole another glance at my colleague’s belt. Few choice peaches were coming to him to trim; he mostly sorted through everyone else’s trimmings trying to find salvageable pieces. Sometimes there didn’t seem to be anything he could save. “Aw,” I thought. “That must be a discouraging job.” I noticed that sometimes he reached up on my conveyor belt in his glancing around and trimmed a piece he noticed passing by toward me. My heart grew two sizes and I repented of my “Hmmms.”
Glancing up the line, I saw my son. He was close to the beginning of the belt. Masses of peaches were going by in front of him and he seemed to be just picking out the best ones. My heart was warm for him, doing his best, willing to get out of bed at 6AM, genially choosing good peaches to feed someone. He didn’t seem stressed that he was missing some, because there was an entire line of people after him to make sure every good peach made it up onto the conveyor belt, trimmed and ready for preserving. He had faith in the people who would follow after him.
Sometimes when a pit made it through to me, I thought it might have been a peach handled by my son, and I would quickly divet the pit piece out and think, “he’s doing his best.” Then I remembered the other people I knew there: my bishop, a good friend, her son, an older man in my ward, other friends. Most of the people were strangers, but I knew several of the others well. I began wondering if they were responsible for the beautiful peaches or the ones with shards of pits, accidentally missed. I didn’t mind peach pits so much anymore, nor searching for them among the nice ones.
It also occurred to me that someone opening a can of peaches might just notice the lovely peaches and if they found a pit, they might simply remove it and charitably throw it away, imagining the hard work that went into taking orchard peaches and preserving them. I stepped down from high alert with a little perspective on the importance of my job along the line and slowly let go of my visions of 2-year-olds choking on pits. I found I could work just as efficiently in pay-attention mode as I could in death-is-at-the-door mode.
After a couple of hours of standing, leaning over to one side to reach the conveyor belt before the peaches disappeared into the foaming vat below, splashed and sticky and a little achy, I thought I might like a different job. I glanced about occasionally, considering. I already knew something about cleaning peaches, because I had watched the 30 people sitting beside the line doing that before they reached me. I wondered about the other jobs.
Another man across from me was sitting watching the empty cans approach a hopper to be filled. A young woman would sometimes come to my vat and get a pitcher full of peaches to take back to where she was filling in any gaps the hopper left as it emptied peaches into the cans every second or so. Steam billowed up beside her as hot syrup poured over the cans filling in around the peaches just as she hurriedly finished filling the can. “I don’t want her job,” I thought. Menopause has permanently disabled my thermostat and I’m stuck on “steam” already. Another woman was placidly watching cans run around the line as they headed for the lidding operation. “Do I want a crucial job or an easy job,” I asked myself. Hmmm. There were enough hands to handle those peaches that nothing was so very crucial, yet everything was. I thought I’d like a sitting job, I decided.
Just then, the lead came to me and yelled over the machines and my earplugs that someone was leaving. Would I come with him? Someone else who had come late had joined me in checking one last time for pits (though he seemed to focus more on soft spots – nobody had prepped him that the real crisis was pits), so I felt I could leave. I mouthed to him to check for pits and gave an apologetic look as I moved away … to the steamed lady’s station. Urgh.
“Neither under nor over-filled,” she mouthed to me. I nodded and began placing my hand on top of cans like a lid as the conveyor busily sent them in front of me, checking to see if I could fit another peach half in. I often could. The hopper to my right was filling and two people were working with the ever-moving cans: one to make sure the can was under the hopper when it emptied and the other shifting peaches around to fit in the cans. Once again, I was the last person to make sure the process was ready for the next step. Steam beside me soon had my hairnet plastered to my head, and the warm steel vat in front of me melted my plastic apron several times. But the cans made it past me neither under nor over-filled.
I was tempted to think that if the young man beside me was a bit more quick, I wouldn’t have to add a peach to nearly every can. Then I noticed that he was tossing peaches aside, down into a chute below us! I was temporarily stricken, remembering all the hands that had touched that peach before it came to us. I took a deep breath and leaned over to ask (yell) where those were going. He yelled back that they were fed back into the hopper and sent down again. Whew, I thought, until I had another “Hmmm” moment the first time I had to go get my pitcher full of peaches to fill in the ones he was tossing blithely away. Remembering the people on the line at my previous post, I reminded myself that perhaps he had been given different instructions than had I, or perhaps he thought overfilling was more dangerous than underfilling.
I’m kind of compulsive (I don’t know if you had picked up on that) and charitably realized that it probably made him crazy that I was shoving another peach half in almost every can. I said a quick prayer that he would understand how important it was that we get the most peaches possible in each one, because that was the morally correct thing to do, for the benefit of those wide-eyed children who were going to be spared pit shards in their throats.
Our three-hour shift ended, and a new crew of brightly hairnetted and gloved volunteers arrived to take over our stations. They were directed to us and left there, so we simply yelled the job description we had each refined from our shift. I wondered as I walked away what each person had said to his or her replacement.
When I met my son as we washed the sticky peachiness from our arms and hands and (in my case) face (it was the splashing vat and the steam, really), we talked about our jobs.
“Were you able to get the pits out of the peaches pretty easily?” I asked cheerily.
“That wasn’t my job,” he answered matter-of-factly. I was dumbfounded. “Loads of peaches were heading my way and my job was simply to pick out those that were ready to be canned.”
“That’s what the lead told you?” I asked incredulously, suddenly protective of 2-year-olds with sensitive throats again.
I could see the lead talking to each of the groups in my mind: the ones in at the beginning, the ones in the middle, the ones at the end, and me. Each had a different work. Each brought his or her own focus. And we got a lot of peaches canned.
The Lord was fond of using the preparation of food for storage as a metaphor for saving all his children. He spoke of the care of farmers over crops until the fruit matured, the need for laborers to bring in the harvest, and the preparation of the fruit to be saved. I thought about that a lot today, and about the feelings we have as we labor together in the harvest.
I know people whose calling, either officially or the one their heart calls out to them, differs from mine but is passionately held. It is as if the lead whispered in their ear the importance of their part of the line and they grasped it with the passion of pit-less peaches. I’m one of those people too. It is easy to “Hmmm” about other people’s work, not knowing the instruction that has been whispered in their hearts and the vision they are trying to produce or protect. On the other hand, when we know and love the people with whom we work, it is easy to throw a cloak of mercy over their efforts. It is tempting to want to convince others that we have the real vision, the one that is most crucial for the end the Master wants. And it’s mind and heart-expanding to try to see what motivates them to think and feel as they do when they see things differently.
It’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we’re preserving peaches for the Master, each of us manning a different spot, each of us with a slightly different work in our shift. The consequences we see should we fail at our station may be one set of serious endpoints to consider, but someone else may see an equally valid set – one equally inspired by a conscientious lead. And what we say to those who follow us may well set their course, both in work and passion. It’s an awe-inspiring and humbling thought to whisper the instructions that will guide the next group of volunteers on their shift.
And in the same way that the Lord’s metaphors allowed his audience to see themselves as either the served or the serving, we are peaches too. All along our path, people are working with us, trimming us, removing shards of pit, cutting out our mushy spots. Some are discarded quickly, and some keep finding their way back up on the preservation-bound belt. We keep interacting with one another, making decisions about what parts need altered in each other, but I get the impression that the Master is even rescuing the decent peaches out of the cart should we be short-sighted in our stewardships. That thought makes me feel so very much better about the whole stewardship thing.
I know some who are sure that we don’t really need each other’s fellowship to have a relationship with God. I don’t know how better I could learn to know God than to work by his instruction with others and to allow myself to be trimmed and pitted. I’m so glad to have both his gospel and his church, the truth with the fellowship of the saints who believe it. After all, we’re all ultimately interested in preserving all the peaches we can.