My best friend and I are walking in the midst of the train tracks that run just a few blocks from our home. There are plans to replace the tracks with a four-lane highway. There are other plans to create a “rails to trails” bikeway/walking path instead.

We prefer the trail idea. There is no need for the highway and there is so much need for walking paths in our neck of Texas.

Walking the rail line is harder than we thought. My short legs mean either I have to hop from wooden tie to wooden tie, or bump along from wooden tie, to the crushed rock between them, to the next wooden tie. Bumping became more elegant than the hopping-but in either case, I had to keep my eyes on the ground.

Having to keep looking down meant that I was missing the scenery, which was the whole point of the hike. I finally learned to stop once in a while and just notice what was around me-a fine stand of oak trees, wild flowers, and, oddly, two shore birds, beautiful with their morning song. All of this a flourishing of life, and all of it in spite of a drought that the weather service has termed “an exceptional event.” That there are flowers at all is astonishing to me. The bird song rises above it all in its own arc of defiance.

My favorite neighbor, a most thoughtful mother who helps her children notice the good connections that can be made in this life, sat with her children the other afternoon to read them a book. It was the story of an African boy who shot an arrow into a rain cloud, and made it rain. As she read to them about a boy who is about to become a hero for his people, she noticed that outside it had darkened–as if it were going to rain. She quickly pulled the little boy’s foam rubber bow and arrow out of the toy closet, and the three of them raced outside. As a cool breeze cut across the yard, the little boy drew back his arrow and let it fly, his little sister, all the while, waving her hands about her head as she did her very own rain dance.

There was a boom of thunder, a shuddering of the earth-and it poured down rain.

It was, of course, a wonderful coincidence, one that would seem to cement this child’s growing understanding of the causal connections that there are in his life-at four years of age, he just might believe that he caused it to rain.

Or, perhaps it is not a coincidence at all. Maybe the Person in Charge of Rain Showers noticed a little boy wishing that it would rain, and so responded appropriately to the child who had sent a wish skyward with all of his might.

The railroad tracks that we were following finished up their American journey at a chain-linked fence that had been drawn across the tracks. Peering through the fencing, we could see, just across the way, the twin spires of the Cathedral in Matamoros, Mexico. It was a Sunday morning, and so people would have been gathering there for prayer, many, many of them suffering the extraordinary narco-violence that has bathed this border town in blood. As I stood there at a distance from them, I could imagine them believing, with all their hearts, that there is a Person in Charge of Peace, and that this Person would be paying attention to their hopes and prayers, petitions that they would be shooting heavenward with the strength that desperate love for family and friends would give these archers.

As we stood at the gate that blocked the tracks, I noticed the shorebirds flitting up and over the border and into Mexico, carrying with them a song that defied borders, drought, and doom.


Mothers’ Day

The grandparents are giving the parents a free evening—we are going to keep the two year old and four year old for the night. We mess up, and in a big way, however, as we keep them up way past their bedtime.  

Winnie the Pooh has engaged us more than the children,  and, finally, the four year old turns his back on the movie and begins to wail for his mother. The grandmother holds him and is gentle with him, but he does not want consolation. “My mommy has disappointed me!” he cries—and then he falls asleep. He knows that she will be back, even if later than he would like, and he can take that assurance to the bank—or at least into the sweet dreams of a four year old.

Across town, another mother prepares for bed. Her child is sixteen, and she hasn’t seen him for four years, as he lives in a small hut in rural Veracruz, Mexico, and she works as a maid in a six-bedroom, four-bath home in Brownsville. Some weeks ago, I asked her how her boy was, and her eyes shone as she explained that he was finishing up high school. She then said, “You know, I saw him two years ago!” and I asked how could that be? She told me that she had slipped down to a spot on the Rio Grande that looks out toward Mexico, and that her son and his grandfather stood on the other side of the river. “We couldn’t stay long,” she said, “because the border patrol is close by there, and there are bandits on the other side of the river, but we waved at each other. It was nice.”

My friend Gene, the extraordinary observer of life along the border, was wandering downtown for his midnight walk. It was a night lit up by a full moon, and he was enthralled with its beauty. He crossed into downtown and came upon the handful of prostitutes who hang out on one of the corners. He greeted them in his amiable way, and said, “¡Mira! ¡La luna es bella! (look at the beautiful moon),” to which one of them, after a quick glance to the heavens, nodded, and said, “Si, pero no se presta para pañales (yeah, but it doesn’t pay for the diapers).”

Early this morning, on this American celebration of mothers’ day (the Mexican celebration is on May 10th), I could hear, in the distance, the joyful call of a trumpet, as groups wandered the neighborhood serenading those mothers who live amongst us—faithful, humble, practical. Good women from whom I have so much to learn.

Kindness (with thanks to Naomi Shihab Nye)

Last week, our town celebrated Holy Week.

On Good Friday, the local parish recreated the Way of the Cross, marking out fourteen moments in which to remember the false arrest, the torture, and the murder of a poor fellow who spoke the truth to powerful people.

Several hundred people followed an actor playing Jesus of Nazareth. At our corner, we were reminded over loudspeakers and the (fake) lashings of a whip that Jesus fell as he made his way to Calvary.

A week later, Alabama and other parts of the south were scourged, in their time, by tornados. A panel truck was soon set up in a Brownsville parking lot, and a long line of people could be seen bringing food items, water, and clothing.

Many of those who visit us marvel at the generosity of the people of our region (who are, nearly without exception, poor).

I am, though,  reminded of the wisdom caught by Naomi Shihab Nye, a south Texas poet, who notes,

Before you know kindness, as the deepest thing inside, 
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing…
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes 
and sends you out into the day…
only kindness that raises its head  
from the crowd of the world to say 
it is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere.”