Showing and being loved saves all of us
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.