Why I let myself be talked into spending a pre-college summer as a student minister in the wide-open spaces of eastern Wyoming still puzzles me. Separated from all family and friends, painfully shy, and having had previously only one very brief anguish-filled speaking moment in worship, terror was an integral part of my week.
Each Sunday in a small wooden school house-no Jeffersonian wall of separation there-I took a deep breath, gripped the sides of the lectern, glued my eyes to the typed page, and without missing one single word, raced through 18 minute sermons in 10 minutes flat. Panic made me the fastest word in the West. Only long after the summer was over did I realize just how patient and tolerant, kind and accepting those church folk were. And because of them, I found that what I just knew "I never could do," I did.
That distant summer returned to mind with Lena Horne talking about her early career. "How can I sing the Blues?" (then a new musical form), she fearfully asked Count Basie while both were performing at the Cotton Club. Basie replied, "You've got two small children, and there's the rent."
I would imagine that in the lives of most of us necessity has forced us to accomplish something, or made us become someone, beyond the border of our experience and knowledge. Welling up within us has been the life power to overcome the terror of the unknown. It is for this reason verses of a poem by Theodore Roethke attach themself so powerfully to me.
I feel my fate in what I cannot fear.
I learn by going where I have to go.
Having moved through that summer of terror, I learned Roethke's truth: trust found in the overcoming or removal of fear and faith in the learning and growing process of living. Two small children and the rent for Lena Horne and my strong sense of carrying out a summer responsibility made us learn by going where we had to go. I now realize the importance of that summer. For when maturity entices me to make life safe and predictable, that summer makes me far more willing to entertain new truths and experiences.
Cabeza de Vaca, tossed by the sea on the
Texas sands in the early 16th century was the first European to
traverse this vast territory as he was passed from one Indian
tribe to another. He concluded his account: "They (the tribes)
wanted us to heal, but we said we had no education and no certification
to be doctors. On being threatened with death, we became healers.
We are more than we thought we were."
Indeed we all are.
--Robert H. Tucker
27 April 1998