Have you ever experienced a situation that suddenly made you change your opinion about something? Something that made you see things entirely differently?
I heard someone tell a story about when his parents got electricity. It was in the 1940s and the REA (what we call the electric co-operative) was signing people up for electric service. The guy’s father signed up, the co-op put a pole and transformer in front of his house and installed an electric meter on his front porch (so the neighbors could see that he had “the electric”). The family installed lights in each room and bought a refrigerator.
But the idea of that meter turning all the time bothered the guy’s father. One night, he got out of bed and went outside to look at it. Sure enough, it was slowly turning. Suddenly the man realized that he was spending money even while he slept. He went into a slow decline and never recovered.
Something like that happened to me once when I was working. Another guy came into my office and somehow we got to talking about dirt. Perhaps he saw me dusting the top of my bookcase. But anyway, he said, “You know, you never can get rid of dirt. All you can do is move it from one place to another.”
Well, he was right. I had never thought of it like that but it’s true. You can move the dirt from the living room to the bag of the vacuum cleaner, but it is still the same dirt. And, of course, you are not content for it to remain there: you eventually have it taken to the landfill. But it is still the same, identifiable dirt. And no doubt it makes its way into the air and back into your living room again.
Ever since that conversation I have felt helpless in the face of dirt. It seems so pointless to sweep it up. I can’t get rid of it. I now regard dirt as I do death: as something that will eventually triumph.
This may not affect you right now as it did me, but just wait till you empty the vacuum cleaner bag. There is all the dirt you’ve collected — unchanged. It is eternal. When the sun becomes a nova in six billion years, that dirt will still be right here.
I have finally come to appreciate the horror of Sisyphus’ labor. He is the guy who was condemned to roll a boulder to the top of a hill, and as he reaches the summit, it rolls to the bottom again. But it is not a boulder. It is a clod of dirt.
I hope I haven’t ruined your life. There are still problems we can solve - such as the national deficit, obesity, global warming. These are nothing compared to dirt.
But whatever you do, don’t go outside at 2:00 a.m. and look at your electric meter. It will be turning.
Willis Cook is a retired electrical engineer who was born in New Orleans and grew up in the Mississippi Delta. He lives on Varner Road in Franklin County.
"Dirt's a funny thing, come to think of it, there ain't a thing but dirt on this green God's globe except what's under water, and that's dirt too. It's dirt makes the grass grow. A diamond ain't a thing in the world but a piece of dirt that got awful hot. And God-a-Mighty picked up a handful of dirt and blew on it and made you and me and George Washington and mankind blessed in faculty and apprehension. It all depends on what you do with the dirt."