After a particularly stressful day last week I saddled up and asked my trainer, “You’d try to stop me if you thought it wasn’t a good idea for me to go out on a trail ride alone, right?” My Thoroughbred is quiet and brave, but he’s not a seasoned trail horse.
She said yes and told me a good path I should follow that went up a hill and had a view of the changing colors of the sunset.
As soon as I got on the freeway Thursday morning to begin my 40 mile commute from Orange County to LA, a light flashed on my dashboard indicating my tire pressure was low. My tires were recently replaced. Could this be a sensor issue? I said a prayer that I wouldn’t get a flat on the 5 Freeway during morning rush hour and decided to head straight for the mechanic a few blocks from my school. Forty miles away.
It’s been hard to breathe deeply the last several weeks.
Hard because a child I knew died tragically at the hands of another, an unimaginable slipping away. I read the story on the newspaper website and re-read it because surely, it must have been a mistake of the media outlet. Bad reporting. A typo of a name.
My brain struggled to process the horrifying reality. Thorns. Evil thorns.
Recent events remind me of another time and another place when I happened upon an alley shooting adjacent to my the school I taught at in Chicago. I was about to open the door to the red brick building to return to my classroom after having attended a meeting in another building across the parking lot.
“Are you going to shoot? Are you going to shoot?” A teenage voice asked as a group of students from another school in the neighborhood were walking by. I disregarded the chatter as teens say dumb things and joke incessantly. I grabbed the door and as I began to open I heard Pop! Pop! Pop!
Was that?! No. It couldn’t be. That’s not how guns sound in the movies.
I looked into the classroom by the door and the class was continuing on as normal, watching a video. No one was under a desk or running from the window. I must have been dreaming up the shooting remark and pop.
Flash forward. I had to testify as a witness in juvenile court. There had indeed been a shooting. Even though I hadn’t seen anything, I heard things. And I recognized a face from the group of kids walking, the face of the person who sat in the courtroom, the one I was told to point at to indicate who was walking through the alley. The same person, a child really, lived around the corner and up a block from my apartment at the time. I never walked my dog on that block again.
At the end of that day, the one of the pop sounds in the alley, one of my rowdiest, most challenging students poked his head into the doorway of my room. He asked if I was okay. He had seen me walking outside while he was in another classroom for a pullout program and had heard the same pops. I couldn’t believe this over-exuberant (consistently bordering on naughty) student paid me a visit to check in. Beauty.
A couple of weeks ago I had an unexpected moment of grief in the middle of teaching. Until then I had mourned privately, but when an aide delivered a sympathy card for me to sign, I lost it.
To be fair, she asked, “Would you like to sign this now?” And I said yes. It hadn’t occurred to me then that the cards that get sent around on clipboards are usually for baby showers or going away parties.
This card hit me hard. It made everything I was trying to do with my lesson on medieval China seem absurd. As my eyes welled up, and my nose ran, I looked at my class and said, “Who even cares about history? It doesn’t matter.”
The room was silent. About half the class looked down at their desks and the other half looked at me as though I were a person they had never seen before.
“He was sitting right where you are two years ago.”
A girl from the back of the room walked up to the front of the classroom and hugged me in front of all her classmates. Another girl grabbed a tissue and held it out to me. Beauty.
Life is unbearably hard at times. Frequently there are no comforting answers to all of our why’s. But there is always riding, a way to temporarily be freed from the ugliness and thorns. Beauty. And prayer.
My work weeks have been difficult lately. My shoulders keep rounding and hardening. It seems I can’t get out to the barn to see my horse Knight fast enough.
My heart softens when I he lifts his brown face with the white stripe up from his hay when I say his name. The sound and smell of alfalfa being chewed are transformative. Beauty.
Based on my trainer’s confidence in my horse’s trail abilities, Knight and I began our trek. I rode with my reins at the buckle. I got to the exit gate and in a trail class maneuver leaned over Knight’s withers and hit the code to open the gate. He stood like a soldier and then I swung the metal gate out wide so we could pass through.
Almost immediately we happened upon a strutting peacock and I nudged Knight closer so I could get a picture. The bird was completely at ease. Knight strode over the dirt path with intermittent rocky parts as though this were his life’s calling.
We happened across this scene which made me think of life, my week, and beauty.
Five seconds after arriving at my mechanic’s he noticed a nail in my back left tire. “I can fix it for you in an hour.”
I returned during my lunch time and when I met him at the counter to pay my bill, he said, “You’re good.”
I looked at him in disbelief. “Don’t I owe you something?”
“Not today. Have a good day.”
I said thank you and told him it had been a hard week and he was so nice.
Like the cactus and golden wildflowers existing side by side along my riding trail, life is a trail of beauty and thorns. The thorns are readily apparent. I hope I can look past them more to note the color, texture and cheer of the beauty all around.
Has there been a time recently when you experienced beauty and thorns simultaneously?