Lessons in the park

Lessons in the park

I grew up in Huntsville, Alabama in the 1970’s. From the time of my earliest memory until I was about 10 years old, my parents took me to the horse ranch that was once inside the park on the top of Monte Sano Mountain.

We went trail riding mostly, where I would be perched in a family members lap, clasping with white knuckles around the large horn of the western saddle. When I was a little older, I loved trail riding, but at the age of about 4 years old, I was in my own world on the back of a Shetland pony named Peanut. Even though he was hooked up to large wheel, like a merry go round, Peanut was my key to escaping the real world, and he was safe. He listened to every song I sang, every word I said about everything going on in my life, and never once wanted me to be quiet. Even crazier, he never wanted to stop walking around and around in a circle until I wanted him to stop.

Maybe that was my first lesson in love. It’s true you know.  Guys will run circles and go nowhere fast if it keeps a woman happy.

I think the horse ranch was closed in 1980. My parents split up that year and Mom and me moved away from Huntsville. One year not too long after that, we came back “home” to visit the mountain park and found out that all the horses were gone. To this day the barn is still there. It’s across the street from the park store, probably used for storage. The old horse trails are mostly covered with overgrowth. Very few are still open and used by visiting hikers. I think what breaks my heart the most is that most of the people who make the drive up the mountain to take in the view, don’t really stop and get out and walk around. The majority will roll down their car window and catch a glimpse of the beauty and fresh air from one of the viewpoints where you can pull over.

That’s not the same.

Somewhere in that park, there are older trees bearing the scars of when my father used to climb them so high the tree bent under his weight, and he would hang on and let gravity ride him back down to the ground. There are buried remains of weekend gatherings with family, and I bet if you look hard enough under the brush, you will find hoof prints….

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The healing power of dignity

This morning I’ve been reflecting on things that have changed within the past month. There’s been a lot of good happening around me and Adam lately. When I look at all of them – job changes, Adam healing since his teeth were extracted and him having to get acquainted with a denture and his new smile – I see a common theme resurfacing over and over. Dignity.

Adam said something profound the other day when we were visiting with some friends who own a horse stable. It’s no surprise to get a call from them every weekend with the invitation to share in some smoked barbecue and outdoor music. This past weekend, we were asked to come out, and a visit was long overdue, so we went and soaked in the energy of all the animals and friends. Every trip down the road to visit this place feels better than a vacation hundreds of miles away – good energy, good people, unconditional love…you don’t want to leave. On this day we were watching how the farrier, the husband of my friend who teaches riding lessons, was handling one of the horses. This one was a rescue that we’ve blessed to watch from afar as this couple brought him back from deaths door, to be the healthy, spunky soul he is now. When he first arrived last summer, he was withered away – a skin-and-bones animal. He had lost his spirit and was dragging his head, almost lifeless. It’s hard to believe that just three months ago, the same creature we were watching had no life behind his eyes. Now he is full of life, full of energy, personality, and all he needs is a gentle hand to train him to be ridden. It’s a process that begins and never ends with love. Adam and me were leaning against the ring, watching as the farrier let the horse get used to the weight of the saddle and reins while being led on a long lead rope, and then after some time, the farrier mounted, and the magic of that unspoken communication became visible. “Horses are just like people. It’s amazing what a little dignity can do,” he said.

I recognized the miracle of gentle nudges and guidance this animal was getting. I felt the same from Adam, and from my family, and God, as I recovered last year from the emotional and physical scars that were left after I escaped my abusive ex-husband. As I leaned on that horse ring and watched the horse breathing in and out, nostrils flaring and anxious sweat pouring, learning to trust a human being again after having been so betrayed…so hurt in the past….I knew. I remember a time just two years ago, that I would break out into an anxious sweat if I entered a store, or had to look a man in the eye. I remember what it was like to want to trust someone that much, yet being terrified of doing it…but then doing it any way, coaxed and encouraged by the people who loved me.

As I was leaning on that horse ring next to my life partner and best friend, I understood the depth of what a gift it is to look beyond what we see and simply love someone. I looked at Adam and had to smile, because I saw our miracle.

It’s so easy to be fearful if we look at someone’s past and judge them based on it. It’s a divine show of respect, to give someone the right to be loved. It takes just as much courage for us not to judge the lonely and the scarred as it does for them to step out into the world. It’s character building, to trust someone before they have earned it.  That is what it’s like to give dignity to one of God’s creatures.