A day or two a week I ride my bike about a mile to the end of a paved road. Then, if I’m in the mood, I ride eight steep switchbacks a thousand feet up to the top of the hill. Going up it’s hard on the legs and coming down it’s hard on the brakes.
About two years ago I was riding to those switchbacks on an extremely windy day when I watched a little drama play out at one of the houses along my route. There was what I assumed to be a man with long hair and his wife struggling to get their camper off its four spindly legs and back onto the truck bed. Things were not going well. The man kept barking orders to his increasingly frustrated wife, who finally threw up her hands and said, “I’m choosing not to die today!” Then she walked away.
She was my hero. I could not get her off my mind for the remainder of the day. I loved her chutzpah, and the calm self-assured manner in which she made her declaration. For two years I have been waiting to tell that woman how much I admire her for what she did on that windy day. I see her occasionally while I’m riding, but she’s always getting into or out of her car, or talking with someone. Today she had come to the road to bring her trash containers back inside. I stopped my bike and said, “If you have a minute, I’d like to tell you a story.”
She looked on rather amused as I talked. She readily remembered the day and said she was afraid the whole camper was going to fall. Then she thanked me genuinely, before asking, “Do you mind if I ask your name?” I told her and mentioned that I live across town in Stone Canyon. Then we both went on our way.
I rode several miles toward Estes Park on Highway 7 before returning to town. As I got back into town, she happened to be headed into town in her truck. She got out and said, “I need to tell you something. I think what happened today was a God thing.”
“You see, I watched your TED talk last night. As you were talking with me today, it began to dawn on me that you might be the same person. I had no idea the TED talk had been given in Denver, and I had no idea where the woman who gave it lived.” “So when I asked your name, I went inside and confirmed that sure enough, yours was the TED talk I watched.” She went on, “You have no idea how much I needed to hear those words of affirmation today – no idea!”
“You see, a long time ago my husband transitioned to become a female, and it was her you saw that day in the yard with me. But she still treated me like men often treat women. She had a lot of opinions. That was one of those days. The wind was blowing fiercely and I thought the whole camper was going to tumble, but she wouldn’t listen. In that way, she was still a man. She always knew better. I finally got to the point that I couldn’t take it anymore and left. As I watched you last night, I thought, ‘Wow, she’s getting it. She’s really getting it. I wish my spouse could have gotten it.”
I started crying and told her how much I still struggle with my male privilege and entitlement, and how often it still affects the people I love. She said, “But you are trying, and your words of encouragement were just what I needed. Like I said, this was a God thing.” She got back in her truck and headed on into town. Through tears, I finished my ride.
I had really been struggling that morning with exactly the subject she was talking about. I woke up on the wrong side of the bed and couldn’t pull it together. I texted back and forth with one of my close friends, telling her of my struggles. I mindlessly opened my email and dispatched the emails I could deal with quickly. One escaped my junk file. It was a new song released by the Gaither Vocal Band. I’ve always loved their tight harmonies, but can’t take the theology of their music anymore. But my friend enjoys tight harmonies as much as I do, and I thought I’d click on the track to see if she’d like it.
The song was entitled, This Is The Place. It is a new anthem written by Bill and Gloria Gaither about the church’s central place in our lives. I thought of Left Hand Church and what it means to me, and finally released the sobs that had been reluctant to come for two full days. I sent a link for the song to my friend and then headed out on my ride, my spirit much lighter than it had been early in the morning.
Had I not had that emotional release, prompted by that song, which I was listening to because of the gentle support of my friend, I still would have ridden, but I never would have stopped to speak to the woman. I would not have had the emotional strength to stop and speak with anyone.
But I did stop to speak with her, and the story has been with me all day. The picture above is of the view I am looking at right now as I write this post. I can see the road on which her house stands. I say a little prayer as I look at it.
We are never alone on this journey. If we reach out to trusted friends, take a chance on a song, and find the strength to speak to a stranger, the Spirit shows up, reminding us She is always there, even if unseen. Today, She was seen. I do not want to share the woman’s name, or the name of the street on which she lives. I want her to remain what we were to each other today – a gift from the God whose love is never far away, if only we have eyes to see.