Michael K. Shaub, September 15th, 2011
We were driving to a former student’s wedding in west Texas this weekend, and our trip provided an up close and personal look at the damage that has been done by the wild fires raging across Texas this summer. Virtually every mile of the landscape was bone dry, but parts had been ravaged. We had to detour around Bastrop, which would have been our normal route, because the largest wild fire in Texas history had wiped out hundreds of homes and much of the state park. It likely will never be the same in my lifetime.
West of Austin, near Spicewood, the ground was charred on both sides of the road. The Pedernales River had no water in it where we crossed. Once we passed Brady, we were moving into what is traditionally west Texas, where the ground is always dry in the summer. It looked more natural there.
The winery where the wedding was held, near Christoval, could not have provided a starker contrast. Massive oak trees shaded the folding chairs from the evening sun, offering a majestic backdrop for those watching the ceremony. On either side were the rows of grapevines, lush and full, with a slow drip of water falling to the ground below them every few feet. The grass under the chairs was a luxuriant green. Everything about the setting, including the ceremony, spoke of tender care and careful attention.
Two west Texas families, one dressed mostly in cowboy formal, embraced the couple and one another in genuine joy. My wife and I were invited to join a table reserved for wedding party members that included two other former students. My primary observation sitting there was that I could not remember seeing more couples who were genuinely enjoying dancing together, not just dancing. I kept sensing that there was nowhere those couples would rather be than in each other’s arms. Daddies danced with daughters while Moms took pictures. The pastor danced with every woman who wasn’t chained down. There was the deep and unmistakable smell of life in the place. I was reluctant to leave, even though virtually everyone there was a stranger to me.
There is a tendency to take for granted the reliability of the seasons, of rain, of the essentials being provided when we need them, of life. This summer has made me less complacent, and more conscious of preserving the things that sustain life. We are living on the edge. A friend recently had to call 911 because someone’s cigarette butt had started a grass fire in her neighborhood. One moment she was trying to beat it out with a blanket, the next it was a 20 by 40 foot fire ready to take off down the street. Only a quickly arriving pumper truck prevented a serious problem.
I have noticed that, for many people, relationships are a tinder box as well, ready to catch fire and run out of control. And what catches them on fire are careless words. Speaking without thinking, angry words stretch and break relationships that have held together for years. Economic pressures make people self-interested and magnify others’ offenses.
We have even seen it in the process of Texas A&M detaching from the Big 12, and not just in blog posts. People are ready to set on fire longstanding relationships, and they make comments designed not to persuade, but to anger and to cut.
It may be time to leave, but bridges burned are not easily rebuilt. I know that many Aggies are tired of one school being condescending and another clinging on for dear life. But there are also legitimate concerns when we walk away from commitments, whether or not there are official contracts. We ought to patiently listen, even if it can be tiring and unnecessarily contentious. We could have left last year when it would have been easier. But we didn’t. We cannot control what others say about the situation, but we can make the choice to say less ourselves.
The ground is really dry out there. What we need is the drip, drip, drip of wisdom to bring back some life to the soil, and to the vines. It is a lot easier to toss the cigarette butt out the window and see what happens than it is to stop the vehicle and stomp it out on the pavement. But we shouldn’t be surprised if the pumper truck doesn’t get there in time to prevent some unintended consequences.