We put on our rain gear. Matt graciously takes Pete’s rain slicker, and Pete smiles broadly as he climbs into Bart’s truck. He knows he’ll be snug and warm as we ride down a wet, cold highway. And wet and cold it is.
We know we have sixty miles ahead of us, and the weather has put a damper on our spirits. Try as I may, I succumb to an attitude reflective of our cloudy skies. Looking ahead, I cringe at each rise in the road even when those rises are so slight you wouldn’t even know you are going up a hill. Carol and Mac are bickering with each other. Martha isn’t talking to anyone. And Faith appears to be praying. In my own foul mood, I think nasty thoughts about each of my friends like how Faith’s name fits her pious attitude. I know I’d never say something like that to Faith’s face. I like Faith. I like all of these people, yet here I am thinking horrible things about each of them. And Matt is not left out of my evil thoughts. I start wondering what his story really is, how he got to Coal Mine Canyon when it’s obvious he didn’t have a car, and if we all were being duped by some psychopath.
I’m deep in thought when I realize the rest of my biking friends have stopped. Off in the distance is a herd of deer.
At first I think, “Big deal, it’s a bunch of deer. So what!”
Matt is quickly putting a telephoto lens on his camera.
Still in my sour mood, I think, “You’re an idiot. Why would you risk getting that expensive equipment wet?”
I soon see what they are all looking at. A large mountain lion is approaching the herd. You can tell it’s trying to displace the herd hoping to identify the weakest link. And as it so happens, the mountain lion’s plan works. One deer struggles to stay with the herd. I can’t tell if it’s an old deer, injured, or what, but it’s obvious the deer is soon going to be lunch. The lion moves in attacking the deer with a ferocity that scares me.
I think, “Gosh, are we even safe being out here? I mean, that could be one of us.”
I can’t watch. I know it’s just Mother Nature at work, but I’ve never liked seeing someone or something weaker being overcome by someone or something stronger. I turn away from the carnage.
Matt is snapping picture after picture. I’m sure he’s getting some prize-winning photos, but I want to vomit. I feel tears welling up, my throat is tightening, and I want to scream and make the lion stop, but I know, by now, it’s too late. And I also know the lion needs to eat or it will die.
But I’ve put myself in the shoes of that weaker deer. Am I the weak link in this group of mine? Am I pulling my weight, holding my own? I feel like I’m suffocating. I gulp big breaths of air, hoping to fight back the tears and the fears I was having at that moment.
And just when I think I am going to lose everything, I feel a comforting arm come around my waist and I hear the comforting words of my praying friend.
Faith says, “Life isn’t for weaklings, is it?”
I turn and the tears just flow. I bury my head into her chest and sob.
Faith continues to talk to me, telling me how very proud she is to have met such a strong person, and how she will forever remember the day she realized that this strong person had a heart bigger than the universe.”
I finally look up and ask, “What in the world are you blabbing about?”
Faith laughs and says, “You, my silly friend.”
“Yes, you. Only someone with such passion for life would choose to head out on a trip like this, would allow us to befriend you, and would be so kind as to invite a talented photographer, like Matt, to tag along with us. Had it not been for you, we all would have missed this circle of life. You are the link that keeps us all together.”
I try to protest, but Faith will not allow it. She simply says, “You, my dear friend, could never be called a weak link like that poor deer was. By removing that weak deer from the herd, the rest of them will have an easier time of survival, and that mountain lion will be able to feed her babies.”
I look toward where Matt is pointing his camera. It’s then that I see three little cubs. The momma mountain lion takes a large hunk of deer meat over to her babies who tear at it with the same ferocity the momma used to take down the deer.
When the mountain lion family move on, Matt shows us some of the shots he got. And what I see in the picture of the three cubs eating is the weak link in those siblings. It’s very apparent that one is weaker because it sits back only getting bits and pieces from the outer edges of the hunk of meat.
In my somber mood, I think, “I hope this little guy grows up to be the strongest out of the three of them.”
And as we continue our ride to the Grand Canyon, the weather clears as does my heart and mind. That night, as we sit around a warm campfire, Matt thanks all of us for allowing him into our group. He explains that he’s making his way across the United States via foot, thumb, or the generosity of his fellow human beings.
“I’ve met a lot of wonderful people. Met a few curmudgeons, too, but I never let that get me down. Some of the photos I’ve take of them will add to the photo book I’m working on.”
I ask more about his book. He explains how he worked for the New Yorker for years, loved photographing people and animals, and won a few awards for those pictures. He finally took the advice of his boss who told him he should travel the country taking pictures of things and writing about what he’s seen. Matt asks if he could take a picture of me.
I ask, “Why just me?”
“Because you inspire me to continue on. I only wish you and I were headed in the same direction. But you are headed where I just came from.”
He snaps a photo of me looking at the campfire flames dancing in the night breeze. My trip to the Grand Canyon will stick with me for life, not because of what I saw but because of what I learned. And what I learned was, there’s a reason for everything, and that I’m the luckiest woman in this world to have found such good and talented friends.
And in my real world, I know Mother Nature has her way of dealing with weak links, but for humans to treat other humans like they are useless weak links is just wrong. We all have a purpose. Some of us may need a little prodding, but we are all worth saving.
I know at Catholic Charities, we see each client as a valuable person in society. We try our best to serve the needs of those who have less to call their own, but just because they have less doesn’t make them a lesser person.
So the next time you think someone is a weak link, don’t weed them out in hopes of saving the rest of the herd. Help them become as strong as all the other links. Their talents may prove to be the very thing that will change your life forever. And as always, let’s keep going the distance.
And speaking of going the distance, I continue to work on the second in this series of five books about the travels of Martha and Jake. If you haven’t read “Going the Distance”, check it out as you wait for my second book to be published later this year. You can find “Going the Distance” on Amazon.com, or click on this link www.amazon.com/dp/1500552607.