‘Circles are better than rows.’ Andy Stanley
A few night’s ago during a typical family dinner at my parent’s house a situation presented itself that was just the kind of ‘soul food’ that the very best family dinner’s are all about.
My folks live on a beautiful parcel of land that adjoins a few small ranches. These ranches are home to several herds of cattle that normally quietly mill about the adjacent properties. This was the perfect place for my parents to settle after they moved away from the ranch where I had been raised because it still offered all of the nuances of ranching life all around them, but required none of the ranching proper to come from them.
Like many other parts of the globe right now, the local area where we live is experiencing a drought. It has resulted in many changes to the landscape- one of which can be seen in today’s graphic. Normally there is a creek next to that majestic tree in today’s photo, but as of a few days ago, that creek is nothing more than a parched mosaic of dry earth.
For as long as I can remember, Sunday nights in late summer have been some of the best times of my life. When I was a child living on our family’s ranch, I remember sitting outside at my Grandparent’s house on these same kinds of evenings – perched on a long white bench that was in their front yard. On these evenings, this simple white structure, invariably held the whole of my immediate family; my parents, my grandparents, myself, and one sibling. That old bench held every one of us in a neat row… it was a place where you could just ‘be.’
Well, sitting around ‘be-ing’ is great when you can do it, but when you live on a ranch there is always something interesting going on that usually prevents the majority of ‘being-ness.’ Whether it is a calf being born, a weasel in the henhouse, or a broken down tractor…. There is always something or someone that needs ‘tendin’ to’…. And I have to admit, I have always had a soft spot for these ‘tendin’ to’ kinds of moments… because they are the moments when rows become circles.
What does that mean? Let me explain…. Sunday nights, were usually about all of us sitting in a row on that long white bench. When you sit in rows you look out at the horizon together. It is a natural foray into the future…into planning, and lining things up, … organizing… getting things straight inside yourself. A lot of good and necessary things occurred when we sat in a straight line…. But invariably, on any given Sunday, something would happen….. and that nice straight row would become a circle…. Because when something happened, and someone or something needed ‘tendin’ to’ … it always required us to work together…. Our row often evolved into a circle, and that is when I learned who my family was, and found my place among them.
So back to last Sunday night…… after dinner, although there was no long white bench to sit on, just like in my youth, the whole of my family of origin was sitting in a row, looking out on the horizon together. As we enjoyed the evening together, we could hear the bellowing of cattle in a far off field. We suspected that the vocal display was coming from the fact that they were thirsty- perhaps the dried up creek was their only source of water? (They were not our cows, so we didn’t know for sure.) As we pondered the topic, the bellowing became more intense, and then within a few minutes there appeared a trajectory of cattle filtering along the fence just beyond my parent’s property line. As this long line of creatures filed past us….. it was clear they were searching… and it touched all of us deeply. One patriarchal old bull led the way, with a dozen or so mothers with their calves falling in a single file line behind him. For a moment we all felt helpless…but that moment quickly passed as our row turned into a circle….
With a sudden bustle of activity, we were not unlike those cows… first up and on his feet was our very own old bull (my Dad!), next followed my Mom, my Hubby, myself and our kids. A few phone calls were made to spread the news that the creek had run dry and that the cattle needed water, and within minutes there was an assembly line of our family and a few other neighbors creating a makeshift trough of water for these cattle. I stood back and watched my own children form a circle with their grandparents, just as I had done so many times in years past with my own grandparents. There was excitement, and camaraderie, and a sense of purpose as they strung long garden hoses across several fields to fill a 75 gallon container with water.
There is an old saying that we recite often in our family; many hands make light work…. And so it was on this late summer evening….the hands they were many, and the work, it was light.
That night will join the many others like it that rest in the memory bank of my childhood…. As a time when a circle replaced a row… allowing people to come together to accomplish what needs to be done for the greater good.
Standing in a row offers us the horizon… and a chance to plan, and to dream. But it is only the circle that creates a connection and gives us the ability to turn toward one another and follow a common path. Of all of the many bits of wisdom that ranch life and my parents have gifted me with, it is the appreciation for that common path that can be chosen, that has made all the difference in my life.