I just returned from a four-day road trip that was meant to be a silent retreat that would allow me to reconnect with the Creator. I know that I’m supposed to love God with all my heart and all my soul and all my mind and all my strength, but recently my “all” has been nothing but an ort on the dinner plate of life. And as for loving my neighbor as myself – let’s just say that for quite some time I haven’t thought much of the face in the mirror, so extending any sort of loving kindness to my neighbor is beyond my capabilities, because, well, you know how difficult she can be!
No part of the trip went as I intended. I meant to spend the many hours at the wheel in prayer, but whenever I started a conversation with God, my thoughts soon went wandering, to quote the lyric that I heard at the start of my travels. It was a treat because I seldom listen to the radio, but I was riding with my cousin, and when I said it was my favorite Bob Seger song she turned up the volume so that we went tooling down the road in her sporty little car with the music blasting.
The next day I began by reading a daily reflection, then headed out solo on the road. All went well but unremarkably until, as evening drew near, I arrived at Sequoyah National Wildlife Refuge in Oklahoma. I stopped at the ranger station to ask about the best spot for photographing birds. The sign on the door said the office was closed, so I headed back to my car, but a young ranger came out with a brochure in his hand. We got to talking, and he mentioned that scissor-tailed flycatchers are common in those parts.
I kept my eye out for that beautiful bird as I drove the refuge’s auto tour and walked two of its trails, but saw none until, returning to my car, I caught sight of a solitary specimen perched atop a tall tree in the fading light of the day. I was allowed only a single shot before it flew off, but that one photo is a beauty.
Dawn found me at Overholser Dam in Oklahoma City, where a thin, white-haired woman with a crooked left arm walked carefully across the grass, escorted by a burly man I took to be her son until he looked up and I saw his face was as age-worn as hers. The thought of the decades-old love that had led to their morning outing almost moved me to tears.
I continued on my own walk, and when I returned to that spot the couple was gone. In their place a young woman, long dark hair flying, completed a running drill, lifting her knees high with each step as she jogged up the path, then down. I myself am in years midway between vibrant youth and careful old age, and so I saw in the athlete the youngster I was, and in the matron the woman I likely will become, and I marveled at the circle of life.
At that same park I met another birdwatcher who suggested I visit the nearby Stinchcomb Wildlife Refuge. There I encountered a magic leaf that drifted down to the ground, then rose and twirled and drifted down again, only to repeat the process. As I stared, a sunbeam revealed the secret behind nature’s legerdemain – the leaf’s stem was stuck to a single strand of spider’s silk, but the wonder of the dancing leaf remains in my memory.
To the men and women whom I came across on my trip I can add the crew at the car repair place who were kind enough to squeeze me into their Saturday schedule to check my brakes when the dashboard’s warning light came on. The list also includes the customer service representative of a national motel chain who helped me undo an “uncancellable” reservation that I mistakenly made in the wrong town.
I believe God put these people in my path because I needed them. They were not angels, but each of them in their own way reflected God’s love, revealing the Lord to me in a way the prayer I had intended to undertake never could.
Marie Mischel is editor of the Intermountain Catholic. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.