Like movies or TV drama and comedy, there are usually at least two stories. An A story and a B story. Real life is often more complicated. Sometimes it's more like A to Z.
A Love Story
. “Those who come in love, and love alone . . . “
It was a song, a funeral song. Just one line. I don't know the title, the tune, or any more of the words.
But it was the point of the story. A story of a fire, a dog, bravery and love. Regret and reconciliation of hearts.
. It was a cold and stormy night in Montana.
I heard the story in a previous encounter, but now another stranger was telling me more, giving me the details. Where do I start?
It's about healing hearts of those we love. And accepting the love of others.
We know but half the story – or even MUCH less. Our concerns are of today, tomorrow. Our regrets are of memories no longer relevant to us, yet the past is driving our lives. We are much more than our perception of ourselves. Unless we look and listen to the whole story.
I'll start here.
I was walking on our land in Montana with two friends, acquaintances really. We don't get out there too often. Maintaining friendship has waned over distance and time. The people, especially the ranchers, are good people, but close. Close to themselves. They stick to their own business, their families and close friends. Work is honest work, and all are expected to be of that same ethic. But they don't often open up fully to the casual acquaintance.
These two were doing work for me. As our time and schedules allowed, we worked together. Sometimes one, sometimes both. Projects these days linger on with all there is to juggle. Jobs, crops, livestock, family and other duties. Trips to town for parts or unexpected set-backs. There seems more of them lately and always at more expense to clock and pocket book.
But this day was a lazy day. We take it easy too. Sometimes we stop. We listen.
We were walking along the paddock fence toward the barn. The rancher's operation next to mine – a real ranch, not like my 20 acres – showed much more activity. His use of my barn during our absence was always curious to me. I trusted him, yet I didn't always agree with some of his commercial methods. But he was out to make a profit.
Looking into the calf pen at the west end of the barn, I saw a water spigot I had not seen before. With the Montana winters, this is something I would know about on my property, since the lines would have to be drained or protected three or four months of every year. I went over to see if they were operational. I went up a slight ramp to reach it. Water dribbled out when I turned the spigot. Good. I'm sure he knew better than I – the need for working equipment on the ranch. I trusted him and appreciated the steady, but small income he paid for the use of my barn and a few acres around it. A few hundred dollars a year was a sure thing. I was grateful for it.
At the top of the ramp near the door that lead to his farmyard was a wall ladder up to the loft. I couldn't help but to go up. I was surprised to see he wasn't using it for hay storage. Some old boards and windows, broken implement parts and lots of dust. These were left over from when he still owned my property. His new barn and the equipment shed was a ways off to the northeast, but its size still dwarfed my little run-down shed of a barn. Someday I hoped to fix it up. I could use some of the wood and windows in the loft.
Another glance around before going down showed a scooter, a kids toy – old metal and pretty rusted, but the red paint still predominated the finish. The tires of hard rubber were cracked and falling off the rims.
I was excited to see this antique, and from the top of the ladder reached across the floor to pull it closer.
But then as the dust started to rise between it and me, I stopped. My new friends wouldn't be interested. I could check it out later.
Back down the ladder, down the ramp, I joined Marc and Dale leaning on the wooden gate. We went through the barn. Dust on my sleeves and in my nose reminded me of the loft. Thoughts in my mind had me on another journey.
The old country store. I was in their back storage area once. Great old gear from the 20s and 30s, some even before the turn of the century. Some scales with their balance weights. An old hand truck and dolly. Big pulleys and gears and belts on an unused, parts-bare lift. Lots of dust.
We came in one day for some hardware and a sledge hammer when we first got back. Good to see some old faces and lots of new ones too, after being away for a couple years. The owners were different now, but still recognizable as old to the town. Lavina on the Musselshell River had generations of history with some of their names--Lefeldt and Harmon and Krause, to name a few. The country store carried every thing from food to fertilizer. You could come in for some ammo, go by the handcraft and gift racks on the way to the fridge case to pick out a cello sealed sandwich they'd microwave to eat on the way home.
This day when I went up to pay. There was a story. At first the two ladies talking in no particular emotion about Lander's long hours with his oil route—cool and not smiling. But as we came over with a smile and called Margaret by name, she lightened up. Not in a “Minnesota nice” way, but in one of recognition. Tourists and city folk from Billings or Helena would not illicit such response. But these people knew our girls when their boys were in high school and our two in first and third grade. Lavina School was a two-story brick building for first through twelfth grades. Ninety to a hundred students in any given year. Though the population of Lavina is about as high—kids and adults together—four buses brought kids in from the range land and crossroads still holding town names on the map.
Anyway, Margaret and Ella opened up a little and somehow told us about the fire. The family lost everything in the house. Norma and the young ones were living in town now—a trailer at the west edge.
Seems like every time we come back, there is a big tragedy or two. The store with “Clayton Mercantile” barely readable, last painted over red brick years ago, is the place for news. That, and the post office and cafe.
You can make a day of coming to Lavina, or you can drive through without stopping on the way to Billings. No light or stop sign. It's just four blocks long on Hwy 3—from the old Adams Hotel next to the railroad right-of-way, to the last house south, across from the shop at Roy's Conoco. Then it is just two green pastures to the river and milepost 45 to Billings and as many minutes. I use to drive it daily when I worked in town and lived in the Bull Mountains another 30 minutes from Lavina.
But back to our visit and the story. It's different now. The story has changed. The visits are different since my sister died in December of '07. Margaret's version was the first I heard. But I've heard several by now, and wonder if there is precision in anyone's tale.
Back in the barn am talking to the rancher's hired hand, Lenny, who came over when he saw me on the ramp. Marc and Dale are looking at the exposed wires on the light fixture and the switch box at the main door and writing up another parts list.
At first it was just greetings and talk of the herd, but then, unexpectedly he started in on some closer things. The fire was at his neighbors, just a couple houses down Spruce Rd from his. He knew the family well.
She was just scolding the dog like anyone would. It was a cold night, and barking in the house like that... She put him outside, ignoring his change of tactics from bark to growl, then submissive pandering.
But it was soon too late. He was back in the house when she first smelled the smoke. Bear ran straight up the stairs. There was screaming and barking and roaring and popping glass and crackle. She got all the kids out as a couple neighbors' pickups were flying into the yard. Danny didn't make it. And the dog. Old houses like that... there is always some fire trap.
She was beside herself now. Unforgiving of herself. The minister and her sister Carol could not console her. The funeral was the big town event. Suits and ties and ladies in hats. Red-scrubbed hands and polished boots—just a little mud up off the heels. Ranchers and townspeople. The organ music played. The closed casket. Not much to show in this story. The preacher told of the good deeds and life of Danny. He mentioned the dog—to another burst of sobs.
Then the music. The lyrics. “Those who come in love, and love alone...”
That was all. Both our faces were red with emotion. And the start of tears. We were interrupted and turned back to see Dale holding the electrical box at shoulder height, while Marc secured it with the chatter of an electrig drill.
The dream ended there and I was awake with the words. And the window to the hearts of many in my community of souls that I don't even know in my waking world.
But are they any less real? Is your “other” life real? Or just a fantasy playing out? Is your “real” life as rich? Are the writers of fiction tellers of truth?
Truth is on many levels, and there are stories on each. Our thoughts and dreams and our connections of heart the true value of community?
What IS real? Commerce and economy manipulated by global strategies for our own good--like it or not? People in wars pitted against each other by their leaders? The stories of media and agents of power?
True value is in our connections with each other. Our connections, our relations are not just commercial or financial or electronic, or even verbal. Connections of heart, of mind, of Soul--are the true measure of how we are doing. And it is better than is apparent. For it is by true connection that we realize a link to our true Source.
Those who come in love, and love alone are the real leaders in our communities. Keep what you value close to your heart. And radiate that well being to the universe. That radiance, that essence of spirit is true reality. It's not just what, or that we "knock on wood," but that these knuckles, this skin and bones, this flesh, is what I'm knocking around right now. Heart and Soul and recognition of that--is what drives human connection -- divine connection. True connection is on a level above our possessions and our physical being and all schemes of contrivance.
What's real is what's within. We can see it through the eyes--the windows to Soul. We can touch the hearts of others when we recognize the unique nature of our universal bond. It is Love.
Keep it close. And open to the possibilities of inner being. We live there all the time, and come over to our day-to-day world. Consider night-to-night as well. It's not always cold and dark.
There are many stories of my life.
When I first wrote the above story of love and recognition, it was in my journal -- 23 pages in two and a half hours. Story was coming from several directions.
1. The dream I had just awoken from with the line in the song: Those who come from love, and love alone;
2. Another dream remembered within that dream. Its setting was the same and the story of the fire was first told to me there;
3. The memory of our life and time on our land in Montana and the community of people there; 4. The thoughts and realizations of human and divine connection over the past few weeks as I pondered the spiritual reality; and
5. The characters and drama of creative muse being dictated in the moment.
Story bathes me in possibility. How many stories make up the book of our lives? How many lessons? And who is the Teacher?