Die Like You Were Living

Posted March 29, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

Last week, ten-year-old barrel racer Piper Faust died tragically at a rodeo in Caldwell, Texas. She was getting ready to race when her horse spooked, fell backwards onto her. Truly heartbreaking for the world to have lost such a wonderfully spirited young girl.

I did not know Piper but those who did speak only of her infectious spirit, her amazing smile and her passion for the rodeo. They say she’d said for years she would die young. Perhaps she somehow knew. One thing’s for sure, Piper spent every moment of everyday living her life to its absolute fullest, doing what she loved.

Her father said, “I think her heart stopped beating in the arena. She left her soul where she loved it.” That’s something that cannot be said of many eighty year olds when they pass from this life to the next.

Piper’s mother said that she did everything with all her heart. She gave it her all. That’s the cowboy way and at the end of the ride, whether a cowboy stays the limit or gets bucked off, they leave it all out on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena, satisfied that they gave it their all.

Not many people understand having that kind of commitment to something. They’ve never experienced a passion so intense, it compels someone to climb back up on the horse after being bucked off. Piper had that drive. Had she been able, she would have climbed right back up and raced when her name was called.

We can learn so much from this tough as nails kid. To embrace life wholly and completely. To number our days and live each one as if it was our last. We would make sure that we are living in such a way that when we draw our last breath, we die doing exactly what we were destined to do on this earth, passionately living our dreams.

There are those who feel Piper should not have been engaging in such a dangerous sport. I could not disagree more. EVERYTHING in life comes with its own set of risks. Because of that truth, we should—no, absolutely MUST—spend our days pursuing what we love.

Her death was tragic and that night when she passed from this life to the next, there was an undeniable hole in the world her presence once filled. But I guarantee you that if she had the opportunity to change that moment in time, she would not. She died like she was living… in the rodeo.

Piper’s death brings to the forefront of our minds the truth we are all faced with every moment of every day. None of us are guaranteed tomorrow. We must live while life is with us. When you come to the end of your cowboy or cowgirl’s last ride, I hope you will have lived in such a way, that you died living life. May your heart stop beating in the arena and leave your soul where you loved it.

All of life is like Piper’s story. It’s a rodeo with unpredictable horses to race. We can sit out or climb on the horse, calmly accepting the reality it could be our last ride. And since we could get bucked off, we owe it to ourselves and the world to hang on for dear life. To ride the limit and leave it all out there on the dirt floor of the rodeo arena.

Rest in peace, Piper. Thank you for teaching us all how to live.

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Defenders of Freedom

Posted March 28, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I left under the cover of darkness in the vastness of South Dakota. I drove 52 miles without seeing a single light of any kind. It rained the day and night before and the higher I climbed, the lower the temperature dropped. When it reached 29 degrees, I stopped my truck right on the road. There was no place to pull off and since I was the only person for dozens of miles, it didn’t really matter that I was blocking the road.

I tried to slide my feet across the pavement. My boots dug in. Still not convinced there was no ice, I bent down and placed both hands on the pavement. There really was NO ice. I hopped back in Dillon and finished my ride to, well, an undisclosed location.

My instructions were to drive two miles down the last road on my GPS and stop at the gate. Someone would come get me.

“How will they know I’m there?”

“They’ll know.”

I arrived at the locked gate, cut my headlights and turned off my engine. Within thirty seconds, three sets of headlights sped toward me from inside the gate. Armed military police officers stopped, opened the gate and approached my truck. They were ALL business and were very heavily armed.

They instructed me to follow the lead vehicle to a building. As I approached, the door went up and two more guards appeared and motioned for me to drive inside. The second my trailer cleared, the door closed again and the armed guards showed up at my door.

They instructed me to open both doors, my tool compartment and my hood and to get my paperwork. Once completed, they escorted me far into the labyrinth of the building and into an interrogation room. As they closed and locked the door behind me, I gazed around at the room. A wooden bench spread along wall. On the far corner of it sat a telephone. Three walls were cinderblock, the forth a two-way mirror.  They could see me but I could not see them.

After fifteen minutes, a member of the security detail’s voice boomed over an intercom I failed to notice in my jailbird six by six. He asked me if I’d ever been there. Not knowing exactly where “there” was, I said no. They then asked me to slide my ID and paperwork through a tiny slot beside the two-way mirror.

Then I waited. I sat. I stood. I paced five feet, then five feet back. I sat again. I crossed my legs. I tried not to look like I’d committed a crime. I hoped they did not find the bomb I was now absolutely sure had to be in my truck. Otherwise they would not be doing this to me.

Ninety-three agonizing minutes later, the door opened. A very stern looking armed soldier told me I had been cleared but I was to remain in the room until my “sponsor” arrived.

“Would that be a person who is going to escort me where I need to deliver?”

“Yes ma’am.”

Finally, the door unlocked and opened again and an armed female soldier approached. She provided strict instructions that I was to follow immediately behind her vehicle, not change lanes or direction. She would escort me precisely where I was to deliver the plutonium… Uhhh, I mean the frozen beef.

I did as I was told while armed vehicles were on my left and behind me. When my sponsor made a right turn, I wondered if it would be worse to swing out to the left allowing my trailer to clear on the right, or run off the road with the back. I swung out. They didn’t shoot me. Another building came into view. She turned in and I did as well.

She stopped, got out of her vehicle and approached me as she pointed at a dock against the building. “Open your doors now (they’d already broken the seal when they searched the trailer) and back up to that dock. Once you are in the dock, please turn off the engine and exit your truck. Do NOT return to your truck until I tell you to.”

I did just that and within just a couple of minutes, the two pallets and six boxes were offloaded by personnel I never saw and my paperwork was brought to me by a member of my security detail. We then repeated the caravan in reverse order. Within moments I exited the gate in the middle of nowhere, it closed and the armed soldiers disappeared back into the darkness.

As I drove off to my next pick up point, I felt wholly patriotic to deliver beef to hard core soldiers who were standing the line of defense against America’s enemies. It was intimidating. Frightening even for someone who’d done nothing wrong. But it was also inspiring and reassuring to see that men and women are well equipped to care for our nation.

I realized we are in good hands. I’d thanked them for their service to our country. None even cracked a smile but with fingers on their triggers, responded with a quick, “thank you ma’am.”

Soldiers standing at the ready.

I would like to thank the men and women who sacrifice, put on a uniform, take up arms to fight in our military. I do not take that for granted and I know YOU are paying the price for my freedom, someone you’ll most likely never meet.

God bless you, American soldiers, as you stand the line for freedom.

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Temporary Home

Posted March 27, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I pulled into a truck stop in a remote part of Kansas just as I ran out of drive time. The day had started at 2am and I’d been bombarded with challenges all day. My patience had reached its limit and I was ready for a relaxing dinner in the local restaurant.

I grabbed a window booth and perused the menu. As with many local eateries in Kansas, they had a Mexican food section. I ordered my vegetarian enchiladas and chomped on the chips and salsa. My young waitress drew me to her immediately with her infectious smile. She was friendly and attentive, and eager to please her weary customer. We struck up a conversation.

Jennifer is only 18 and was orphaned at age five. She was never adopted, although she is so delightful, I can’t imagine why. Throughout her childhood, she was placed in over a hundred foster homes, until she finally aged out of the system.

I was amazed and couldn’t help but ask, “How were you able to cope with bouncing around with no place of your own?”

“When you’re in the foster system, you learn quickly that nothing is permanent. No matter where they place you, it’s just a temporary home.”

“That must have been very difficult for you.”

“Sometimes. But I’m no different from you.”

I thought she somehow knew about my life and my story.  “How so?”

“We’re all just passing through. Earth not our destination. It’s our temporary home. I’m headed to Heaven. What about you?”

For the next few minutes, I let Jennifer share Jesus with me. It was important to her. I finally told her that I share her faith.

“I knew it. It just felt good to tell you. Thanks for letting me.”

“So what now, Jennifer? What are you doing now? I’m sure you had to qualify for college scholarships.”

The smile momentarily faded from her face for the first time since we’d met. “Another thing I learned in foster care was it’s best to not take the handouts they give you. There are always strings attached in foster homes.”

“So you’re on your own now?”

“Yes. I rent a room from my boss. I work here and two other jobs. No colleges around here to go to but I’m taking classes online. I pay my own tuition as I go. Another year and I will have my BA degree.”

“What then? Have a plan?”

“I suppose most people would think I’d do social work or something to right the wrongs and save the foster care system. But that’s impossible to accomplish and God rescued me from it. I have no plans to go back. This is cattle country. The cows need veterinary care. I’m going to Vet school. I’ve already been accepted. I just have to complete my biology labs at the campus this summer. I start in the fall.”

Noticing that Jennifer’s smile had returned, I knew in my heart she would be fine and go far in life. She’d been bounced around more than a tennis ball on centre court at Wimbledon, yet her attitude remained hopeful. She possessed a wisdom beyond her years, that true wisdom forged on the anvil of suffering.

I wanted to do something to help her. I wanted to adopt her and make her my kid. But she was not a child. She was a bigger than life young woman determined to grab life by the horns and force it to follow her lead.

Jennifer knows it is fleeting. She’ll never get it back. She knows this earth, however unfair it was to her during her childhood, is merely her temporary home. She embraces every moment and squeezes every drop of goodie out of it, not intending to waste a single one lamenting over water under a bridge she did not build.

As I reluctantly said goodbye to my new friend and slowly walked back to my truck, I was reminded how temporary life—good or bad—really is. I let the challenging waters of my day roll under the proverbial bridge and disappear somewhere beyond my world.

Jennifer got it right.

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Shatter the Night

Posted March 25, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I quickly checked the weather report before departing for my new pick up point. It would be dark by the time I trucked the sixty miles east to Lexington, Nebraska. The weather reports promised some rain and winds to 30mph, well within the limits to drive with an empty trailer. So I rolled.

Ten miles into my journey and right on cue, the rains began. Surprisingly there were far less severe than the dark, ominous clouds threatened, and had completely stopped before I arrived at my shipper. I knew my load was already ready so it was just a matter of checking in, dropping my empty trailer, hook to my loaded one, check out and pull into their overnight parking area for a nice, relaxing evening of movies.

Or so I thought.

The trailer I was to hook to was a foot too high. I exited my truck, went back to the trailer and began to crank it down. I looked back toward the front of the truck and a huge brown cloud began rushing by. Within a few seconds, I could no longer see my truck just a few feet in front of me. I was in a sand storm.

The winds increased rapidly and strengthened every second. Suddenly, they began to blow underneath my trailer so hard, it was blowing me off my feet. I knew I was in trouble and the safest place was inside my truck. I just couldn’t see it.

I closed my eyes, held on to the trailer and inched my way back up to my truck. In the space between my truck and trailer, grains of sand pelted my skin like thousands of pin pricks. Sand got into my ears, my eyes, under my fingernails. I staggered to stay upright but finally made it to my driver’s door, opened it and climbed inside.

I sat looking out my windshield at a brown out as the fierce wind rocked my truck violently. Suddenly, my passenger side window shattered into a million pieces. Shards of flying glass rocketed toward me, slicing my skin as they made contact.

The brown sand blew in through the hole where glass once protected me. I attempted to put up a blanket to stop the flow of wind but it was useless. I was bleeding and being pummeled by sand and ferocious wind.

Within a few minutes, the winds subsided to a mere 37mph sustained. I exited my truck again. As I walked back to my trailer again, I left a trail of all sizes and shapes of glass that had blown into my lap, into my pockets, my hair and boots.

Safely hooked but shaken up, I drove to the guard shack and told them what happened. Fortunately, they’d included eye irrigation to their first aid kit. I used all they had. My eyes were scratched and hurting. I suppose it didn’t really matter much whether it was from glass or sand. Both cut.

I cleaned the blood from the micro cuts, removed the glass from my ears, mouth and boots. I realized that only ten minutes before the storm hit, I was out on the open highway with an empty trailer. There is no way it would have remained upright had I been hit by the storm NO ONE SAW COMING!!!!

I waded through debris in my truck that looked as though a bomb had exploded and through tears, thanked God yet again for His protection. Through filing the accident report, dealing with our safety department, making arrangements to have the window replaced and ultimately putting my heart back inside my chest, I realized how blessed I really am.

Just as with any thriller, I could not have a calm exit to the ordeal. Before I could finish the reporting and phone calls, a violent thunderstorm arrived and threatened to make mud out of the three inches of brown sand inside my truck. I quickly grabbed a piece of heavy plastic and duct tape (no person should ever be without these), and patched the hole.

Finally, at 1am, I vacuumed the glass and sand off my bed, crawled into it and wept. One final release at the end of another harrowing experience. One weapon I have to right my world when it gets turned on off its kilter. Somewhere in the ocean of those tears, I drifted off to sleep and put a period at the end of another sentence in the book of my life.

They say the winds of that sand storm exceeded 100mph. I believe it. I felt it. I battled against it.

I thank God that in that moment of terror, when I least expected something to happen, He gave me the resourcefulness to know what to do and survive. The gale force winds of adversity may have shattered the night but in the morning light the storm had passed and life goes on…

 

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You’re Never Too Old

Posted March 24, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

In a couple of months I will reach a milestone. I’ll turn the BIG 6-0. Through the years as I navigated this incredible journey called life, I wasn’t sure what I thought I’d feel like at this age. But I can assure you THIS was NOT it.

I still run. Ok, these days it more resembles the march of the penguins but I’m still out there pounding the pavement. I did not even start driving a truck until I was 57. I climb all over my truck and trailer. I play with my neighbor’s grandkids. I camp in tents on the ground.

The only time I feel my age is when I look at the mirror, gaze at that wrinkly woman with silver hair staring back at me, gasp and ask, “Who are you and what have you done with Reba?”

Recently while in the Mojave Desert in California, I stopped to eat at a local hole in the wall diner. My waitress hurried over to take my drink order. It was hard not to notice she was older than me. Much older. 89 to be exact. She was as spry as they come. Genevieve (Genny for short), took orders from memory, carried huge heavy trays filled with food to tables and NEVER got the order wrong. Never.

She worked circles around her young spring chicken counterparts and refused to complain about anything. I asked her if she could sit for a few minutes. Surprisingly, she did and as I always do, I dug into her life.

Genny raised four sons on tips from the restaurant. She started there at the age of 14. It was where she met her husband. She was married at 16 and widowed at 17. Her husband was killed in World War II.  Suddenly a single parent, she worked double shifts to provide. When her boys got old enough to attend school, the bus dropped them off at the grill every day. They sat doing homework while Genny bussed tables and provided for their modest lifestyle.

Her eyes glowed as she spoke of her grown sons. “One is a doctor. One is a teacher, a professor at a college. The other two followed in their father’s footsteps and are officers in the military. All things considered, I guess we did alright.”

She went on to say her sons want her to give up her home in the desert and retire from her job at the diner. Quite frankly, I’d chastise myself moments earlier for thinking the same thing.  I asked her why she stayed out there in the desert slinging hash. Her answer was profound.

“I’ve done this for 75 years. It’s who I am. Doing anything else would require I give up my identity. I’m just not willing to give up who I am.”

“It’s been really hard work. I’m sure you’re tired.”

“There have been days that I was so tired I felt I couldn’t go on for another step. But it’s that same work that’s kept me young. It’s keeping me alive. Sure can’t complain about that. Hard work never hurt nobody.”

Genny worked seven days a week for more than 75 years without a vacation or even a single day off. That’s over 27,000 days she’s waited tables. She serves about 40 customers a day at that little well known diner. That means she’s served over a million meals in her lifetime to hungry passersby. Many of them were complete strangers who she never saw again. Yet, she treated them like family and saw to it their hunger needs were met.

She suddenly jumped up, thanked me for the “chat” but said she had to get back to work. She hurried away as she waved at regular customers who were walking in. She met them at their table with their usual drinks.

Genny is living proof that you are never too old to live your dream. You are never too old to continue really living life. Honestly, you are never too old to become who you were meant to be.

I may never see Genny again but I doubt I’ll ever forget her. Deep in the Mojave Desert, she proves that the Heartbeat of America is alive and well.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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You Never Know

Posted March 23, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I parked my truck and walked as fast as I could to Cracker Barrel. I’d been looking forward to a vegetable plate all day. I didn’t even mind climbing the endless hills in Kentucky to get there. I was seated by the hostess and immediately my server, Diana, appeared to take my order.

While waiting for my food to arrive, I got caught up in my own very important world. I read what my friends had eaten for breakfast as I flipped through Facebook. I deleted a dozen email offers to become rich overnight. I played games on my phone.

Sadly, I didn’t even notice the young couple next to me until I was half way through my fried okra and corn bread. Their newborn baby began to cry. When mom and dad’s attention was suddenly drawn to the tiny life form, the toddler joined in with his own whimper.

Diana passed by just then and dad asked for the check. She assured them she’d bring it right away, then looked in my direction to see if I needed anything. Immediately I knew that I needed to pick up this family’s tab. I mouthed to my server, “give it to me.” She nodded and walked away.

A few moments later, Diana approached the couple’s table and told them that their check had been covered by an anonymous individual. The young mother wiped tears away from her eyes that had to have been falling before she got my news.

I finished up my meal, grabbed both checks and headed for the cashier. Just as I slid them and my money across the counter, the young man approached. He called the elderly cashier by name and told her someone had paid their tab. She looked down and saw both tickets but kept our secret.

The young man herded his family out the door and they disappeared. The cashier then looked at me and said, “You have no idea what you’ve just done for that family.”

I looked up at her in surprise.

“That baby is a twin. The other baby died the same night it was born for no apparent reason. While they were all at the hospital, their home burned to the ground. Their two dogs and a cat died in the fire. They lost everything.”

I stood there shocked. Me… the conversationalist… stunned to silence. I finally asked how they were coping.

“Day to day,” she replied. “God’s looking after them. Sends folks like you to help them. To show them a glimmer of light. They’ll be alright. They’re tough.”

I exited the building and walked much slower the several blocks back to my truck. I was ashamed that so many minutes went by without my even noticing these precious people and feeling their pain. But I was grateful that God had shaken me out of my stupor before it was too late to bless them.

With each step I took, I was reminded how we never know what a person right next to us is suffering. They look… well, normal but they could be anything but. They are hurting. Devastated. Broken. But they put one foot in front of the other and are finding a way to move on.

I asked for God’s forgiveness for not being in tune with those He’d placed me next to. I also prayed for this incredible family who displayed immeasurable courage. They exemplify who Americans are. Even through tears, the heartbeat of America is alive and well.

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Where the Wind Blows

Posted March 9, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I awoke from a night of being tossed around by an ever-increasing wind. What had rocked me into a blissful slumber in the darkness was about to become a most formidable foe.

I dismissed my first proposed load. It had six stops, three of which were early in the morning in downtown Chicago. I do NOT go to Chicago. My next proposal would take me to Janesville, Wisconsin to pick up canned vegetables bound for Arkansas. Nice run. There was just one problem. I’d have to fight high winds for nearly 200 miles in an empty trailer.

Weather reports promised it would get worse as the day progressed. I was close to maximum winds for an empty trailer but still under the threshold, but safe. So off I rolled from Greenbay southwest to my new shipper. Hopefully, I’d get there safely before the winds became dangerous.

The moment I headed south on the interstate, my trailer was slammed with an invisible freight train. That started ongoing dialog with Siri regarding wind speed. Definitely intensifying. Very uncomfortable but still manageable.

After an hour of being blown around like a rag doll, I came into OshKosh. Just twenty-four hours earlier, I peacefully drove though the quaint town. Today, I was white knuckle weaving through gust after gust.

Suddenly, I saw a bridge up ahead. It was the lake! And I had no way to go but over the bridge! I slowed down to 30mph, normally a dangerous speed on the interstate. But, all things considered, I’d rather be rammed in the rear than be fished out of the lake. I turned on my emergency flashers right as the wind slapped my trailer. I slowed more, to 25mph. The trailer in front of me came off the ground. I whispered a prayer of thanks when the wheels touched down again.

I tapped the button on my headset, then asked Siri the wind speed.

“The wind is blowing at 62 mph right now.”

She sounded so calm. I was terrified! I slowed to 15mph and maneuvered my truck to hallway in the right lane and the other half in the emergency lane. That way the wind would not be able to get underneath my trailer and provide lift. If my enemy was going to blow me over, it would have to be from a direct hit.

It took over five long minutes—or was it an eternity—to get to the other side of the bridge. There was no safe place to stop so I had to keep going. Slowly.

One by one I began to pass carnage of the battle. Truck after truck lay in medians and on off ramps, where they came to rest after being blown over. I prayed for the drivers, hoping they were not seriously injured.

A family from Louisiana cruised along beside me in the left lane. I braked drastically to quickly get them away from me. I was a ticking time bomb and did not want to take innocent victims when I exploded.

Five hours after my nightmare began, I turned into my shipper. After checking in with the security guard, I pulled into a parking space and shut Dillon down. I stepped into the back of my truck, got down on my knees, cried and thanked God for protecting me.

An hour later, we received word that two of our trucks blew over. One was in Wisconsin and the other in Pennsylvania. They urged drivers to shut down and wait it out. I sat safely as the 38mph wind blew my parked truck around, knowing all too well that except for the grace of God, that would have been me.

Sometimes we know what we will face as drivers. We can avoid them. Perhaps I should not have struck out across Wisconsin yesterday. But the reports indicated I’d be safe. They were wrong and I found myself in a life threatening driving situation.

Prayer works. I am grateful to all those individuals who pray for me as I travel these highways and backroads of this great nation. Yesterday your prayers were needed and answered. I survived the ordeal with only a broken skirt on my trailer, severe motion sickness and a few shed tears.

The wind blows where it will. We can neither stop it or control it. We must find our way through an invisible obstacle course. It is the prayers of saints that keep us upright in the midst of the gale force winds of adversity in our lives. Pray… always pray…

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Roses in the Desert

Posted February 20, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I laced on my running shoes and jogged out into the early morning of the Mojave Desert. The sun had not quite yet made its appearance from behind purple mountains. This is the best the weather would be all day and I planned to make the best of it.

Not far from the truck stop where my adventure began, I saw a camper out in the desert. A peculiar sight for someone from Tennessee, but not at all uncommon in the vast desert. I’ve pulled my truck out in the desert to spend the night before. As I approached it, I made out large letters across the hood, “CB Man.” Moments later, an older Hispanic man emerged from the camper. I could not help myself so I ran over to him.

Manuel Gonzales is a Mexican immigrant who came to America knowing he could build a better life than back in his home country south of the border. He brought skills with him and put them to good use. Living and working in an old RV he purchased for $500, he repairs and installs CB radios for truck drivers. He advertises at the four truck stops nearby and is on call 24/7. He has never asked for a penny from anyone and has never taken government assistance of any kind, unless living in the desert would be considered taking a handout. His smile warmed me as the new morning sun cast a glow on his brown skin. We said goodbyes and I continued to trot down the highway.

I stayed on the road for a short while, then left the pavement behind, pounding across the desert floor. Soon I came to an entire community, completely abandoned. I’d read an article the night before about Barstow, California that had been printed in one of the large LA newspapers in 1955. It touted the boom town as the next Las Angeles. With its 10,000 citizens at that time, it was the crossroads of California. Today, sixty-one years later, the population has only doubled. I’d stumbled upon row after row of uninhabited homes in the middle of nowhere. I stared at the graveyard of a dream that promised to thrive, only to be boarded up and long since forgotten.

The cold morning briskness reminded me how harsh the desert can be. Buzzards flew overhead and landed nearby, just in case I succumbed to the harshness and became their morning meal. The wind began to whip the sand in my face. I knew all too well, it was only a prelude of the tropical storm strength winds that would come through later in the morning.

I spotted a young man riding a bicycle. As he approached, there were several unique things I noticed about him. His bike was a one speed beach rover, hardly what he needed to successfully navigate the desert. He carried everything he owned in a backpack on his back. And he was very, very happy. He embraced the morning and enjoyed a freedom that normally only eagles experience, having the entire Mojave Desert as his playground with no fences to restrict his adventure in any way. We talked for quite a while just like we were old friends. Jeremy’s pure uninhibited joy and zest for life was infectious. He was a bright red rose in the midst of a dry barren desert, the second one I’d seen this morning.

Jeremy reluctantly rolled on and I continued my jog through the brown sand, watching carefully for signs of rattlesnakes, though I knew the cold had driven them underground. Eventually, I made my way back to the road. I’d run much farther than I’d intended. The desert just lured me deeper and deeper into her enchanted grip.

I passed a deputy sheriff and waved gratefully, although I never felt anything but perfect peace in the Mojave. I looked up and saw a man walking toward me. As he approached, I began to slow and finally came to a stop as I reached him. Brock carried a huge backpack and had walked all the way from San Diego in search of a better life. He has friends some three hundred miles to the north and was going there hoping he’d find work, perhaps on the farms.

It seemed I was doing more talking than running today but this courageous man had me so intrigued, I did not want to leave. He did not feel comfortable asking people for rides so he used his own two legs and was making his way north. He then divulged he’d watched television and was afraid to get into vehicles with total strangers.

I told him about my bicycle trip and told him America is filled with wonderful people with a genuine desire to reach out and help their fellow human beings. He thanked me for being so positive.

I needed to make my way back east to my truck so I wished him well and jogged away. Suddenly, I remembered I had cash in my running pouch. I spun around and shouted his name just as I saw him leave the road and retreat into the desert. He stopped and turned. I jogged back to him.

“Brock, do you need money?”

He did not hesitate, “yes!”

I gave him the folded bills I had in my pouch. I have no idea how much it was but I saw a twenty and a five-dollar bill. Then I said, “Brock, don’t give up on Americans. Don’t doubt there are wonderful people out here who can help you get to where you’re going.”

With that I jogged off. After a while I looked back. He was still standing there staring at the old lady in spandex shorts in the middle of the Mojave Desert on an early Sunday morning.

Three people I encountered on a run through the middle of nowhere. Three times I came across a rose in the desert. One found a way to make a life. One left a life in search of freedom to be himself. One walked away from disappointment and marched hundreds of miles toward hope.

I’m not sure who got the greater blessing in the Mojave, them or me but as I jogged the last four miles back to the truck stop, my heart danced on the wings of the wind. As I rounded the corner and my truck came into view, Siri told me the wind was blowing at 23mph. I knew the window of opportunity to run had been timed perfectly. What a tragedy it would have been if I’d not experienced roses in the desert.

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Coal Miner’s Daughter

Posted February 13, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I recently rode again through the mountains of West Virginia. Each time I do, the rich black hills pull at my heart’s strings. I climbed the highways that cut through the heart of Appalachia. Coal mining towns dot the valleys. Homes, trees, buildings and vehicles are covered in a blanket of black dust from the mines.

A simple folk live in these hills. Bred with black etching the lines in their fingers like ink on a roadmap, most of them are the next generation of miners. In each house on every row between nowhere and the mine, there lives a coal miner’s daughter.  

Decades ago, a country music singer left the mining town in search of another life. Loretta Lynn gave us a glimpse of what life was like for those who mine the black gold. A hard existence from birth to death, but these people don’t complain. They just willingly accept their place in America. Most of them…

I know Miss America, 1993, Leanza Cornett. I watched her grow up. When then Miss Florida was crowned, she was the epitome of clamor and glitz. She was flawless. Breathtakingly drop dead gorgeous. Her personality would make you feel as if you just stepped into the presence of an angel. Precious young lady inside and out.

Looking at her crowned in all her glory, it’s difficult to imagine her humble beginnings. Like Loretta and the women in each of the houses on miner’s row, Leanza is a coal miner’s daughter.

Her father, Dick, decided to take a road less traveled. He escaped the mines, moved to sunshine and fresh air of Florida and opened a sandwich shop. The coal miner’s daughter decided to follow in her father’s footsteps. She believed the world was hers and she seized it.

As I drove through Charleston, I tried to imagine Leanza running through the black ash playing. Did she dream of being Miss America some day? Did she realize there was a place in the world that did not have coal dust? I searched the eyes of those in cars as I wound my way through the mining communities. I saw hundreds of coal miner’s daughters who drive the same black soot roads to the local Walmart where their mothers bought their baby food and diapers. They will marry a coal miner and will give birth to another coal miner’s daughter.

Finally, the gold and black capitol building in Charleston was no longer visible in the rearview mirror. I only had to drive a few miles to the east to feel the solemn quietness that looms over Huntington. I can’t help but wonder which of the protruding hills claimed the lives of the Marshall football team decades ago. After more than forty years, the town seems to still grieves those they lost that rainy night when their plane crashed and burned. Or perhaps they are mourning those who were swallowed up by the mine. Whatever the reason, an inconsolable heart has found a way to beat on, continuing life in spite of tragedy.

I know there is more to the story of West Virginia, far more than I could extract during a drive through the region. There are battles fought and beliefs stood up for by these strong, tough as nails mountain people. Just as there is so much below the surface of these mountains that most of us will never see, there are stories these folks have not told. They would most likely paint a different portrait than me but I cannot deny what I feel as I visit the hills in Appalachian coal country. It is a place like no other on earth, and one I would like to take time in to explore.

But I rolled on as truckers to. And here in West Virginia, men will keep descending deep into the mountain to bring out the black gold. Women will give birth to a coal miner’s daughter who’ll grow up to marry another coal miner. Such is the circle of life in the coal mining town.

The mountains breathe in the coal dust and exhales it into the beauty all its own, where coal miner’s daughters remind us that the heartbeat of America is alive and well in West Virginia.

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Farm Fresh Indeed!

Posted January 31, 2017 By Reba J. Hoffman, Ph.D.

I clicked off mile after mile up the familiar I-44. Before I would arrive at our terminal, I just had to make one stop. My fleet manager landed me a load to bring in to put my truck in the shop. Rather than deadheading from Oklahoma, I would now be paid for the miles.

I called ahead to the shipper because my loading appointment was not until five in the afternoon. I would need a place to park my truck for eight hours before I would have enough drive time to get into the terminal. The shipper said they were a farm so parking would be no problem. I could stay as long as I needed to.

Sweet.

I left the modern road behind and climbed the roller coaster hills into the farm country of southern Missouri. Two turns and I arrived at—a FARMHOUSE? Surely, the GPS was incorrect.

Just as I was about to keep going, three men began waving happily at me so I pulled into the driveway. Within seconds Abraham, Isaac and Jacob greeted me as if I was their long lost friend. Unlike the two younger men, Abraham wore a long beard. All three donned leather hats and old fashioned button-down breeches.

I had just stepped back in time!

Abraham told me they would not be able to load me before my appointment because, well, they had not picked the kale yet. He asked me to turn my truck around and I could just stay right there until they were ready to load.

Hours went by but I didn’t notice. I was fascinated by this incredible Mennonite family in Missouri. They were quiet, respectful, and very hard workers. Men, women and children began to arrive in cars. Before long there was an army of workers ready for work in the fields.

All the men wore button down breeches and leather hats. The women wore skirts to their ankles, jackets and bonnets. The children were miniature versions of their parents. Each of them waved at me as they pulled in. Their smiles were infectious!

Within moments, the troop entered the fields and began to pick the valuable commodity. The little ones carried the kale in cloth shoulder bags to a washing station just outside the house. The women washed the greens and placed the clean product in boxes. Other children took box after box to a trailer. The young men prepared the boxes onto pallets inside that trailer and slid the pallets by hand to one side of the trailer. No one broke a speed record. It was slow and methodical and yet, strangely effective. I watched in awe at this completely manual process was getting the job done.

About four in the afternoon, Isaac asked me to open the doors of my precooled trailer so they could load. The only modern part of this entire process was a fork life. Interestingly, it never went into the back of my truck. It stayed on the rocky ground of the farm. They had no dock for me to back up to. Getting the machine into my truck was an impossibility.

Loading my truck was a two-man job. One slid a pallet to the edge of the preparation trailer to be picked up by the fork lift. He then jumped out of the trailer, and climbed into mine. The forklift carried the pallets to my truck and lifted them inside. The other worker then slid the pallets by hand to the front of my trailer. This process was repeated fifteen times until all the pallets were loaded. Kale is super light and even a pallet full, it can easily be moved without the use of lifting equipment.

As Abraham prepared the paperwork for me, I marveled that my truck could be loaded by hand in a completely manual process more quickly than most modern shippers can load it with all the best equipment.

Abraham shook my hand and asked if there was any way I would be the one to come back for future loads. I would have loved that but I had a feeling it might not happen. He assured me that I would not be disturbed in their driveway and again told me to stay as long as I wished.

Cars loaded with Mennonite workers disappeared the same way they had arrived, waving and smiling at me like we were BFF’s. My heart soared at this part of America and this family who remains untouched by our ultra-modern, super-techno charged way of life.

I stayed another three hours to get time back then left the Mennonite farm behind, my life enriched by Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, their families and a culture that, despite all the modern conveniences available, choose to live a simple lifestyle.

The heartbeat of yesterday’s America is still alive in southern Missouri!

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