Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


     Backing into the box, I fought my nerves, and they were winning.  Over to my right, sat my friend and great heeler, Bronc.  Try as I might to keep him quiet, Self One barked inside me.  “Okay, don’t screw this up.  Get out clean, ride your horse, get to the spot, throw it, get the dally, don’t go too fast, but don’t be slow…” 
     “Hey, Hey!” said Self-Two.  “Hold on.  How many instructions are you going to give me?  This little below average I.Q. can only handle so much input.”
     “Okay, okay,” said the devil on my shoulder.  “The guys on the chute are looking at you.  You can’t take all day.”
     We had roped all the steers the night before, and they could run.  I’m on my fastest horse, prepared for every conceivable problem.  I nodded for the steer.  The gate opened, and he came out like greased lightning…if greased lightning could trot. Shine jumped on top of him like a starved coyote who just spotted a sick chicken on the side of the highway.  Prepared for every possible situation, it just never occurred to me that there is always a chance that sometimes things can go perfectly.  Because I was afraid of all the things that might go wrong…I missed him.   

     I’ve been thinking lately that sometimes a bit of cynicism creeps in when writing  about my education.  I don’t intend for that to be so, but if I’m honest with my self, there is some disappointment there.  It all began in 1965…
     I remember sitting with my Daddy at the kitchen table in that little house I grew up in – the one that gave birth to all the memories that swirl around and through me now.  After a few false starts, I had informed my father that I had seen the light, and was ready to go to school.  His lack of formal education had led to a lifetime of blue collar hard work as a heavy equipment operator, and like all men of their generation, he lived in hope that his son would have something better.  He was delighted as we sat at that table reading through all the course offerings listed in the college catalog.
     “College is the key to success,” he said using the line that all our mothers and fathers used in those days, and as he thumbed through the pages, he added, “…college teaches you how to be successful.”
     “What should I take?” I asked.
     “Well, let’s see,” he said adjusting his reading glasses.  “There are so many choices, but I’m thinking…” and as he continued to look, finally shook his head, and said, “That’s strange.”
     “What?” I asked.
     “All these courses, English and Math, Science and History, Chemistry and Biology, Psychology and Sociology, and yet…”
     “What?  What?” I asked.

     “There’s not a single college course about how to be successful.” 

     I’ve thought about that night and that conversation countless times.  Even though my father never lost his faith that I should attend the university, he was always puzzled about the lack of any mention in that catalog regarding “how to be successful.”  Yet that’s what every parent wants for their child.  Did you ever hear of any parent dropping their child off at school, and saying, “Okay, now go in there and make F’s!”  No, you didn’t, did you.  We all want our children to do well, and we assume higher education will help that come about.  We not only want and expect that for our children, but ourselves as well.  We too attend college, sometimes later in life, and have no doubt that “they” will teach us the ways, means and methods to become more and do better. 

     And to some extent perhaps they do.  I still have great fondness for so many of my professors, and for the most part, they were kind, caring Christian people who tried their best.  It’s just that now as I grow older sitting at the north end of my barn in the cool of the evening watching the steers, horses, dogs and cats have their supper…something haunts me.  And that something is – I keep thinking about my Daddy sitting at that kitchen table long ago asking why there was not one single course in that college catalog about success.  That I’ve decided is still an excellent question.  I am aware that all instructors are required to cover certain material; it’s just that I find my self now wishing those educated worldly people had told me a bit more about life.  Things like…if only my professors had shared things like… 

(1.)  The value of perseverance: Whatever course or discipline we were studying at the moment, how helpful it would have been had the Math teacher said, “You may not understand this today, but if you keep at it, things will clear up…and that’s a good life lesson by the way.”  If only the English teacher had said, “For all you would-be writers out there, get ready for rejection slips and don’t dare let that defeat you.  Happens to everybody.” How much courage and strength would have been transferred to me had the Ag-Science professor said, “It may take a while to pay for the place you dream about, to have the kind of cattle you want, or to develop the horse you’re riding.  Be patient – commit to the process for an extended time.”

(2.)   Develop your interpersonal skills:  Even though I obtained advanced degrees in the very field that claims to be about helping people – Psychology - on not one single occasion did any professor ever talk to me about how to deal effectively with other human beings.  Just yesterday, the young man who shoes our horses here at Johnson Farms told me that a short time ago, he was considering quitting the business due to lack of income.  A consultation with his father resulted in the following advice.  His Dad said, “Before you quit, try this.  The next time you go in a room full of people, introduce yourself to everyone there.  Make eye contact with every person, shake their hand, and after telling them your name, get their name…and remember it.” The young fellow did as instructed.  His business more than tripled in less than sixty days.

(3.)  Be Not Afraid:  Painful as it may be to admit, while sitting at my barn door in the evenings, I realize now I lived my life in fear for many years.  Afraid of failing, afraid of not getting a good job, of losing the job you have, of failed relationships, of not having enough money, and on and on.  And when everything I feared in life came on me, you know what?  I not only survived, but can’t remember missing even a single meal.  And if I did miss a meal, the experience of being hungry made me so grateful for the next one. 

     Now I know what I’m about to suggest here is truly a radical idea, and I do understand the separation between church and state, but can you imagine the value of even one professor referring to what the scripture has to say about fear?  It says, “Be not afraid.”  And according to our Methodist preacher, it doesn’t advocate having courage on just one occasion.  “I recently read,” our pastor told me, “that message appears in the Bible 365 times…a message of hope for every day of the year.”  Ain’t it a shame my graduate professors didn’t mention that? 

     So long ago now, my Dad wondered why there was not a single course on success in college, and forty years later…I’m still wondering the same thing.  Some might say, “That’s the parent’s responsibility,” and I would agree with that.  It’s just that we would all be so much stronger if we all shared the responsibility…the teacher, the parent, and the child.  And there would have been much value in hearing from the people that I admired so that we must hang in there, we must reach out, and that living your life in fear cripples your performance. 

     And on the last day of the roping, I rode Little Blue in the box.  As I turned to face the steer, Self One said, “Okay, now there are several things we need to do here…”
     “No,” I said.  “There’s only one thing we need here…”
     “What?” said the devil on my shoulder.
     “For You To Shut Up!”
     I nodded, and Little Blue waited light as a feather in my hand.  I
made that kissing noise, and tagged his neck at the same time, and he was gone in an instant.  Running down the arena, my heart was filled with gratitude that the Spirit had given me a horse like him. This steer really did run like greased lightning, and Blue flew to him.  We nailed him.

                                                                      “Be not afraid…”

                                                                                Mark 5:36    


Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

Michael & Blue

Please stop
and sign our Guestbook

Send Michael
an Email

Michael Johnson Books
1172 CR 4122  Campbell, Texas 75422  (903) 862-2082

Copyright © 2003 Michael Johnson Books. All rights reserved.
webmaster pswope@candw-webmasters.com