The wedding ring

When Rick and I decided that we would elope to Big Bend National Park in 2001, I told him I didn’t want an engagement ring.

“Just pick out a wedding ring,” I told him. “Nothing big or clunky. Just something simple.”

Which Rick did, with the help of my best friend Amy Webb.

The first time I laid eyes on that ring was on our wedding day, when he slipped it on my finger. It was an unusual style, with a small diamond set so that you could see all of the stone.

The only time I didn’t wear it was during my two pregnancies, when my fingers got too swollen.

So when we left for our vacation — which we all now know went disastrously awry — I wore my ring as usual. During my time alone in the desert, the ring fell off my finger. I groped around, but couldn’t find it. I was too weak to really look for it anyway.

When my rescuers arrived, I told them I lost my wedding ring. Immediately, several people began poking around the dirt and underneath my tree. No ring.

I was found at 11:45 a.m. mountain time. Once at the hospital in El Paso, I spent hours in the ER. No one could decide where to put me. My temperature was going haywire and I was in acute renal failure. One doctor told me they also were worried about my heart, lungs and liver.

It was around 9 or 9:30 p.m. before they admitted me to the telemetry unit.

When Rick arrived, someone was in the midst of asking about any valuables I might have.

“Well, the only thing would be her wedding ring,” he said.

Our friend Claudia, the reporter sent to be with me and write about what had happened, had to break the news.

“She lost it,” Claudia told him, cringing at the fleeting sadness she saw on his face. But Rick recovered quickly. We were alive. We were together. That’s what mattered most.

But when we got home, I cried and cried over the loss of that ring. It’s a silly thing, I know, given what we went through and what could have happened.

But that ring represented to me not just love, but the trust we have in each other.

I trusted him to pick it out for me.

He trusted me enough to marry me, even though his last marriage ended in divorce.

He trusted me to be a stepmother, even though I’d only ever cared for a dog.

I trusted him on assignments together, even while driving through downtown Houston as glass fell from skyscrapers. (Hurricane Ike.)

Over the years, we dealt with all of the issues involving blended families. We had another two children together. We juggled weird jobs with weird hours.

Our home was always busy with people coming and going. Four kids. Their friends. Our friends.

All of our family still live in Texas. But we’ve cultivated another sort of family in the newsroom. Other couples. Singles. Rick’s famous for his venison chili parties. And Amy, remember all those nights the three of us spent watching Sex & the City? Rick grilled steak, offered commentary on Samantha’s antics and then went bed while we sat up late and gossiped?)

On one occasion, when Rick and I had an argument, I went over to Amy’s to vent. “But ya’ll are the perfect couple,” she said. “That’s how I’ve always thought of you.”

And we are. We fit.  I’ve always known that I can depend on Rick. He knows I will always be here.

That ring represented all of that.

In the desert, we faced the ultimate test of our marriage when I told him to leave me.

Best-case scenario: Rick would make it out, find help and I would be rescued.

Next-best-case scenario: Rick would make it out and the kids would have at least one of their parents.

Worst-case scenario: We would have done our damndest to save ourselves and return to our children.

I can’t imagine what Rick felt when I told him to go. I can’t imagine having to make that choice. But he knew I trusted him to get out of there. And he believed me when I told him I would wait for him.

When we went back to the state park in November, a kind game warden accompanied us to my little mesquite tree  — the “tree of life,” yet another game warden called it — and helped us look for my ring.

When we got home, the first thing our daughter asked was, “Did you find Mama’s ring?”

“No,” we told her. “But we tried.”

She went into her bedroom and returned a few minutes later.

“Hold out your hand,” she ordered. Then she put one of her own rings on my finger.

And once again, I cried.

For Christmas, Rick bought me a wedding band. It’s simple. Looks vintage. This time I picked it out.

So yeah, there’s a ring on that finger again. And I know that in the coming years, it, too, will come to represent the love and trust we share.

But sometimes, I still feel the sting of knowing that my first ring  — THE ring — lies somewhere in the desert…

… just a few hours’ drive from where Rick first put it on my finger.


Why you need to volunteer with kids…

Disclosure: This is my annual please-consider-volunteering-with-our-children post:

I get kids. And kids get me. Even as a teenager, the little ones flocked to me. Why? Because I feed off of their enthusiasm and their trust and their need. And because I remember all the stages: eager-to-please child, awkward middle-schooler, rebellious high-schooler. I can put myself back into any of those phases in a split second.

There is no greater gift than to be needed by a child. They look to us for advice, support and love. And when the babies looking up to you aren’t your own — well, the gift is even more precious.

Today, at our annual Girl Scout Milk & Cookies with the Mayor event, I was besieged by little girls asking if they could “help.”

This is the magical age, parents, when kids WANT to be given grown-up assignments or chores. I had little girls tripping over themselves to carry plates, take out trash and set up dishware. They want to do good. They want to feel responsible. They want to feel like they matter.

To be involved in their lives at this stage — it’s a gift. Seize it. Make the most of it. Because this is when we will have the most influence on their lives.

Today, I watched little girls make cards for another little girl who is critically ill in the hospital. I watched them listen with rapt attention as a former police chief and current chief of staff for the mayor told them how they — even at their young ages — can make a difference at their schools and in their communities.

A lot of you already volunteer — at schools, churches, Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, sports teams, etc… Thank you.

If you don’t — please consider the opportunity before you. These little people are our future. What we teach them matters. And they do actually listen to us.

Yeah, I know. It takes time and hey — who has time? Well, actually, we all do. Or, rather, we all should, especially when it comes to caring for and teaching our children.

You say you’re too busy caring for your own family. Please consider that there are a lot of kids out there who don’t live in the kind of family that you do. They don’t have a parent or parents like you. We send them off to school and expect our teachers to fill that role. Our teachers cannot be a parent to every child who needs them to be one. That’s where we come in.

These children need you. They want you. And if you let them in and lead them … well, these are the wee ones who will prove to be the most loyal and determined bunch of kids you’ve ever encountered.

As a reporter, what I’ve noticed over the years is this: The people you would think to be the most cynical or hardened — police officers, judges, journalists or attorneys — are the ones who are most eager to get out in the community and work with kids.

That’s because despite all of the bad things we see, we’re still just a bunch of idealists. We know better than anyone that there is only a small and fleeting period during which you can effect change.

So yeah, that’s great if you enroll your kids in Scouts or take them to church or whatever. But it takes a multitude of adults to help just one child.

So, please. Get out there. Volunteer. Lead. You have more to offer than you can possibly ever know.