The West Texas Fair & Rodeo blew into town this month. So we saddled up the horses, loaded up the brood, moseyed over to the fairgrounds, and proceeded to rope up some moments.
I’ve never been one for amusement rides. I rarely find them amusing. In high school, the Tilt-o-whirl made me nauseous for hours. And rollercoasters? That go upside DOWN? Heck to the no. I’ve got enough anxiety as it is. No need to self-induce. But I do love the fair, with all its sights, sounds, and smells (of fried everything…and manure). It’s a community event and I love those. Even if it IS a rip-off that reeks of cow poo.
Our “moments” were plentiful. There was the moment of coming to a dead halt in the middle of the crowd to deal with a 10yo who was all-horns-and-rattles due to hunger…and being 10. There was the moment where I was jonesin’ for a frito pie, until about halfway through the goo when the quease set in. The moment when the hubs tried to accompany the 3yo on her pony-go-round ride but had to cut out because his horse allergy flared. The moment when the pony-go-round made my 40-year-old self dizzy enough that I felt the need to announce it to the crowd (at least it got a big laugh…by all the adults who were NOT jogging in circles, mind you). The moment where we forked over our life savings for a sheet of 20 tickets. And finally, the big one, the doozy of the evening, the moment where I crazy-yelled at the carny running the caterpillar rollercoaster.
Until last Sunday night, I don’t think I’ve ever yelled at a stranger. I had climbed the dozen steps on the exit side of the ride to lean over the waist-high gate so I could snap a pic of the thrill-seeking 7-year-old. As I did, the mechanized gate started to swing open; I diligently but absent-mindedly attempted to pull it closed while trying to get a shot of the girl. Then I noticed the ride operator gesturing at me angrily. I shrugged my shoulders at him, unable to hear his words. So he yelled louder and uglier, “LEAVE MY GATE ALONE!” The next moment, my face contorted into a snarl, I was wildly waving my arms back at him and screaming over the midway din, “I’M NOT MESSING WITH YOUR STUPID GATE!!!” Maybe I was exhausted (I was going on only two hours of sleep from the night before). Maybe I was grouchy from the heat. Maybe I needed more protein than the frito pie provided. Maybe I was feeling the burden of other emotions incited by other life moments involving other people. Whatever it was, it all gathered up in me and shot out like a wild mustang on a prairie. I stomped down the stairs, griping about the exchange, and feeling immediately felt stunned at and remorseful about my behavior. Where the hay had THAT come from? As we headed back to the car, I walked a few paces apart from the rest of the family, trying to make sense of why I had reacted so viscerally. But I couldn’t. I just knew it had happened, and I felt the guilt standing right in front of me like a rodeo clown in a Budweiser barrel.
The next hour was one big fat MOMENT for me. I spent most of it trying to self-forgive and not inwardly berate myself for my mess-up. That’s typically my mode of operation: I goof…and then that quiet, persistent, shaming voice in my head starts in…AND I LET IT…you should have behaved better, you can’t get away with that sort of slacking, how unbecoming of you. But that Sunday night, on the drive home and then sitting in my bedroom with what had just happened, I consciously made an effort at extending grace…to myself. Instead of allowing myself to be carried down the track by my habitual, self-shaming thoughts, I faced up to them…and spoke back to them…saying something like…yes, I messed up…I’m human, I DO…I’m going to learn something about myself in this moment instead of beating myself up about it. I extended grace to my human self, and it it felt like the most unnatural and right thing to do. Why does forgiving one’s self feel about as easy as staying on the back of a bull who has his gonads tied up?
Each individual life is comprised of millions of moments, from amusing to mundane, nauseating to itchy….and everything in between. I’ve been on this ride for 40 years now, and for me the most powerful are the vulnerable moments, when people tell their truth for the first time. Or say I love you. Or I’m sorry. Or when someone interrupts the self-shaming to genuinely extend forgiveness…to herself. These sorts of moments – as small as they may seem when they’re happening – ring of Grace. They have the power to turn hearts. To give hope. To change someone’s life in the most magnificent way. It feels like the very best kind of moment.
When we returned to the fair later that week, just the hubs and I, things were tender between us, and I don’t mean in a sweet, endearing way; we were coming off a brouhaha a few hours before that all three kids said had frightened them (parents of the year…US). We shared some garlic parmesan fries while watching barrel racing and bullriding in the expo center. Then we rode the ferris wheel, our reason for returning; we had just enough tickets for us both to ride…and I wanted to. The view of the midway from up high…the lights of our little west Texas town…the balmy, rushing breeze…a solitary moment of sorts flying through the sky…there was a comfort to it.
I noticed the guy running the catercoaster was there that evening, working his same spot. After hem-hawing around for several minutes, I slowly climbed the half-dozen steps and caught his attention across the track. He leaned forward and I explained I had been there a few nights before, participating in the yelling match. He calmly described something about how the gate functions but it didn’t matter. I listened to his explanation, looked right into his eyes and said, “I’m sorry for yelling at you.” With all the commotion around us, he held my gaze and said back genuinely, “Me too. I’m sorry, too.”
We had a moment.