I've spent many long summers in Texas, but I don't ever recall seeing bold dashes of pink among the barren, rocky soil in July. For the past two weeks I've been observing mile after mile of these stubborn little bunches appearing in seemingly inhospitable locations.
I look at them and think, my, my. Something so pretty in such a difficult place. Mother nature paints metaphors.
Hard places aren't unfamiliar territory, of course. Sometimes we even choose them. You can complain about them if you want, or you can stop and look around for something beautiful.
I know of places where people who are hurting get together with other people who are hurting, and they gather round and talk awhile about it. When they leave, they generally feel better. So I gather too, sometimes, and sit and listen. Sometimes I talk, too. Sometimes I cry.
Like the time the plain-spoken old man recounted his life and shortcomings, whose voice quivered when he reached the part about his wife, best peach on the tree, and said he was grateful most of all for love. In a few short minutes he blew the room apart, stripped it of its shallow pretenses and misguided obsessions, filled it with hope and brought its human contents back around to what is real, and what it's really all about: love.
I know what love is; but I don't know how to go about it very well sometimes. I don't guess any of us do all the time. But I want what that man and his wife have - good, bad and all. So I keep working away, trying to get better at it. Because it matters.
The day his story moved me to tears, I was driving home and noticed, once again, the pink blossom bunches scattered among the rocks and sun-singed grass. I couldn't stand it any longer.
I pulled off the road and came to a screeching halt in a bar ditch. I took the keys out of the ignition, climbed out the passenger-side door and scrambled up the rocky hillside so I could get a closer look at the things. I took their pictures and lingered there, while cars blew past on the busy road 50 feet away. I studied the flowers and thought, "There but for the grace of God, grow I."
I returned to my car, climbed back in the passenger door, slid across to the driver's seat and reached for the ignition. I looked down at the keys in my hand and realized that the car key was missing, somehow, from the key chain.
I looked out the window at the hillside, freshly baked in the afternoon heat, covered with rocks and grass and stickery thorns. The car key was somewhere out there, and I had to go find it. I was stranded. That wasn't part of the plan.
I sat there a minute or two, staring out the window. Caught between a rock and a hard place. I laughed.
After a few minutes I got back out of the car and found my key on the ground a few feet away from the passenger door.
If you wish to go hunting for metaphors, choose wisely the one you intend to pursue, because you just might find it. You also run the risk of becoming it. So don't forget your spare key.