Have you ever wondered why it seems so easy for many authors to maneuver the Perils of Publishing with such ease? I often feel like some Angel of Literacy has taken some authors by the hand and walked them through the entire process and gently set them down in a comfy chair at a book signing tour, with a hundred eager readers already waiting in line to get their pre-paid copy autographed. I’ve worked tirelessly at this craft; you’ve worked endlessly to create and revise; we’ve massaged our foreheads from the laptop key indentations when we were following a vein of inspiration late into the night and lapsed into unconsciousness. Where are OUR just rewards?
When I was 15 years old, I was invited to attend a very special camping trip. Every young man in our Stake that had earned his Eagle Scout award during the previous year was invited to attend a three-day camping trip. This may not seem like the perfect punctuation to years of earning merit badges and trying not to roll around in too much poison ivy, but you see, we would all be riding…horses. I learned a lot on this trip about ‘just rewards’.
I don’t know what romantic notions ya’ll have about venturing into the wilderness, eating meager rations stashed in one’s backpack, and trimming the callouses and lancing the blisters formed from too many miles hiking in the same pair of soggy boots, but the idea of riding through the beautiful desert landscape of Arizona filled me to the brim with cowboy ‘YeeHaw!’ I had finally graduated to mountain man status, to gently lead my noble stead over hill and down dale until we reached old man Reeves’s ranch (complete with crabapple orchard) where we would rub down our horses, lean back against our dismounted saddles, and stare at the crackling fire while reminiscing about our days of Scouting.
For the most part the trip was idealic for us boys; a crusty trail boss that had spent more time around horses that my heart had beat thus far in my lifetime; bacon-wrapped fillet mignon and all the beans and Dutch oven cornbread we could stuff into our cheeks; and one-one time with one of the finest animals the good Lord ever created.
We learned the proper way to shoe our horses, we had epic crabapple fights at the ranch corral, we learned to endure a dusty trail, and we gave thanks each night in prayer for the Lord letting us find our ‘cowboy self’.
But, like most group dynamics, there always seems to be that one guy, that one person, who just refuses to fall in line with the spirit of the whole experience. There’s always that one person who refuses to comply, refuses to obey, has to always do things their way, or worse, no way. They try to go it alone. Today, that one person is easily identified as being the first person kicked off of the island. They make everyone uncomfortable because they don’t seem to follow the unwritten rules of the group. When it’s a young person, this is the kid who you see being pulled aside by an adult because their ‘look at me’ behaviors are having the desired effect.
On our horseback outing, we had such a young man. He refused to pay attention to the trail boss when we were being taught how to properly saddle our horses; he seemed to wander off just at the moment he was supposed to be helping with KP duties after mealtime; he most certainly wasn’t “…helpful, friendly, courteous, and kind” as a portion of the Scout Law states. When he was away from the group, we questioned his actually earning his Eagle Scout award because, after the many life changing experiences that occurred on the way to earning this prestigious award, surely some goodness must have rubbed off on him.
In the saddle, he was a holy terror. If the trail boss had been allowed to bring his gun, I’m almost certain he would have fired a few rounds in this boy’s direction. The boy yelled at the poor animal when it wouldn’t respond to his wishes. He was constantly reminded that, yes, the horse had to be watered and fed before the humans got to eat. And heaven help the Scout who tried to reach out a brotherly hand of support and encouragement. It was briskly swatted away, either by word or by deed. This young man demonstrated the worst attributes of a Scout and a young man that I had ever seen. What a tragedy.
But I am a personal witness that Heaven keeps score. Indeed, there are times when ‘just rewards’ are meted out to those that, metaphorically or literally, need a good swat on the behind.
It was the morning of our last day of the outing. We were exhausted and dirty, but supremely happy with our accomplishments and the steps we’d taken towards manhood during the trip. We were saddling our horses one last time for the ride to the base camp where the horse trailers were parked waiting for their four-legged passengers. We were all cinching up our saddles and coaxing our horses to accept the bridles bits we were offering them. But our challenging friend was impatient to get going. He jammed the bit in his horse’s mouth. He slammed the saddle down on his horse’s back. He punched the horse in its back left flank because it kept trying to turn in circles. His actions were definitely putting a dark cloud over the finale of our trip.
But then, suddenly, the horse did something that I shall never forget. I know it did it on purpose because that horse was smiling when it did it, and I’ll swear on a stack of chuck wagon cookbooks in any court of cowboy justice. When the boy was throwing his most ugly tantrum that horse simply moved his front left hoof about a foot to its left and stood right on the boy’s foot. At that moment, the clouds parted above and a warm ray of sunshine shone down upon that little miracle. As the boy hooted and hollered that he was being murdered by his equine, his horse stood there, unmoving, in regal splendor. We all looked at each other and smiled, trying very hard to stifle the laughs that were threatening to burst forth. Even the old trail boss purposefully took his sweet ol’ time walking over to get the horses hoof off of the boy’s foot.
Needless to say, the boy was sufficiently humbled. He remained quiet and compliant the rest of the trip, occasionally wiping away a tear. We later found out that his foot was just fine, but his ego would take a bit longer to heal.
My point in sharing this story is to remind all of us that there really are ‘just rewards’ meted out. They come in two forms: Either they are consequences eventually handed out to the antagonists around us, who we perceive as always getting the easy road forward when we have to claw our way around and over every obstacle; and, they are handed out to those who have been valiant and long-suffering on their path forward, playing by the rules, lifting another along the way.
To all of us who are still trying to write that next “great American novel”; fear not, we will someday get our ‘just rewards’.