Say a prayer for the cowgirl
When his kids were little, before puberty and “The X-Files” made them skeptical about anything he said, the sky was the limit.
He would point at the stars and tell them about light, explain that they were seeing the past, glimmers of what used to be. Some of those stars are long gone, he would say, and they’d look harder, their first glimpse of time-delayed reality.
And if he hadn’t bored them yet, he would note that light always does this, travels fast but not that fast. We’re always a little bit behind.
“Even the light from the sun takes about 8 ½ minutes to get here,” he’d say, but by then they were off to video games and books, college and marriage. Light moves at a petty pace but time is relative and can seriously mess with you. So nobody listens to him anymore, and with cause.
But if some stray neighbor kid wandered by, wondered what the old guy was doing, staring at the sky, maybe he could explain how comforted he is by the speed of light. Even the sun takes its time, he would say, but it would be too hard to explain.
It’s not about physics and cosmology, he wants to say. It’s about waiting. And it’s about her.
She was all Texan when he met her, accent and hat and hair and boots, and attitude. She was stunning, thin, animated, and always the smartest person in the room, and she could sing. She was a classical singer but a gin and tonic might inspire a couple of bars of Patsy Cline, just to show that she was still a cowgirl at heart.
He charmed her in the awkward way men do this, by focusing on nothing else but her. She married him one summer and they moved to the Northwest.
He watched as she negotiated marriage and motherhood with music, as she slid from musical theater and opera chorus to cabaret shows in small restaurants, to leading roles and recitals all over the Northwest. If you heard her sing, you wouldn’t forget.
One day she drove by a little church, and her roots kicked in. She was reared in churches like this, and it became another home.
Her husband, on the other hand, had no interest in darkening the door of one of these places, having been there and done that. Polite people in church circles refer to this as a “wilderness” phase, although he wonders.
He’s spent a lot of time in this wilderness, over the years, and still visits. He knows what it’s like. He could be a park ranger in this wilderness, handing out maps and giving directions.
“OK,” he says, “All of the Doubters want to go off to the right. Keep an open mind and don’t get lost.”
He tells the Skeptics to watch their step, that the first one can be tricky. “And try the labyrinth!” he calls after them. “Be careful you don’t get dizzy.” He knows all about this.
But she has a way of compelling him to follow, and eventually he did, slouching in the pew but there. And when she decided to go to seminary, to open up another career, who was he to say differently?
She worked and mothered and taught, and still finished her degree in four years, Greek and Hebrew and exegeses and midrashes, internships and a stint as a chaplain. She passed her ordination exam and graduated in 2002, ready to serve.
You would think there’d be plenty of jobs for someone who just wanted to help, who didn’t mind long hours and low pay, but you’d be mistaken. It’s seems harder for women, but this is nothing new.
She put it aside, eventually, and moved on, college professor, musician, friend, wife, mother. Her husband continued to watch, sometimes from the wilderness, sometimes not.
And his wilderness could be messy.
Life is not tidy, anyway. A brain tumor can slow you down, a heart attack can take your breath away, breast cancer can distract you from certain dreams. He watched her go through this, too.
It takes 8 ½ minutes for light from the sun to reach us, you understand. We don’t notice it, of course, but it takes time.
And all after all this, after 14 years of imagining and preparing, after disappointment and brain surgery and mastectomy and radiation and waiting, a little church found her, loved her, and called her. Imagine that.
He still watches her, still tries to awkwardly charm her, and will be there on April 24 when she becomes ordained, surrounded by love. And it could be a sunny day, who knows?
This is what he wants to explain. It’s not about the 8 ½ minutes. It’s not about how long things take.
It’s about what happens while you wait, and what it feels like when the light finally arrives. It makes you want to look up, and wonder.