One day at the farm we were harvesting tomatoes. My boss and co-worker, Sean, would pick several off a vine and lay them down in neat piles along the sides of the aisles in the greenhouse. My job was to clean up after him, putting the harvest into shallow, collapsible trays to be nestled under the shade of the truck that got us around.

Beautifully lumpy and scarred, tomatoes need a tender, conscious and conscientious touch to arrange them in each tray so as not to be bruised. While Sean did his part, I derived much pleasure from strategically fitting as many tomatoes as possible within the confines of the tray.

The first time I did this, Sean gave me tips and warnings beforehand in a manner exuding empathy for his fellow worker, an honest want for my success.

“When you’re carrying a tray and it’s full of tomatoes,” he said, picking up an empty one to demonstrate, “try not to lean it against your stomach, because that side of the tray can end up bending inward, which presses the tomatoes against each other and can cause bruising.“

I nodded. Everything, whether correcting a mistake or designating the next task, was articulated in such a way where I felt like I was getting a helpful hint or fulfilling a favor.

He followed his advice with the comforting sentiment that he himself had committed this violence against the fruit many times in the past. At the farm, there was nothing new to screw up.

Sean’s words in my heart, I went to and fro, holding all tomato trays in a comically cautious distance from my torso. Forearms burning, my dirt-dusted rubber boots shuffled across warm, black tarp. My boots were from the garbage. For my first two weeks I showed up in hiking shoes, the closest to farm-appropriate footwear I owned. Then one day in the washing station, Tess, my other boss, looked over as the sink water from washing the vegetables was unleashed, again, upon the floor and my feet.

“At my house I have these rubber boots I found in the garbage and they’re in your size – would you take them?” he asked.

I did, never wearing anything else. They made me feel like I was going to work, my jeans tucked inside their tallness and granting me authority.

Following Sean’s advice ardently, I considered its nature. I was brought to a question that became more poignant the longer I looked at it: What was it like for Sean in the moment he figured out what had been bruising his tomatoes? I imagined years passing, years full of confusion and frustration as dozens of tomatoes came back with their fleshy sides inexplicably pressed. I pictured the day he looked down as if for the first time, sweat trickling from his brow down upon tomatoes pinched and all at once getting it.

That moment is invaluable, the split second a complete mystery becomes perfect sense. It is likely no one was there to share his epiphany, but there is a beauty in that moment performing only for itself. What a blessing, though, to have its fruits shared with me.


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