I came to my computer to write something special about the holiday, but I think every day is a day for thanks. Why limit it to one?
I am in awe of what life brings. I’m speaking in general of the good things/interesting things/fantastic things. I know that we all get our share of loss, sadness, heartbreak, and illness, but there is so much to be thankful for.
Right now my heart and head are full of Artwalk 2014. This
Yesterday I passed a Highway Patrol cruiser stopped on the side of Highway 118. The lights were flashing and it appeared the patrolman had pulled over a vehicle for something; I didn’t stop to ask him. Seeing that brought back an experience I had a year ago.
I was returning to Alpine from a book signing in Midland. On Highway 67 between Ft. Stockton and Alpine, I was grooving on the mountains because how would I not? My truck was set on cruise control at the speed limit of 75 MPH. As I came into town I was still going that speed. That was the problem.
But picture this: the sun was setting and making a big show of burning down the western sky. The fiery blaze made Twin Peaks look like a painting by a master. Soft colors turned everything beautiful. The scene was so perfect it could have come from deep in my imagination. My heart was filled with joy to be back in the land of many mountains and few people.
On the radio George Strait was singing an old hit tune, “Oceanfront Property.” Memories flooded through me. When my son Manuel was around thirteen years old, he brought home a cassette tape. He’d traded a kid at school a Los Tigres del Norte tape for one by George Strait. I thought he must really like the guy because Manuel was usually all about Los Tigres. He followed me around the house saying he was sure I’d like this singer. I had never heard of George Strait and I was busy, but I stopped to listen because I loved that boy. All it took was one song and I agreed that George had something.
My son died in 2010, but sometimes I feel that he’s with me still and this was one of those times. As I flew past the Highway Patrol vehicle, I was doing 75 in a 55 MPH zone. He flipped on his lights and turned around. I knew I was in trouble, but it was hard to care because of my blissful state.
The young patrolman came up to the passenger side and I put the window down. I think he was surprised to see that I was not a young speed demon but an old one. He greeted me in a respectful manner and I returned the greeting. Then he asked if I knew I was going twenty miles per hour over the limit.
“It occurred to me as you passed,” I said, barely coming out of the daze and only because he was forcing me to.
“Ma’am, are you in a hurry for a particular reason?”
“I’m not in a hurry but if I tell you the truth, you’ll laugh.”
“Please tell me,” he responded, “I never hear the truth from anybody.”
I know he wasn’t expecting this: I told him I’d been in Midland for a few days, and I was so happy to be home at last and “did you see that sky?” and there are no tall buildings or traffic here, thank goodness, and the mountains are wonderful and they add something to life that is indescribable. And while I was watching the sunset George Strait began singing an old song and for a few minutes I was back in 1986 with my young children, laughing and cutting up.
I figured he’d throw the book at me for being so unaware while driving—and speeding on top of that. He smiled!
I thought, “He thinks I’m crazy.”
The officer checked my tag, inspection sticker, insurance, and all the things he was supposed to check. He went back to his vehicle to run my license. When he returned, he leaned into the truck and passed me my papers. Next came the ticket I had to sign but he said, “I’m only giving you a warning this time because you told me truth.” He looked up at the mountains and then back at me. “I get lost in the scenery too sometimes.”
I signed the warning and thanked him for understanding, but I really wanted to hug him.
“I hope you have a nice evening,” he said with a tip of his hat.
I sat there on the side of the road marveling at that exchange. It seems that state troopers appreciate the scenery too, or one of them does. Thinking back on it, I believe there was a little bit of Deputy Ricos in that young man.
I promised myself I would stay away from controversy in my public writing. Yeah. Anyone who knows me knew that wouldn’t last.
Let’s consider marriage equality: yours, mine, and “theirs.” Opt out now if you need to.
When I was a young woman in high school, I saw this chilling quote that has never left my head. It’s attributed to German pastor Martin Niemoller. The “they” he refers to are the Nazis.
“First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Socialist. Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out because I was not a Trade Unionist. Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out because I was not a Jew. Then they came for me, and there was no one left to speak for me.”
So let it be said that I’m here and I’m speaking out and I’ll never quit. When they come for opinionated old women, perhaps someone will speak out for me.
There is a huge controversy in our country and around the world about same sex couples being allowed to marry. I simply don’t get it. If you’re against equality in marriage, then please answer this question: how will it hurt you? If you love your spouse, then how will someone else loving their spouse hurt your marriage?
If you say, “It makes me uncomfortable,” then that is just too bad. Get out of your comfort zone! That’s where all the really good stuff is anyway.
Please, please don’t tell me it’s because you’re a Christian. This is a pat answer that has no real meaning. It means you haven’t thought it through. You’re jumping on a bandwagon because your Aunt Bessie thinks it’s wrong or the confused and opinionated pastor at your church thinks it’s wrong. If your preacher says Christ spoke against homosexuals, then you need a new church.
Personally, I gave up on organized religion some time ago, but I would defend to the death your right to believe whatever you want. Because I was raised by religious parents, I’ve read the Bible more than once. It’s full of don’t do this or that—a person loses track. And the “don’t dos” change to reflect the times. Then we come to the New Testament, where there is a clear and ever-present DO. Do what? LOVE.
What did Christ say about homosexuality? Nothing. Nada. Not one word. Christ said we should love one another as we love ourselves. He didn’t say, “except for gay people or black people or people different from us.” He said love was the answer to everything, the only thing that matters. Why is that so hard to understand? Don’t come at me with hate and say you’re a Christian. I don’t buy it and something smells.
So what if it makes you uncomfortable for a man to be in love with a man or a woman to be in love with a woman? Get over it! Nobody is suggesting that you have to marry someone of the same sex.
In a world so full of hatred I think we should put a much higher value on love—all love. If you think your love is more valid than someone else’s, then you’re missing the point about love.
When I was a kid my mom used to take me to have my hair cut by a handsome man who went to our church. I have no idea how I knew this, but one day I realized that he was in love with a man who came to see him while he was working on my hair. They didn’t touch or say anything of real importance, but I knew it. On the way home I asked my mother about it and she said, “You’re right, Beth. They’re in love.”
“Will they get married?”
“They can’t get married,” my mom said.
“The law prevents them from marrying. Only a man and a woman can get married.”
“That’s not fair!”
I knew it as a little kid. Things are changing slowly—way too slowly to suit me or anyone who’s waiting to be able to marry the person they love. Some people waited all their lives and died without ever having that privilege.
It would make me proud if our country embraced love between adults no matter whether it’s Bob and Sue or Bob and Bill or Sue and Betty. It would be the best thing for our hearts to choose love. Christ said it over two thousand years ago and gurus before and after him have said it. Every one of them advised us to choose love, yet we continue to get it wrong.
If love by itself doesn’t convince you, then think about this Martin Luther King, Jr. quote: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
What if they were coming for you?
It was 1985 and I’d been working in the office of Big Bend River Tours for three or four weeks. The owner of the company breezed in one morning and said, “Beth, you need different clothes. We’re going on the river.”
I didn’t wait around for him to change his mind.
Twenty minutes later we were at the Lajitas Crossing loading rafts. The Rio was high, even for pre-drought years, because it had been raining. Sunlight caused bouncing diamonds on the muddy water racing past us, the cliffs were shiny clean from recent rains, and excitement was in the air.
Wayne and I were part of a trip with three or four rafts, but we stayed far enough behind to speak privately. He wanted to talk to me about the value of the wilderness adventures we were selling, but he was preaching to the choir. The healing, restorative power of the wild was what had kept me in the Big Bend area in the first place. I had long before bonded with the mountains, the desert, the river, and the long-distance vistas, but I let him preach on because of the light in his eyes.
Before that day, Wayne was only the boss, the guy we rolled our eyes at behind his back. He could be fun and funny, but we also knew him to yell and be short-tempered. By the end of that trip, he had my respect. Having respect for someone gives us patience with them. In times to come he would rant or blow up in my face, but before I responded with anger, I would think of the part of him who was my river guide through one magical day.
Wayne was hell on wheels when it came to protecting pristine places. He believed, as I do, that we need them in order to survive. He held me captive with his extensive knowledge of the Big Bend area, the Rio Grande, the canyons, and the lore. He brought tears to my eyes more than once by the passionate way he phrased his thoughts.
We laughed and had fun. We stopped to pick up trash from the bank or to admire a bird, or we floated along in silence, breathing in the grandeur.
“Rivers,” Wayne said, “have the power to wash the grunge of everyday life from the soul of man.” After all these years, that may only be a paraphrase, but you get the drift.
When we stopped with the rest of the group for a short hike to the ruins of an old Spanish fort, Wayne’s enthusiasm was contagious. I could never tell if I was hearing the whole truth from any guide, including him, but it didn’t matter. They love to embellish the facts, and how would I fault anyone for that?
Lunch was served but I was too excited to eat. We’d barely shoved off the bank before we rounded a bend and headed dead-on for a gigantic rock wall. The fast current was going to slam us into it. Being splattered against a wall was never mentioned in the brochure! Wayne explained how he avoided that calamity but I couldn’t hear him. My heart was pounding in my ears.
We glided into Santa Elena Canyon and all talking stopped. I’ve never been in a place more holy than that one. Our group went from rowdy levity to absolute silence in one second flat. I’ve never seen the spell of the entrance fail to work. Coming into the great canyon simply touches you where you live and you feel something beyond what words can describe.
Sometimes when I struggle, I think of the astounding work of art that is Santa Elena and I remember that the Rio Grande didn’t carve that beauty in a day, or even in a year. It didn’t do it by being in a hurry and rushing to get it done; it did it by persevering. In nature, there’s a lesson everywhere you look.
When we stopped to scout the rapid called The Rockslide, there were no rocks, only terrifying current and mammoth waves. I didn’t want to go. Where is a helicopter when you need one? Wayne talked me into making the run in the same way the river carved the canyon—with patience. He pointed out that it was all right to be afraid, but I shouldn’t let that stop me. That’s been a recurring lesson in my life, one I’m still getting.
I climbed back into the raft with a pounding heart. As we headed into the turbulence, I told Wayne to keep in mind that I had a baby at home who still needed me. He grinned. “You’re going to love this.”
He was right. I loved it and wanted do it again and again. Part of that was because of the adrenaline rush, the sheer fun of it, but part of it was the feeling of having conquered my fear. There is so much power in that.
The remainder of the ride was the stuff of memories, too. It comes to me now in a rush: the strip of perfect blue above our heads, the echoing trill of the canyon wren, the amplified caw of a raven, the lapping of water against the bank, the wet-desert smell of the river, laughter, the creak of oars, splashing, feeling the wonder, gazing up at the 1500-foot walls until my neck hurt and then gazing up some more.
The end came too soon. We rounded a bend; the canyon opened up, and ahead was the rest of world.