Sunday, December 24, 2006

After the Ball is Over



Loss is hard. If it were easy, it wouldn't be called loss--that terse monosyllable that sets off tears and chest pains. It would be called something like millie. "I suffered a Millie" just doesn't seem as bad.

My daughter's beloved Morgan, Willowrock Ultimately ("The Rat"), the subject of my story in the upcoming Horse Healers anthology, died unexpectedly. Expected death is nicer. That gradual winding-down that lets us make arrangements and get used to the idea is still hard, but allows some sort of closure. Unexpected death--in this case, of a seemingly healthy 16-year-old horse just reaching his potential--requires a reframing of the surrounding lives. A space is left that is noticed at odd moments and continues to startle for a very long time. Years. Decades.

This is not, however, a tribute to a wonderful horse and his devastated owner. What's more interesting at the moment isn't the horror and the resulting chaos. It's the new attitudes that come in its wake.

My last essay touched on my Zip and his phantom pain/attitudinal distress/death wish, and I ended wondering where to go next with this. The next step came clear in a flash when Rat's remains were carted off for necropsy. The next step is to get back in the game.

If there's one defining factor in the relationship Rat had with Jess and all of his many admirers, it was his ability to always be in the moment fully He had a capacity for humor and kindness and also for elegance and attitude. No horse is perfect. No horse. But every horse can, and should, be appreciated in the moment.

Tonight I dragged my aching back to the barn with a bag of carrots in hand, smacked my big guy around a bit verbally, and got a huge response. He seemed to be glad I was paying sufficient attention to notice he wasn't really obeying me. He likes to be good, but he likes more to be appreciated. I took time I haven't taken lately to appreciate each of the horses in turn. And I took a moment to realize that I need to get with the program. It's my failing, not theirs, that things have gotten a little loose around here. My motivation that's been lacking.

Tuesday I'll visit my friend, Ellen Ryan, who will show me what she does with her Dutch Warm Blood, and I'll really focus. I might even take pictures and stick them on the bulletin board in the barn so I'll remember what it was I wanted to do. Then, as soon as the next weather ugliness has passed, I'll get to work.

My point is that all of us fall prey to fear and procrastination. Sometimes we do that until it's too late. Jess didn't waste many days with Rat, and it showed. Wasted time is a far bigger loss than death. It leaves behind no good memories, just sadness.

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