The Pink Glow of the Neon Clock
July 3 – Day 45
Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd
Wichita Falls, Texas
BEFORE I DEPART BOWIE, TEXAS, this morning, with rain falling and the clouds hugging close to the ground, my maladies overtake me, and I think seriously that I might have to call my wife, Elisabeth, and have her come retrieve me. I have not felt well for the past several days—my joints hurt, I may be running a mild fever, and a small lump or cyst has appeared on my right side. Sitting atop my Surly in the parking lot of the America’s Best Value Inn feeling all of the 1300 miles I have ridden, I play that phone conversation in a loop inside my head. I do not like how it sounds. Then I think of the other calls I will inevitably have to make to let people know I have abruptly brought my journey to a close. At that thought, I pedal onto the frontage road in my rain suit and into the now-driving rain.
As I advance for the first few miles of the day, I realize I have been out of sorts for many days, have been riding on autopilot, disengaged from the world around me. It dawns on me I have not taken a single photo for almost a week and have no new stories to add to my list. At a picnic area on top of a high promontory, a herd of horses grazes along the fence line near where I sit drinking my electrolyte replenishment mixture. The grass is tall and green, and the inquisitive horses look at me as if they know more about the subject of their gaze than I ever will. I start to dig out my camera to capture the photo, but something in me resists. There must be thirty or forty horses, some lying on the ground, others with manes flying in the wind. It would make a wonderful photo. But I just climb on my Surly and head north towards my destination.
I pedal my fifty-odd miles through rain and wind, up big hills and alongside monster trucks that whiz by me at the speed of sound. About ten miles down U.S. Highway 287, I stop to call the fire department in Wichita Falls, hoping to find a place to sleep, but no one answers. My next call is to the Episcopal Church of the Good Shepherd. I receive a recording. I don’t know why I hang on and listen to the many options presented, but the voice I hear is kind and welcoming, and eventually it says, “If there is an emergency, and you need to speak with a priest, dial the following number for Reverend Scott.” I write the number in my small notebook and think that, for the first time in my life, I might really need to speak with a priest.
Father Scott answers my call in the same kind and welcoming voice I heard on the digital recording. I tell him I’m a cyclist crossing America and ask if he can help me tonight with a place to sleep. Without a moment’s hesitation Father Scott says, “Of course.” He tells me he can arrange an air-conditioned room, gives me simple directions to the church, and bids me safe travels. I stand by the side of the road feeling so thankful that, in the big Texas countryside surrounding me, there is someone waiting to receive me at the end of this day. I say a silentthank you and for the first time in many days feel a lightness in my being.
Many things have challenged me on this trip, but the most challenging of all is the uncertainty about where I might sleep at the end of the day. It is a mental loose end that brings out an angst that adds to the weariness of a long ride. From the beginning, it was my plan to camp a majority of the way, simply out of financial necessity. Quickly, however, I realized that finding campgrounds where you need them and with at least the services of a shower is difficult to accomplish. So I have searched out other options for lodging. Fire departments and Episcopal churches have been there when I really needed them. Today is no exception.
When I arrive at the Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in downtown Wichita Falls, Father Scott takes me to an adjacent building that is sometimes used as a youth center. It is complete with a kitchen and bathrooms, though no shower. I use the hose in the church playground as a substitute and change into fresh clothes. Soon, the large, blue leather couch has me on the edge of twilight sleep, but a litany of words tugs at me from the edge of consciousness, asking to be assembled. I open my eyes slowly and notice a bright, neon-pink light from the corner of the room. It is coming from a large clock, like the kind I remember from elementary school. But this one is ringed with an iridescent pink neon light. Strangely, I didn’t notice it earlier. On the far wall, lit by the pink light, is a large gold cross. And next to it is a white board with this inscription:
The light of God surrounds me. The love of God upholds me. The power of God protects me. The presence of God watches over me.
I read the inscription—and then I reread it. It is probably a leftover remnant from a youth group gathering, but I am glad it remained on the board. Somehow, in this unusual room, its soft presence is very peaceful, comforting, and warm. I feel better knowing that, later in the night, when I turn out the light to sleep, the pink light will still be shining upon these words. Then I think of my deceased father and how I miss him—and I secretly hope that miracles happen in places like this, and that, possibly, I will awaken to see his image reflected in the wonderful, pink light, waiting patiently for me, smiling his loving smile.