Riding

Recently, I watched a video a friend posted to Facebook. The narration was in Dutch, I think; I watched the entire thing in silence, with short subtitles. An elderly woman, sitting in a wheelchair, looking frail and ill (the slackness of her face made me think she had Parkinson’s) had a wish: she wanted to ride a horse one more time. A group of people who were in the business of making such dreams happen set up a sling across the backs of two horses and hoisted her into it. They drove the horses around slowly, and as the team began to move the camera focused on the woman’s face. She was smiling wide as her wish came true. It made me cry. And then a thought popped into my head, suddenly: These are my true feelings.

It seemed such an odd thought that I had to look at it. True feelings—it’s such a job, sometimes, to clear away all the static, the junk that’s piled up around what I really feel. Some of it I’ve created to keep myself in the dark, as protection, for a time. Some of it’s there to help me navigate and function in a world that expects certain things, certain priorities and exchanges. But all of it is sure to hold me back, eventually. I have to move it aside to get unstuck.

Near the beginning of the video, the people helping the old woman led a horse out of the barn and over to her. They put a treat in her hand, helped her hold it up, and the horse nuzzled her and took the morsel in its lips. Slumped in her wheelchair, her face remained expressionless. The helpers gave her a handful of hay and helped her bring it to her nostrils, to inhale its fragrance—a sweet aroma, once familiar to her—we knew because we’d  just seen, for a moment, a black and white photo in a frame, of a woman crouched forward over the neck of a big horse as it cleared a fence. The old woman had not only been a rider, but a jumper.

The people granting the old lady’s wish brought the horse to her, and the hay; talked to her, smiled at her. But it wasn’t until they had lifted her old and crumpled-looking body into the tarp stretched across the horses’ backs and the horses began to move that she started to smile. The camera zoomed in, and I saw the smile take over her face, as she lay there on her back, elbows in, hands folded up against her chest. Her eyes scrunched up, and on her face there was nothing but smile, as she was jostled and bounced on the warm backs of horses, once again.

What, I wondered, does all of it say about my “true feelings”?

The best moments of our lives are spent on the backs of horses: in pursuits that one way or another may be dangerous, but we’re alive and moving and connected to other living things. And at the end of our lives, what will we have that’s more precious than a few minutes that open us up to an uncontrollable, unquenchable smile?

The old woman had a passion for riding horses, so much so that one last slow trip on their backs brought her pure joy. I can only think: We love what we love, and by god, we’d better do it while we can.

 

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