I’ve heard plenty of stories about a little boy in the 1950’s who honestly thought he was a cowboy - a wild and fearless, white-stallion-riding cowboy mounted on a long pillow in the remote territory of an upstairs sun porch. He sang the strains of "Mule Train", accompanied by a scratchy 45 rpm record, over and over and over while waving an imaginary lasso high above his head. “Clippety clopping along”, that’s what the song said, and that’s what he did – way down in the depths of his galloping little heart.
He marched (or rather rode) to the beat of a different drummer, as they say, one that often led him and his spirited heart into trouble.
One day he decided to personify his cowboy image for his toddling baby sister. He led her into the family horse barn, right on into a stall, and proceeded to yell Indian war whoops until the young colt reared and jumped and whinnied – real, authentic cowboy stuff. When his mother heard the commotion and came running to little sister’s rescue, the understandable fury of mother love also grabbed a nearby harness and lashed out to whip submission into that wild cowboy heart.
His intentions were innocent, his actions merely irresponsible. So began the seemingly necessary but stifling process of learning to stuff the wildness and tame his spirit. So began a lifetime of stoic performance to meet expectations.
That little-boy-cowboy-heart never stopped beating, however. As the years rolled by, it sometimes lay appropriately hidden behind more acceptable behaviors – and other times jumped out of hiding to stir its audience with twirling six shooters and real whopping tall tales, straight from an exaggerated imagination as big and wide as the Texas sky.
Much later, when the cowboy grew old and had grandsons of his own, he encountered a disease that weakened his heart muscle. What do cowboys do when they can’t ride the trail any longer? Do they retire their ponies and their wild and shameless hearts in exchange for the sterility of the “proper” lifestyle that never fit in the first place?
Of course not.
The old cowboy was not an introspective or philosophical thinker – never had been – nor was he motivated to shed the innate wildness that had always defined his heart. But his family noticed that as they bowed their heads at the dinner table, his prayers gradually became longer, fuller, less repetitive. His words reflected the courage of a cowboy riding a long cattle trail full of danger and hostile elements. His words expressed the expectancy and dedicated commitment of a cowboy wanting to live his life to please the Trail Master.
You see, the cowboy heart within my husband was really God’s heart all along. And as I see his bald head bowed over his heart-healthy plate full of salad and vegetables rather than steak and potatoes, I hear prayers that are curiously but intimately linked to God’s own cowboy heart. I hear a rhythm, the cadence of wild pony hooves beating freely on a never-ending prairie, that will somehow drive the pulse of his eternity.