A BIRD perched that day within the thick green canopy of the great old trees draped in Spanish moss, peering downward, might have witnessed an unusual gathering far below. All of the horses were there, as usual, but today they were silent and still, and even, quite extraordinarily, appeared to be united in a common focus. They stood casually circling a tall blonde woman wearing blue jeans and a button-down long-sleeve shirt, untucked and cuffs folded up. Her name was Debra, though that word was of small significance to the animals because they knew well her soul.
In the stillness, she stepped easily from one horse to the next, at her own pace, rubbing their sides, tousling their manes, looking into their eyes.
Any such hypothetical bird might have taken wing hearing only silence below, but a “meeting” of sorts was transpiring. It might have been the notable heat that day, or the woman’s admittedly fragile state of mind, but that afternoon they communicated as easily as if by thought, and nothing about the experience seemed remarkable to her, at all. Robert Frost wrote in a poem “Home is the place where, when you have to go there, they have to take you in,” and in that very sense she was now home, standing there barefoot on the green grass with no roof overhead. She was home because she was surrounded by the only ones who had been able to really reach her, in her hour of greatest need. They had not only reached but held her here, as a matter of faith placing themselves between her and the gaping oblivion she saw awaiting, in their devotion and tender vigilance exclaiming “Not on our watch!”
All paintings by Marc Chagall
Besides: if she imagined that the horses, as much or more than she, needed in that moment to thus be given voice and be heard, she would have been entirely correct. And who was she to get in the way?
“WE love you as one of our own,” they said to the woman named Debra. Her eyes watered with tears as she reflexively crossed her forearms, placing both hands gently upon her chest as she turned to slowly drink it all in. She loved them right back, almost as much as the children she lived for, yet quite naturally in a completely different way. A few years before, she had been trapped for too long within the carefully spun web of an utterly toxic relationship, helpless and frozen. Precisely as per the spider’s plan, she’d become poisoned to the extent that she could not care if she lived or died, nor for that matter even ascertain with complete certainty whether she was still among the living. “I must be,” she recalled thinking to herself in one of the long, dark spells that might have been day or night, or some awful gray sequence of both, “otherwise it couldn’t possibly hurt so much.”
YET against all odds she had been guided back to the horses that had once meant so much to her, and in that most critical hour they had held her fast and saved her. Today, independently and joined in council, they affirmed her place within their hearts. Horses can be trusted well, for they have never learned to lie, and in any event find great difficulty in even grasping the concept.
And it may be just as well that they communicate in a language more sublime by far than any cobbled together of gross, clumsy words, for few humans indeed are gifted with the depth of heart to comprehend their message. They speak a subtle and various tongue partaking of the physical, the clear whinny or snort given voice only the smallest part of it, and know subtle nuances of the warmth or hostility of touch. Theirs is an ancient kinetic wisdom that we can only imagine. They know all too well what it is to be wholly misunderstood, even invisible, and with none to hear their cry.
They all dream of running free, when at last given a chance to close their weary eyes and sleep. Their experience has taught them struggle, patience, and immeasurable compassion. When Debra had first come back to them, utterly broken of heart and spirit and hanging by only thinnest thread, it seemed to her as if they had somehow known she was coming that day, and stood gathered and waiting. They had come right to her. Horses “know what they know,” and understood immediately that their friend’s heart was indeed close to shattering completely. Far too close. It can be a truly terrible thing to see, sometimes, for they feel much. And they loved her.
Though in that moment it seemed that their hearts might burst for sorrow, they would not turn away. Surrounding her as if in embrace, as horses will sometimes do, they quietly opened wide in spirit to receive her into the fold of their ancient communion. That was all they had to offer, and also their very best, and it was given freely and without hesitation. They knew not exactly how to proceed or where to “go,” for that was not particularly how they thought, anyway, and she stood among them very nearly beyond even their empathic reach. Yet they loved her, and knew that sometimes caring and being there is the best gift that can be offered.
The reasons or facts of the situation do not matter. What Debra needed above all else was hope. Yet what she most needed eluded her, and in the light of cold reason she found only dead ends, cold and hard. In time, even the fading notion of that imagined refuge itself mocked her without mercy. She had given up. Almost! Yet she had somehow known to come back to the horses…
Maybe she sensed it and maybe not, but these fine animals had made a solemn promise to That Most Sacred to love and to protect her, always. (Because they are honorable without fail, and absolutely resolute once a promise has been made, they are frequently misunderstood as aloof and unreachable, or even uncaring and disinclined to promise, at all. Yet here the horses are being badly misunderstood: they are in truth exercising their “horse wisdom,” and giving due respect to the inviolable weight and honor of a commitment once made.)
In time Debra came to understand that she had most certainly been blessed, even in that very darkest hour in which salvation had been least expected, for something in her heart assured her that their promise was good, and forever.
And so it was. Though past has surely folded gently into the now, the starting point of all becoming and the birthing place of creation and all potential, still yet the promise remains. (The notion of time itself seems in the horses’ manner of thinking both abstract and completely useless, for they remain attuned to and remain grounded in only that which is real.) Even now they await the promised coming of her great new day, as they have always, and will so abide for as long as it might take. Happily, and with pride immeasurable.
WHAT Debra failed to see almost completely, then or now, was the gift she had been to them. Because of her: the constancy and depth of her shimmering soul, the gentleness of her touch and whisper, the purity of her heartbreak, they knew they were not alone, and greatly comforted. They knew that she longed for freedom at last, always (as did they), and that she had “done her time” in the dark valley of the utterly solitary, and had stumbled along its twisting turns as best she could for what seemed a woeful eternity, accompanied only by despair.
They had themselves trodden before her the sere terrain of that bleak place with no horizons to be seen in any direction, and knew it all too well. Her arrival at last thus bespoke valediction, and even hope! All shadows suddenly fled for them, though Debra in her brokenness could not then even begin to understand this. It seemed that the brilliant Light that she carried within, earned so dearly, lay behind her, and thus outside her field of vision. Though a hunger for that grand elusive light filled her very being, despite her best efforts all she could make out before her were shadows, long, deep, and grim. She could not know that the very darkness of the convincing shadows bespoke a hidden promise, of the great and brilliant Light that followed wherever she went, and that was their source.
BECAUSE of Debra, everything was different. They saw no fences. Only the clouds floating idly past in the ever-open sky above, the good green grass under hoof, and a world transformed because someone in it understood them. They have intoned always ancient horse prayers on her behalf, their hearts full and lifted upward by the very idea of her.
“Keep your dreams alive,” they offered in encouragement, for they had not forgotten the ancient wisdom that any true miracle of healing is never just once. How could it be, indeed, when wounds could be so very layered, and slow to heal? Just as they knew that after every stumbling fall they would rise again from the ground, for as long as they could, no matter what, they understood the attending of the healing spirit as “whatever it takes, for as long as it takes. And then some.”
“Remember what it is to ride free,” they asked of her. “To race through the air together, joined as one, upon a world itself always in motion, and thus find our place! To first gallop and finally soar into full flight, awake and in motion and truly alive!”
A chestnut-colored mare and her foal joined in nudging her gently, as if to emphasize the point. “It might seem only a moment,” they continued, “but it is something more. Don’t you see? That moment offers an opening!” A chill passed through Debra as she pondered the idea. “It’s true,” she suddenly thought to herself. Though she couldn’t voice the realization, exactly, she thought “If I know music in my life at all; if ever I have tasted true poetry in the passing hours of a lifetime, it is exactly in the rhythm and motion of just such moments.” And she remembered that she did know music, and poetry, and realized that the sweetest and most enduring gifts tend to arrive quite gently, and are often missed upon first arrival (and sometimes long thereafter) simply because they come so completely unexpected.
Though she could not know it, Debra had in truth had been carrying the horses even as they’d thundered forward carrying her. That knowledge had been quite obvious to the horses, however, and lent a particular sweetness to the experience. To their keen ears, the steady beat of each galloping hoof celebrated glorious destiny itself, and sounded the fulfillment of some great ancient promise. The percussive moment was blessed and complete, and the gold of its memory helped sustain them in the long dark nights that inevitably fell, unannounced, and throughout the meaner seasons.
They had waited long for her return, in a spirit of patience far beyond our ability to even understand, and here she now was! Their attention remained wholly fixed upon her. “Please remember,” they repeated. You must! For if it has ever been true, even for a moment, then so it is always.”
“We all forget,” they reassured her. “There is no shame in it. Just be easy with yourself, and remember what you have known. There is naught else you need do, to see you through the hard times.”
“We will run free again, together,” they promised, and Debra’s very heart was gladdened with a joy beyond reason. In time, she observed that the dark shadows of teeming despair, as aggressive, determined, and finally smothering as green kudzu, could take no real hold where the Great Promise still lived.
“Oh, that moment!” they softly whispered, almost as if to themselves. “Just remember the glory of it!
“Never fear,” they promised, “we shall await you. And not just once. Always. Until the end of time, if necessary, for such is our pleasure.”
“You are ours,” they breathed in gratitude before turning away to graze in some golden grassy field no man has ever seen (and yet closer than one’s heart). “And so we are blessed. We love you, because you first loved us.”
“You are now and always have been, a gift.”
For Debra With Love Oct. 5 2011