I am walking through a hospital corridor when a picture on the wall catches my attention. Riders on pinto and paint horses parallel a creek. Their leaders turn into the forest. Snow-covered mountains in the background remind me of southwestern Alberta. I often rode my horse Apache, who had markings resembling the horses in the painting, in terrain similar to the artwork on the wall. I am lost in memories of long afternoon rides and horseback adventures.
A voice behind me says, “Go ahead, straighten it out.” I turn to find a woman sitting on the other side of the corridor. Apparently she has seen something I missed. The picture is not level. I lift one corner. She says, “Not quite so much. A little less,” so I make another adjustment. Eventually we agree that the picture is level.
As I follow her directions, I wonder if she is the personality type who likes organization and tidiness. I visualize her as a person who likes a home where everything is in its place. I ask: “Do you like to straighten things out?” She admits her preference for tidiness and orderliness.
As we speak, her husband arrives. His cap and T-shirt imply that he is a farmer. “Are you trying to straighten out the farmers?” She says, “Yes, but it is more difficult than straightening out the house.”
After more good-natured banter, I learn they are Daryl and Margo and they farm near the Alberta and Saskatchewan border. They have 250 cows and farm three-quarters of a section of land. As we part, I ask if they read Country Guide? Daryl says, “I thought I had seen you somewhere. I was trying to remember where it was. I was thinking you were one of the insurance salesmen who show up at bull sales.” He explains that buyers need insurance on the bulls before they transport them home. We laughed about where the conversation could go next. As a minister I have jokingly been accused of selling “fire insurance.” I wonder if selling insurance on bulls is easier than persuading people to take the high road thereby avoiding eternal wrath.
My conversation with Daryl and Margo resembles encounters that take place continuously, over the phone, at the grocery store or while standing at the parts counter. We try to “figure one another out.” Frederick Buechner in his book The Hungering Dark says humanity is an enormous spider web. “If you touch it anywhere, you set the whole thing trembling. As we move around this world and as we act with kindness, perhaps, or with indifference, or with hostility, toward the people we meet, we too are setting the great spider web a-tremble. The life that I touch for good or ill will touch another life, and that in turn another, until who knows where the trembling stops or in what far place and time my touch will be felt. Our lives are linked. No man, no woman, is an island.”
I am constantly amazed by how the enormity of creation is linked with the smallest detail. An ancient Celtic prayer describes God: “It is you who make the sun bright and the ice sparkle, you who make the rivers flow and the salmon leap. Your skilled hand makes the tree blossom and the corn turn golden. Your spirit composes the songs of the birds and the buzz of the bees. Your creation is a million wondrous miracles to behold.”