Show­ing and be­ing loved saves all of us

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - STYLE - Sharon Ran­dall can be reached at P.O. Box 777394, Hen­der­son, Nev. 89077, or on her web­site: sharon­ran­

Sharon Ran­dall took the week off to spend time with her fam­ily. This col­umn orig­i­nally ap­peared in Novem­ber 2002.

It all came down to this: Did I want to clean a cabin or climb on a horse? Not all of life’s choices are that easy, but years from now, I will smile at the mem­ory and shake my head to think I al­most passed it by.

On the last day of a long va­ca­tion in the Blue Ridge Moun­tains, where I grew up, I was ready to head home to Cal­i­for­nia. I had loved spend­ing that fall in the South vis­it­ing fam­ily and watch­ing leaves turn.

Fall is my fa­vorite time of year, but win­ter was on its way and an­other renter was wait­ing to move into the cabin.

Glanc­ing down a long list of chores to do in two short days be­fore leav­ing, I no­ticed a phone num­ber I’d jot­ted down weeks ago. It was for a horse sta­ble that of­fered guided trail rides in the moun­tains for “rid­ers of any abil­ity,” pre­sum­ably even me.

The ad had noted “weather per­mit­ting,” and two weeks of rain had washed it from my mind. But this day was post­card per­fect — blue sky, bril­liant leaves, au­tumn in all its glory.

So I di­aled the num­ber. “Yes, ma’am,” said Steve, the trail guide and a soft-spo­ken young man who re­minded me of my younger son. “I’ll be glad to take you out on the trail. Usu­ally we go in groups, but you’re the only one who’s called to­day. It’s pretty muddy, but we’ll take it slow and see how it goes.”

“Slow sounds good to me,” I said. And with that, I was back in the sad­dle. My last ride was years ago in Yel­low­stone Na­tional Park. This time I’d be rid­ing a horse that was named “Whiskey” — for her color, I hoped, not her fire.

“Jake’s a lit­tle more spir­ited,” Steve said, pat­ting his horse, “but Whiskey is a baby doll.”

Then he added, “But when we come to a creek, don’t let her get away from you. Some­times she gets it in her head to jump.”

I pic­tured Whiskey jump­ing a creek — with me on her back.

“How ex­actly do I con­vince her not to do that?” I said.

He laughed. “Just nose her up to the creek bank and hold on.”

Nose her up and hold on, I thought. The story of my life.

We were sup­posed to ride an hour, but he stretched it to nearly two. The trail was slick with mud, the air was cold and damp, but the ride was lovely — al­most as good as the com­pany: Jake and Whiskey, and Steve and me.

Steve talked about how he had strug­gled grow­ing up, how he had seen some slip­pery times be­fore find­ing his foot­ing and get­ting grounded, so to speak, in him­self and in his faith.

He was lucky, he said, to have had his grand­par­ents and his love for horses and mu­sic. That was prob­a­bly what saved him, he said, lov­ing and be­ing loved.

“Of course, it was,” I said. “That’s what saves us all.”

We might have rid­den far­ther, but the trail was get­ting steeper, and Jake and Whiskey were start­ing to balk. If a horse thinks a slope is too slip­pery to climb, far be it from me to ar­gue.

Be­sides, I had pack­ing to do, good­byes to be said, prom­ises to keep. Back at the sta­bles, Steve held Whiskey’s reins to let me dis­mount with a bit of grace.

“If you like,” he said, “be­fore you leave, I could play one of my songs for you.”

“I would like that a lot,” I said.

So he tied up the horses, found me a chair, took out his gui­tar and be­gan to play a song he called, “A Love Like That.”

He wrote it for his aunt and un­cle, who were mar­ried 60 years be­fore she died, he said.

When he fin­ished, he smiled.

“That’s what I want,” he said, “an old love like theirs.”

I nod­ded. Old love is a gift. I hope and pray it will find him.

As for me, I will trea­sure the mem­ory of that day — sit­ting in a barn with rain on the roof, au­tumn on the moun­tain, tears on my face, a horse named Whiskey nuz­zling my neck, and be­ing ser­e­naded by a boy who knew he had been saved by love.

To think, I al­most passed it by.

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