What If?

My husband was away recently for a few days of out-of-town work and instead of going to sleep at reasonable hour, I stayed up and binge read the blog of a writer I’d heard interviewed earlier that day. I read her entire blog–all five years of it–over the course of two late nights. (Because what sane woman would need a good night’s rest when everyone in the family is just a wee bit off because a Key Member of the Household is gone?)

On the bleary-eyed morning after the first night, I staggered down the hall, through the dark living room, and before my foot hit the kitchen’s wood floor, my apparently alert brain asked me a question: What if {a situation I’d been discouraged about} isn’t actually {the name I’d given it}? 

What if?

Back in college, my Children’s Lit and Creative Writing instructors said that the What if question is the basis for a compelling story. What if water from a spring hidden deep in the woods made people live forever? (Tuck Everlasting) What if an American man from the 1800s found himself in Arthur’s Camelot? (Connecticut Yankee In King Arthur’s Court) What if a mysterious wardrobe that transported children to a magical world in which an epic battle between good and evil took place among mythical creatures? (The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe)

Compelling stories have all the usual elements of fiction: characters, setting, theme, conflict, and plot. Our stories, the ones we live out every day, are no different. Every element is there and together they give shape to our story.

Our lives have characters (family, friends, neighbors, enemies), a setting (the unique circumstances and situations in the places where our lives are lives out), conflicts, overarching themes, and plot (what the story is really all about and who the enemy really is). Our understanding of every one of those elements is affected by that simple question: What if?

What if I took a risk?
What if I waited?
What if I stayed calm?
What if I just took a walk? or a nap? or a bath?
What if I wasn’t distracted?
What if I listened?
What if I loved?
What if I believed, hoped, and endured all things?
What if I believed, period?
What if I didn’t worry?

Who of us doesn’t want to live a good story, one that matters?

To ask the What if question isn’t all that difficult. To answer it, though, can be the starting point of a transformational journey, one that begins at the fork in the road between The Way I am (or even The Way I See It) and The Way It Could Be.

The way I am is familiar and comfortable. The Way It Could Be requires a step onto a foreign and strenuous path covered with trip-hazards and obstacles, a trail that will surely leave us bruised and maybe even a little bit broken. It is, however, the starting point of the most compelling stories.

So let’s ask. What if?

Sharing stories today with the writers at Small Wonders.

 

 

 

 

The Intruder

DSC00776A low rumble of a growl, that’s how it started. Our first camping trip found us buried further down a country road than I had ever traveled, stuck on one of those rural grassy drives between dusty gravel and green pasture.

The little red Plymouth Sundance that I brought into our marriage lost the battle with the deep ruts that passed for a driveway. My husband’s manly Jeep from antiquity would have prevailed, but we wouldn’t have been able to hold a conversation during the drive. So there we were, in my vehicle instead of his—a vehicle stranded with its undercarriage on the dirt, wheels dangling in the air like a little kid in a grownup chair.

A distant cousin lived this deep in the country so J calmly walked us down the road to their house, where we found him home and able to extract us from our predicament. We thanked him and drove the remaining fifty yards through the open pasture and pitched our tent amid the close timber. J unpacked while I worked on dinner.

That’s when I heard the growl.

I surveyed the surrounding trees, looking for a bear. (Because what else would growl in the Iowa woods?) I saw nothing. Not a bear. Not a squirrel. Not even a cow. Someone rented the land for their herd, but we hadn’t seen any of them yet. I told myself it was a cow, but I didn’t believe me. I grew up around my grandpa’s cows and I never heard them make a sound like that.

I heard it again, closer this time. I turned and there, ambling our way, was a bull. Grandpa’s warning to my seven-year-old-self erupted in my head: “Tillie, I would never keep a mean bull, but if the bull is in the pasture, you stay out.” That was enough. Bulls were obviously dangerous and to be avoided.

Now one was aiming for my outdoor kitchen.

I walked to the car and informed my husband about the intruder. We went to opposite sides of the car and stood, mesmerized by the bull as he plodded toward us. We opened the doors. He advanced further. We got in and sat down, shocked, because who gets stalked by a bovine on a camping trip? He held his course all the way to the front of the car and I wondered if he would crush the roof when he stepped up and walked over us.

bull - Version 2He pressed his legs against the front of our tiny car, stretched his rippled neck, and nearly touched the windshield with his immense nose.  Apparently he didn’t need much personal space. When he pulled his head back we waited to see what he would do next. We didn’t wait long. He bent down, stuck his nose under the car, and lifted it into the air.

And then he dropped us.

J had the vehicle started and in gear before we hit the ground. He backed through the maze of trees with impressive speed and got us to the fence where we could put a gate between us and the bull, the conqueror in full possession of our gear.

Back to the cousin’s house we drove. Once he finished laughing, he told us that yes, he knew the farmer who kept the cattle on the land. He called and miraculously, he too was home on a Friday night.

The farmer met us at the gate and climbed out of his truck with a bag of Cheetos. The bull was a rental, brought in for breeding purposes. He’d been raised as a pet. His owner had shared his cheese curls with him while he chored, so he was unusually interested in people.

The gear extraction plan was simple: The farmer would distract the bull with his Cheetos while my husband made the grab. I waited on the safe side of the fence.

It worked.

We drove even further into the country to the empty farmhouse where J’s grandma grew up. J pitched the tent on the lawn and I restarted dinner. We fell into our sleeping bags in the deep dark and slipped into sleep to the mooing of the cows across the road, mooing broken by an occasional low rumble of a growl.

bull

We shared camping’s trial and by the next morning we shared its laugher, first together and later with J’s great-aunt who roared up in her pickup not long after we peeled ourselves off of the ground. Now it’s one of our stories. Not all of our stories are happy. Some are sad or even dull, but each one is a different type of thread in the fabric of our life. With the threads of faith, hope, and family, they hold our life together.

And you? You have stories. What do you do with them?

This is the final post in a series about the trials of life outdoors and their effect on relationships. Part one is here and part two is here.

The bull photo is courtesy of a friend who risked life and limb, under the supervision of the farmer, because she knew I wanted a photo of a bull. What greater love?