The Hills I Haven’t Hoed

When a friend calls to me from the road
And slows his horse to a meaning walk,
I don’t stand still and look around
On all the hills I haven’t hoed,
And shout from where I am, “What is it?”
No, not as there is time to talk.
I thrust my hoe in the mellow ground,
Blade-end up and five feet tall,
And plod: I go up to the stone wall
For a friendly visit.
-Robert Frost
A Time to Talk

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The dishes were done, suds still in the sink, as I thrashed around the bottom of the closet for footwear. My family sits at ease on the porch, but I am majestically standing tall on the pedals of my bike, flying down the drive. I ride for a mile one way, crossing the intersection in a wide curving arc across the tar. Past cornfield, fencerows, and pretty roadside flowers I pedal, eyeing the goal — the turning point ahead in the grass. Then the tires are perpendicular and I lean sideways, the bike turning tightly and this time, I didn’t wobble one bit. Crossing the intersection again, going the other way this time, over the little hills, and I’m just speeding up for the next one when I see him.

Forearms on the wheel, he sits on the gator seat, facing his backyard gully where a stream is singing happily. At my greeting, he waves, and my tires squeal loudly. Next to his immobile vehicle I park, and feeling the weight of his thoughts, we watch the water, talking small. Wanting relief and forgetfulness, he looks my direction and asks about me. My answers please him, but when his wife steps out to the garden, he says, ‘Go, talk to her.’

He’s 81, and she’s not far from it, and their faces are robust and wrinkled. Their bodies are stout but flexible. His hair is gray and curly, but hers is thin and falling. They have woven their lives together, into this tiny farm. They have poured into their children all the love, support, and decency they had, but none chose to remain like them. Alone together they keep house, and tend the cows. In their conversation, they forget themselves, their burdens, and sorrows, telling only the stories of their loved ones.

Her knife harvests the lettuce while she talks about our families and their tapestries. Her daughter’s vacation, my widowed great aunt in Tennessee, Neighbor Morris’s family in Kansas and all their recent weddings.

Not a half hour ago, after supper, Mom told us about our neighbor’s cancer. The lump on her neck, the tests she was pushing off (‘I won’t be here! We’re going to Kansas for Heidi’s wedding! That’s next Friday!’), the mystery surrounding it, and the small hope of complete removal.

‘Anna, I hear life isn’t the easiest for you right now, but I want you to know that I’m lifting you up in prayer.’

‘You know, the hardest part is not knowing. They want to do tests and tests and more tests, and it’s just scary. But if this what God wants for my life, then let Him have His way. Just this morning, I flipped the calendar page, and there it said that sometimes God allows hard things to come our way so that we can be drawn closer to Him. And I just thought, well that was great timing. And if that means seeing Him in person…well that would be nice too.’

I was the passerby tonight, my bike and I. We overheard something about a faith that will land someone safe home, and we are converts. To the front of the tent we come, my bike and I, to sit and ponder a while about our own hurriedness, to wonder over the safety of cars and Instagram, too much music and books, and our own distracted enjoyment. Turning our tires to face the pulpit, we contemplate the evangelist: a man and his wife, who have lived eighty years on this planet. Their old bodies fade into a good reality, from inside them coming a radiance. Wrinkles this deep lie like maps directing us to heaven.

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