A minor miracle happened a few days ago on a secluded Kansas farm. It occurred while a nation was transfixed by what was happening in the U.S. Capitol building.
The small farmhouse sits upon a tranquil prairie, roughly 1,190 miles away from Washington D.C. I am told the sunset was one for the books that night. The sky was an arresting seascape of reds, violets, and golds.
Some are surprised to learn that Kansan sunsets are among the most unique in the world. This is because of dust. Dust particles from the entire earth travel to the central plains, riding on global wind currents.
Sometimes dust comes from as far away as the Sahara, drifting 5,000 miles to hover above the Flint Hills. At dusk, the sun shines through these particles and it sets off an explosion of color throughout a pink and yellow sky.
It was during one such vivid sunset that an SUV came barreling up the elderly cowboy’s driveway.
The wiry cattleman stood outside his barn, waiting, watching the car’s dust cloud get bigger. He pulled his jacket snug over his slender frame. It was 29 degrees outside.
From the SUV ermerged his adult daughter and his two grandkids (ages 8 and 9).
“Grandpa!” they cried. “Are we too late?”
He shook his head. “Nope, just in time.”
Most kids would have hugged their granddaddy at this point, but this particular cowboy is a distant man. He’s not a hugger. Call it evidence of his abusive childhood. Call it a byproduct of serving in a Vietnam War. Call it being a windburned cowpoke.
His adult daughter explains: “My father’s a great guy, but he’s never hugged me. Not in my whole life. We’ve never said ‘I love you’ either. Not even at Mom’s funeral.”
The funeral was back in March. It’s been hard on everyone.
The quiet man led the family into the barn to see something wonderful that night. The grandkids were excited when they found what they were looking for.
There in the corner of the ramshackled shed was a whelping hound who would give birth at any moment. The dog was curled tightly, panting and whimpering.
The dog is named Mary. She is an animal who also happens to be the old man’s best friend.
Since the old man’s wife died, Mary has become the unofficial lady of the house. Mary looks after the old man. She reminds him to eat, to bathe, to keep on living. And even though I realize what I’m about to say will seem unbelievable to non-animal people, it’s true. This dog has changed him.
Mary, however, started acting weird a few months ago. She became lethargic and she was getting thicker in the torso. The old cattleman has been around livestock long enough to know motherhood when he sees it.
And this was motherhood’s big night.
The newborn pups emerged from the birth canal with light applause from the grandkids. Which was accompanied with open-mouthed wonder. The old man squatted before Mary to make sure things were okay. He spoke to her softly. He pet her often.
And this is when his daughter noticed something unusual about her father’s behavior. She overheard the old wrangler say to his dog, “I love you, honey.”
It was a low level phenomenon. Nobody had ever heard him say these words. Not to a dog. Not to anybody. There was indeed something different about her dad. He seemed more fragile somehow.
One by one the tiny canine lumps entered this bright world. Mary licked away their membrane sacs and bathed them. Soon there were three, four, five, six, seven puppies.
When the ordeal was over, the dog fell asleep beside the rancher and the old man refused to leave her side.
“Dad,” his daughter kept urging, “you should go to bed, it’s late.”
But he shook his head and announced that he was staying with Mary in the barn. And he did. All night.
The next morning his daughter found the hardened cowpoke fast asleep, seated on a cold floor, head resting against the barn wall. The dog’s head was in his lap. Tiny puppies squirmed and wriggled around their mother’s belly.
When he awoke, he was smiling at his daughter. There was definitely a change in this man, his daughter could see it.
“Dad,” she said. “Did you spend the WHOLE night in the barn?”
The old man simply nodded. Then without saying anything, he stood onto lean legs, stretched his joints, and approached his daughter with something important on his mind. Something very important.
And this is when the miracle happened.
It was a quiet miracle, as supernatural things go. It occurred without fanfare. There were no announcements. It happened when the old man outstretched his arms and hugged his daughter.
This surprised her. She almost didn’t know how to react. She almost recoiled. Instead she squeezed back. They did not release. Not for five or six minutes.
His daughter began to cry. She felt her father quivering, too. And she heard him sniffle.
When they let go, the daughter said nothing. After all, what could she say? Forty-three years of an affectionless drought had been undone with a single embrace. What was next? Racquetball games on the moon?
Next, the cattleman held his daughter by the shoulders and said three words. Words every daughter deserves to hear from her father. Three small words which nobody upon this earth can hear too often.
And thus, while our civilized world looks as though it will crumble; while the tradition of human decency fractures like a jigsaw puzzle; while mankind’s own darkness threatens to blind him…
The sun still shines in Kansas.