NOTE: The following article took 1st place in the 2015 Oklahoma Writers Federation Incorporated (OWFI) “Inspirational Article” category. Thank you, Lord, for the talent, drive, and ability, and thank you, Hannah, for continuing to supply the inspiration for these anecdotes!
MEANDERING ON THE RIVER WALK—WITH A STICK
Be still, and know that I am God.
–Psalm 46:10 (NKJV)
We stepped through the glass doorway onto the cobblestone patio behind El Tropicano Riverwalk Hotel in downtown San Antonio. Bright sunshine danced with the dieffenbachias and arching palms, casting festive shadows across the sidewalk above the San Antonio River. As we left the retro hotel, complete with primary-colored rotary phones hanging on the lobby wall, Sunday morning greeted us with the warm coolness of mid-January in the Texas Hill Country.
We skirted the back of the hotel, crossed Lexington Avenue and descended the stairs to the River Walk, beginning our short trek to the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, where our daughter, Hannah, would compete as a Level 3 gymnast later that afternoon. In an hour, though, Hannah’s friend, Trevyn, would march out and contend as a Level 6 competitor; we’d committed to arrive early to cheer her on. It was only a mile walk, and we’d have plenty of time to do it in. Or so I thought. What’s that oft-quoted couplet in Robert Burns’ poem? “The best laid schemes of mice and men / Often go awry.” Yep. . . .
Immediately Hannah set the pace, falling behind as her half-mile-per-hour meandering didn’t match my three-mile-per-hour determination. She weaved back-and-forth between the edges of the sidewalk, collecting bits of palm fronds, stopping to look at sweetgum pods and bending down to grab a purple-tinged fig. Along the way she picked up a small stick, which she used to jab and point at things. She paid no attention to the oncoming pedestrian traffic walking dogs, hiking or just enjoying the still, fresh air. More than once we had to snap her out of her reverie long enough to jump out of the way of a focused runner or resolute walker. Immersed in a world of her own, she strolled along, answering the beckoning finger of nature to come and investigate.
I tried not to hurry too much. I tried to soak up the morning’s calmness. I tried to observe Hannah as she demonstrated what it meant to be a kid lost in the wonder of God’s creation and man’s sublimity. But my aggravation started to percolate. So I started to poke. And prod. And push. My impatience slipped out of its dark place to take the shine off the day. “Hannah, we need to move it along,” I barked. “We’re gonna be late.”
As my attitude shifted from excitement to quiet tolerance to irritation, my wife, Mary, burst through my annoyance and reminded me there was no hurry, that we’d get there. I took a breath, dropped my shoulders and focused on Hannah’s own poking and prodding as she soaked in God’s beauty, asked questions and wore her curiosity on her sleeve. She spied a squirrel and excitedly pointed it out. She filled her hands with biomass, eventually dropping the stick in favor of wood chips and decomposing leaves. We danced between date palm fruit splattered on the sidewalk. We watched mallard ducks and wondered how cold and how deep the pea-soup green water was. We stopped to observe a stalagmite growing on the sidewalk from water seeping through a concrete bridge overhead. The water dripped from a six-inch long “manmade” stalactite hanging from the belly of the bridge, a gray, slimy, mineral icicle. In those moments nature’s wonders mixed with man’s capacity for the transcendent, disrupting my futile pursuit of time’s spinning hands.
It’s not in my nature to linger. When I go shopping I know exactly what I want—I drive to the store, beeline to the entrance, grab what I came for, and leave. When I set out to repair a broken faucet, install laminate flooring or build a chicken run, I plan, focus, move forward, and accomplish, with very little tolerance for disruption. When pieces don’t fit together as expected, when the chicken wire isn’t aligned with the corners, when a moulding footer is hanging too low, I lift up my saw and slice my way through the obstacle. The lessons patience offers are lost in the din of hammer blows and echoing cuss words. In those moments God’s still small voice is drowned out by my exasperation; the wonders of life go unnoticed, the mystery of creation remains ignored. What God presents as a pleasant meandering I turn into a bullet train speeding from point A to point Z. Life hurries by in smeary blur … until God uses a precocious seven-year-old wielding a small stick and an insatiable curiosity to stop me in my tracks and open my eyes once again to His awesome presence.
We had church on the River Walk that Sunday morning. We allowed ourselves to rest a bit, to enjoy God’s nature and man’s capacity for the magnificent in all the little details and nuances of the River Walk. From the tiny portraits painted on the rough limestone faces of rocks at our feet to the waxy-leafed bromeliads smiling at the sun, from concrete benches in the shape and texture of driftwood to the ancient bald cypress standing guard over the San Antonio River, God celebrated us. We, in turn, glorified Him.
One hour and fifteen minutes later we arrived at the Convention Center just in time to watch Trevyn warm up. And Hannah, setting aside the meandering and putting on the precision of a competitive gymnast, took first in uneven bars and balance beam. Her timing, as always, was perfect.
God calls us to rest. To be aware of and completely immersed in His presence. To live one day at a time. To not worry. To be still. To wait. God wears the beauty of nature and dresses in the sublimity of man. Stop. Breathe. Meander. And if necessary, carry a small stick.
Copyright © 2015 by David C Hughes