The Williston Herald reported this week that a farmer by the name of Lane Unhjem was recently working the fields of his farm in North Dakota. He was driving a combine, harvesting his crops. But in the middle of an otherwise ordinary workday, something went wrong. Smoke began billowing out of the machine. It quickly caught fire. He jumped out and started trying to put out the blaze. Some neighbors saw the smoke and flames and ran across the field to help. In the middle of the fire and confusion, Lane Unhjem took a breath, inhaled a gust of smoke, and went into cardiac arrest. The neighbors frantically called for help. A helicopter arrived and he was airlifted to a hospital about 100 miles from his farm. But moments after he arrived in the ER, he flat-lined — not once, but three times. Eventually, he stabilized, but remains in serious condition.
But the most dramatic part of the story was still to come. A couple days after the accident, a caravan of farm equipment was spotted heading for the Unhjem farm. Nearly 60 farmers, some from 30 miles away, rolled into the fields. They brought their own equipment: 11 combine harvesters, six grain carts, and 15 semi-trucks. They were there for just one reason: they wanted to finish what Lane had begun. Doctors were working to save Lane’s life. These farmers wanted to save his crops. They spent eight hours harvesting 1,000 acres of wheat and canola — roughly 758 football fields. Every one of them had stopped working on their own farms and interrupted their harvest for a neighbor in need. One farmer said: “That’s the way it is here. Any time anybody needs a helping hand, everybody will stop what they’re doing at the drop of a hat and come help.”
“Do nothing out of selfishness or out of vainglory; rather, humbly regard others as more important than yourselves, each looking out not for his own interests.” (Philippians 2,1-11) Thus wrote St. Paul, as this weekend’s second reading reminds us. The good people of North Dakota get that. In a time when so much of our world is polarized, divided, when so many are angry about the election, about racism, about the pandemic, and at a moment when so much is uncertain or even frightening, here is something certain: an act of generosity and hope.
St. Paul goes on to say, “Complete my joy by being of the same mind, with the same love, united in heart, thinking one thing.” What a powerful reminder that we are all in this together, this world of suffering and sacrifice and scars. The calling we have received is to help the helpless, lift up the fallen, carry the weak, and complete what others have begun.
In the same way that those North Dakota farmers pulled together to save their neighbor’s crops, we can pull together, too. Our homebound “buddies,” our own neighbors here in the city, those who arrive regularly at the St. Vincent de Paul Food Pantry, our children, and all of our fellow parishioners … all are looking to us to see just how we are “united in heart,” caring for one another; they are looking to see how we are humble, like Christ, in loving service.
As we have seen all the more clearly over the past many months, the field is vast, the work is hard, but we’re all in this together. Let’s not forget that!