The Conversation

So there was this guy named Ray…

Traveler’s Tip # 322: If you find yourself in an Irish pub, or a breakfast hole in the middle of Montana—or anywhere in the world come to think of it—and a trucker or cowboy or farmer or tractor mechanic says, “So there was this guy named Ray,” there’s a 60/40 chance it’s going to be a good story.

Let’s see where this one lands. Roll the dice. Could go either way.

Ray never showed much emotion. In fact in the weeks, months, years I knew him—every Thursday at the retirement center—I’ll bet I could have counted his smiles on one hand. Even so, he’d be the first guy in our little Bible study to show up and often the last to leave. Ray self-appointed himself Official Chair Setter Upper, and it helped so I didn’t argue. After his weekly chore he’d plant his long, thin frame in the furthest back corner, cross his arms and watch. Frankly, he was a book whose cover I judged at first sight. I titled it Grumpy Old Man.
It may have been a month or more when I heard Ray speak for the first time. We were alone in the room and he stood there for a long moment. I thought he might chew me out for something. Then he said, “It started when I was thirteen.”
To this day I consider that one of the greatest conversation openers ever (I’ve tried it myself a few times but never as successfully as Ray).
“What started?” When someone hits you with a statement like that it leaves no wiggle room for the curious mind.
“The conversation,” he said.
He had me. “What conversation?”
At that point I noticed—and it surprised me very much—stoic Ray had tears in his eyes. He explained he’d grown up very poor in Southern Idaho before and during America’s Great Depression. A more innocent and terrible time. Steinbeck’s America. The beginning of Ray’s thirteenth summer his dad stood him next to the road in front of their farmhouse and pointed east. A hundred miles down that road was another farm, and they were expecting Ray to report for three-month field hand duty in a few days. So, the thirteen year-old kid fast-tracking to manhood took a backpack of food, a jug of water, got on his bicycle and started pedaling. His dad didn’t wave.
And the conversation began. Under that bright Idaho sky Ray started talking to God. The first hundred miles of an infinite journey.
“We started talking that day and we never stopped. The conversation just goes on.”
Ray was quiet. He didn’t give much away in the feelings department. But I came to know Ray as a man deeply in love with his Lord. And Ray’s quietness taught me more than a thousand sermons. Ray wasn’t grumpy. He wasn’t lonely. He was simply content with the companionship of his Maker. He had no interest in the opinions of men.
The Apostle Paul suggested unceasing prayer. His conversation started on a road like Ray’s.
Enoch walked with God then, one breath to the next, took in the air of a Sweeter Country.
I haven’t seen Ray for some years but I think of him often. I wonder what air he breathes now? Either way, one thing I know—the conversation continues. And it will long after the stars in that Idaho sky are but a distant memory.

Happy peddling,


1 comment

  • Jennifer O'Connor
    Jennifer O'Connor Newport Beach, CA


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