As I topped the hill and started into the next curve of the trail, a voice hailed me from back down the hill a ways. “Hey, wait up!” Words from an authoritative, distinctly-female voice. I turned quickly to see a woman slight of stature, short-cropped blonde hair and a wiry frame with a light sweater tied around her neck, rapidly approaching. An older woman … maybe around my age. Unaware that she had been behind me, I wondered how she so suddenly materialized out of thin air. No bother, just curious.
True to my politeness training (thanks, mom), I stopped and waited, almost obediently. The waning day lingered just above the far west horizon like a young kid getting a last taste of fun before scurrying home to dinner. I was in no hurry, having knocked out most of – and thus, slowed down on – my 5-mile walk on this off-bicycle day of cross-training.
She of the commanding voice soon caught up. Noticeably, she was rambling quick words even as she approached — noting the maturing sunset, the wasteful running of water from a truck-tank pipe left gushing precious agua below us, “here, of all places, in the desert!”
“Yes,” I responded as I turned to resume pace. “I called 9-1-1 to get help or permission [city property, I thought], but they were of no help and seemed quite disinterested.” But she interrupted.
“Idiots!” she yelled. “They don’t care, they just don’t CARE!”
“How to change the subject?” I fished in my mind under my breath. “I love this area!” I outwardly enthused. “So much to do, so many places to enjoy recreation, the mountains, the walking trails, lots of road cycling lanes.”
“Oh, you cyclists are crazy!” she screeched in response. “You take your lives in your OWN HANDS!”
My mental response, which I could not squeeze in edgewise, was, “Of course! Don’t you? You’re out here walking and flagged me down without any earthly idea who I am. What if I’m a serial killer? What about the snakes? Muggers? You got out of bed this morning risking a heart attack that is most likely – according to medical science – within the first 30 minutes of arising. Why? And why are you ranting to me, a total stranger, about the risks I take?”
But she had moved on to another subject even before my thoughts fully developed, and she was seemingly devoid of recognition that she had hailed down a human being with a different viewpoint.
An old James Taylor song popped into my mind. First verse:
Me and T-Bone on the road to town, it’s like I’m walkin’ with a talkin’ machine. Just as soon’s he thinks of somethin’ else, he won’t wait to interrupt himself. Must be somethin’ that he can’t quite say, he just doesn’t wanta leave it that way ….
We walked on together – I was near home and had no need to be deterred — as she rambled about women having no chance in this world, etc. The varying subjects over the next six minutes rose and fell like waves on a stormy beach, relentlessly pounded by the next. I went into brain-auto-pilot with an occasional “um-hm” until she exclaimed that she is a “very smart woman” because her “mother told [her] so!”
“That’s what mommas do,” I suggested with a smile. But her monologue overrode the thought and skipped away. I took the turn toward home, turning back over my shoulder with “Nice talking with you! Have a great evening!” No inkling in my mind that I had helped.
Predictably, she didn’t hear the farewell and never broke stride, still gushing like a talk show host as she blended into the settling dusk like coffee into hot chocolate.
That ‘taking your life in your own hands’ idiom? I recalled a card bought when I reached Vilano Beach in St. Augustine, Florida on my bicycle – the culmination of a 3,555-mile ride across the continent – apparently a DANGEROUS adventure I shouldn’t have taken. You’ve probably read it before:
Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover. ~ Mark Twain
Twain should have added: “Take your life in your own hands.” Life is to be cherished, not held close — or closed — in fear.
Carpe diem. Vita brevis!
© February 6, 2018, by Michael E. Stubblefield. All rights reserved.