The world looked as fine, Nathan Gunnerson thought, as God Himself might have imagined it when He began His glorious work of creation. On the sprawling valley floor below Nathan, a sea of yellow wildflowers washed up the shores of the redrock hills like gilded ocean waves. And above him, in the topless blue sky, wings on winds were softly blown. Then why, Nathan wondered, do I feel so miserable?
He plopped his twelve-year-old body down beside his dog, Biscuit, on a rocky ledge and gazed across the valley through his father’s old Civil War spyglass. The dusky red buttes loomed in the distance as formidable in appearance, Nathan decided, as his present problems.
His father’s challenge had come about as a result of a family conversation at the supper table some three weeks before. Nathan’s parents had been discussing the importance of, and ways of coping with, life’s everyday challenges, and his father had asked him what he thought his greatest possible challenge might be.
Nathan had promptly responded, “Cory Atwood!”
Cory seemed to take great pleasure in making Nathan’s life difficult. Ever since Nathan and his family had moved to the small town of Red Rock Springs in the summer of ’76, Cory had resented him. Name calling, pushing and shoving, then a bloody nose came as a result of Nathan’s declining a dare. Cory had said, “You’re a new kid, and every new kid has to prove himself around here if he expects to get along.”
Nathan had replied that he didn’t have to prove anything to anyone except maybe his Heavenly Father, and he most likely had to be alive to do that. Walking the trestle across Devil’s Gorge didn’t seem to Nathan the best way of insuring a long and fruitful life. Besides, his father had taught him that a real coward is one who abandons or compromises his principles for the sake of “getting along” with others. “Being true to the Lord and yourself,” his father said after Nathan had confided in him concerning Cory’s dare, “is of far greater importance and consequence than appeasing the whims of a town bully.”
Now Nathan stood, brushed red rock dust off his trousers, and started down the hill, still despairing of meeting the challenge his father had issued at the end of that suppertime conversation. “Find something good about Cory Atwood,” his father had counseled, “to replace all those negative feelings you have toward him. Carrying bad feelings around only serves to drown out positive ones. It profits no one. Sweep some of that emotional refuse out of your heart, and you’ll have more room for happiness.”
“You’re asking me to love my enemy?”
“I’m not asking you to do anything the Lord wouldn’t do.” Nathan’s father had smiled and continued. “I’m not saying that you should love what Cory does to you. I’m just saying that we shouldn’t spend what little time we have on this earth in finding fault or living with negatives but in looking for the good in others. I want you to find something good about Cory.”
His mother had added softly, “If rain can make the flowers grow, honey, why not the rest of us too?”
Nathan kicked at a pebble and watched it roll down the hill in front of him and disappear into a clump of scrub oak. What did Mother mean, he wondered. And how can I find something I like about a kid who calls me names and gives me bloody noses? “Besides,” he added aloud to Biscuit ambling along at his side, “I’ve tried for over two weeks to find something good about him, and I’m getting tired of trying!”
Nathan kicked at another rock, hardly noticing the sky filling with dark, ominous clouds that began to barge their way in front of the sun. He’d much rather plow the field at home with a three-legged horse, he thought as he neared a large wash that preceded the valley floor, than try to find something good about someone he was sure there wasn’t anything good about! He’d even rather help his mother on wash day, and that was an all-day chore!
Thunder was booming like cannon fire, and rain was beginning to pour down fast and hard, when Nathan spotted someone hunched over what appeared to be a struggling animal near the center of the wash. He stepped beneath a rocky overhang to escape the downpour, took out his spyglass, and strained to get a closer look through the rain. It was a struggling animal, a raccoon caught in a steel jaw trap. And was that Cory Atwood trying to set it free?
Nathan wiped the rain from his disbelieving eyes. It was Cory! He was trying to save the helpless raccoon from a slow, painful death. But his efforts seemed to be in vain—his strength wasn’t sufficient to pry open the steel jaws and release the small creature’s leg.
Right in the middle of Nathan’s disbelief, he heard what sounded like distant thunder up above him in the high gorges. But the sound was continuous and began to grow louder and nearer. “It’s a flash flood, Biscuit!” Nathan gasped. “It’s coming down the wash!”
He screamed a warning to Cory, but his voice was lost in the noise of pounding rain and flood water. And Cory was so busy trying to free the animal that he wasn’t aware of his danger.
Nathan bolted away from the overhang and down along the edge of the wash as the thunderous sound grew nearer still. He dropped beside a surprised Cory, pointing with alarm up the hill. “Cory! A flash flood’s coming down the wash!”
Cory’s face registered equal alarm, but his rain-blurred eyes also flashed concern for the raccoon. “I can’t leave this animal here to die,” he yelled above the din.
“I’ll help, but let’s hurry!” Nathan yelled back.
Working together, the two boys were able to open the jaws of the trap. The raccoon pulled itself free and started to hobble up the embankment. The youths followed quickly, helping each other up the red mud and loose shale, glancing worriedly over their shoulders at the grimly awesome sight of a wall of reddish brown water raging down the wash toward them at an incredible speed.
They took refuge under the rocky ledge where Nathan had seen Cory through his spyglass. For a long moment they sat shaking at their near encounter with the deadly wall of water. Then for an equally long moment they stared at one another. Suddenly Nathan understood his mother’s words—good things often blossom and grow out of difficulty, out of effort. Like understanding. Like faith in a father’s counsel. Like the flowers after a rain. And if one looks past his dislikes, looks beyond the rain, he’ll find much good.
Cory’s eyes fell; then they lifted again and settled on Nathan’s, beseeching forgiveness. They found it in Nathan’s smile. No words were spoken. None were needed.