As a Challenging Year Ends, Spread the Love That We All Need

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Jeff Aiken

Photo credit: Jeff Adkins

For some reason, the classic Christmas song “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year” has been on my mind lately. While it’s not my favorite Christmas song, as the holidays approach, the song has heightened my hopes and anticipation this year due to all of the challenges we have faced in 2020. Thanksgiving and Christmas generally rank at or near the top of most people’s favorite holidays, and I believe we are all desperately in need of the good associated with this time of year – family, friends, thankfulness, an attitude of compassion and giving, and, most of all, love.

As a farmer, holidays can often be chaotic and occasionally stressful. Growing up, I remember many years standing in a cold barn stripping tobacco on Thanksgiving with my family. My mother would excuse herself with just enough time to prepare a wonderful meal and then rejoin us in the barn. And Christmas was no different. We used to operate a dairy, and each year we gave the hired help time off at Christmas so they could spend the holiday with their families, which meant we milked the cows morning and evening. Our nonfarm family waited impatiently for us to finish the chores around the farm and join them.

At the time, I considered this way of spending the holidays unfair, as I heard from peers how most of them spent theirs visiting, eating, watching football and even napping. But now, as I reminisce, I know those days taught me the values that have served me well throughout my lifetime. Sure, we missed a few things here and there, but the one thing we never lacked was love. And as 2020 comes to a close, I think we could all use a little more love.

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Like many of you, I’m a pet lover. I have a 7-year-old Australian shepherd named Jed. For the first two years of Jed’s life, he was 100% a farm dog, chasing cows and riding in the tractors, even occasionally going to the small country church we attended and sleeping in the truck during the service. (I know, shame on him.) In 2016, when I was elected president of the Tennessee Farm Bureau, we moved to Columbia and Jed initially stayed on the farm. However, Jed was so sad about us not being there he wouldn’t even eat. So we decided to bring him to Columbia with us, and now Jed has transformed into a suburban dog, greeting me every evening when I get home and riding in the truck every opportunity he gets. And trust me, he thoroughly enjoys our limited time on the farm back home.

I share the plight of Jed because I think we can all relate to him somehow this year. Many of us have endured significant challenges and changes in 2020. I don’t think I know a single person who hasn’t had something in their schedule canceled or changed in the past several months. We’ve all been impacted one way or another. And regardless of your career or where you’re located across the state, I think it’s safe to say our focus for the year quickly turned from New Year’s resolutions to making sure we’re washing our hands and not spreading a virus. For me at least, it’s not quite what I imagined the start of a new decade would look like.

At the beginning of 2020, I was optimistic about the opportunity to share in this column some of the valuable life lessons I learned on the farm. The pandemic changed my plans and many of yours. We all adapted much like Jed acclimated to life as a suburban Columbia dog.

A friend of mine once told me the love of a dog is the closest we will come to God’s love here on Earth because they love us unconditionally. As we round out the year, I think it would do us all some good to be a little more like that farm dog of mine – to love unconditionally and spread more happiness and kindness in the days and months ahead. It only takes a small compliment, a kind gesture, a (socially distanced) hug or a simple smile to spread a little love. If we all commit to treat others in this way, we can truly make the end of 2020 the most wonderful time of the year.

About the author: Jeff Aiken is president of Tennessee Farm Bureau Federation. He and his wife, Carol, work tirelessly to advocate for farm families across the state. They also remain active with their family farm in Washington County.

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