Let me share a word picture illustrating the act of clinging. Clinging like there’s no tomorrow. Clinging to something bigger than yourself.
In my early twenties I was insecure and shy. I had few female relationships and I blame it on the “party-line” phone system ensuring any attempt of asking a girl on a date would be heard (and repeated) by at least 3 housewives and by my Uncle Harold, guaranteed. To overcome this intimidation I did the manly thing. I waited for a girl to ask me out. Any girl.
But this time, it was not just any girl.
I’d made it to the early phase of a dating relationship with a blonde beauty who’d recently whooped me in a game of tether-ball. Ever encounter a professional tether-ball player? Turns out, in her youth, she’d work her way to the pole during middle-school recesses and never relinquish the victor’s position until the bell rang. I hit the ball once. Kinda gentle like, as if you were playing against a girl. When it reached her side of the pole, she interlocked her fingers making a two-fisted sort of club and launched the ball into orbit above my head. I just watched the ball twirl into tight loops at the top of the pole. No use even jumping.
I picked my cowboy hat out of the dust and asked her to join me in the Fall cattle roundup. She joined me and my family as we sought to fetch the cattle from dry pastures and haul them back home for winter care. We warmed ourselves on the cold day around the campfire, watching our breath mingle with the steam from cowboy coffee my dad perked over the coals, and listened to tall tales told by Uncle Harold. He was a great story-teller. Some parts were true. At least as true as truth can be stretched. Some parts may have been gleaned from overheard party-line conversations.
We mounted our horses, gave out the traditional cattle call, “Come Bos!” and discovered there was little work to do but open the corral gate and watch eager cattle stream in.
It was over too quick. So, the pony-tailed gorgeous blonde and I went for a leisurely ride to absorb the scenery of the North Idaho mountains and meadows. Here I was, in my cowboy shyness, swapping stories with not just any girl while we meandered on gentle horses back towards the corrals. I’m thinking, “Gosh, if she enjoys this, perhaps I’ll step up into cowboy confidence and ask her out again someday. Don’t blow this one, buddy.”
“Hey, wanna gallop these ol’ cayuses?” I asked, glancing at the corrals down over a few hillsides about a mile away.
She said, “Sure.” It may have been the last word she ever uttered if she’d been just any girl.
I’d expected the horses to hit a gentle loping stride as we nudged them with our heels. Instead, the horse interpretation for seeing corrals in the distance equates to, “Whaaa Hoooo! Let’s fly! Last one to the corral’s an ol’nag!”
In a flash, our horses were tearing down a steep hillside like an avalanche. Blondie’s ponytail bobbed and fluttered, marking each hurtling stride. From a few paces behind her, too far behind to rescue her, I shuddered as the sudden startle caused her feet to come out of the stirrups. Worse, she dropped the reins.
My memory now shifts into slow motion. The next moments unfold frame by frame as if dreamed. It wasn’t a dream. With panic in my voice I screamed, “Watch out for that Creek!” The Creek was about 6 feet across by 3 feet deep. It held no water this time of year, but any horseman knows the paralyzing dilemma it presented. The mad dashing steeds allowed themselves two options. Maintain full blinding speed and leap to clear the obstacle. Or, apply horse brakes, sliding to the edge of the Creek in rapid deceleration effectively launching any saddle occupant without their feet in the stirrups like a catapult.
Meanwhile, facing the inevitable onrushing catastrophe, I thought, “Either way the horse chooses, Blondie’s dead.” “I killed her and she wasn’t just any girl.” I imagined sitting in the dirt holding her head on my lap, stroking her hair to comfort her toward her last breath.
But Blondie assessed her predicament and noticed the saddle horn. Two tether-ball-honed hands interlocked their fingers around that stout piece of leather-covered metal, and clung. Clung for dear life. That’s the picture I want you to put in your mind. What brash option did the horse choose? The “lickity-split-and leap” option. Up. Up as if it were a cow jumping over the moon. The horse descended toward earth.
I could see the sunset twixt the saddle and Blondie’s jeans.
But oh she did cling. The landing was rough, but she stayed in the saddle. She clung. There will be a tomorrow.
In a most welcome moment of relief, I absorbed the glorious outcome and made note of a deep inner voice whispering, “She stayed in the saddle. I’ve got to marry that girl.” She gave me a picture of clinging that’s lasted nearly 37 years. She also gave me a ring that’s now the same age.
I cling to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalms 63:8, NIV)