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.