Many years ago, perhaps in lands far, far away, the elders were those who captured the wisdom of the ages and willingly shared it with the youth. I can only imagine that our civilization has changed that scene because it’s becoming quite apparent that the older I get, the less I understand.
“The Wisdom of the Elders” is a part of life that I now realize I’m going to miss. Not that I don’t have a lot of experience, because I do, but I find that the more years I spend on this earth, the more I need to learn.
Ten years ago, if I received an email from someone wanting to donate their old horse because they wanted another, more useful horse, I’d do everything I could to help and thank them for doing all they did. Now I find anger rising, seeing their problem as an attempt to dump their responsibility, not facing the realistic knowledge that no one will ever love their horse as much as they do and that the best option is to let the horse go peacefully to sleep in his own pasture, held in the arms of those who love him. Would I send Pete off to a rescue organization because I wanted a newer model? Never. Pete’s home is with me. I took responsibility for him the moment he walked into my pasture.
I once knew why people slaughtered horses. Through courses in economics, and psychology, I had all this figured out. I knew why people abused horses, starved them to death, became collectors, beat their kids and spouses. But now I have no answers. I’ve seen too much, walked too many pastures and stepped over too many bones. With every step, the “truth” faded into questions I couldn’t answer. When people look at me and ask “Why?” I have to walk away. There is no answer.
When people purposely hurt one another through words and deeds for no reason, I knew it was for self-gain. I knew that people build themselves up by making others look smaller in their peer’s eyes. When it happens now I see the tears of emotional pain and wonder what the other was thinking to cause such pain.
I wonder what happen to all those friends of yesteryear now that I find myself essentially alone. I wonder what happened to the babies I held, to my youthful drinking buddies, to those college friends that promised to always stay in touch. I wonder why I find it so easy to talk with horses and dogs, but not people. I wonder why I see money only as it relates to the things I can buy for the horses and not for myself.
I wonder why Jake, the Lab who walked beside me for 17 years, became so thin and unable to chase sticks and play as we once did. I know about old age, but Jake was immune to all that. He was always here and I don’t understand why he needed to leave me now.
I still look back on “my war” and try to think of a reason for all the dead bodies. I believed in it then, believed in our government, believed that everything I did was for a greater good. Now I know better. There is no such thing as a good war, but there are plenty of bad wars and my war wasn’t about freedom or justice. It was about saving face, big corporations and money. I don’t much care anymore. Caring doesn’t bring back my friends. Caring won’t erase the memories.
Then I look at the horses, and that’s the hardest part. They stand lost and forlorn at the ranch, waiting for someone to look back at them. I once knew how to train horses, how to ride them, what to do when they were too old or useless to be used. Old cowboys taught me all the lessons I needed to learn. I broke them, rode them hard and used everything up, then watched them be sold at the auction. I knew it all back then, everything there was to know about horses.
Until I actually looked one in the eye and everything I knew amounted to nothing because I no longer saw an animal to be used and thrown away. “Look deep into his eye,” someone told me, “and you’ll see things that will frighten you, unless you’re prepared.” I looked once and I saw myself. I looked again and I saw a soul. And when I finally found the courage to look again, I saw the face of God.
This is our gift to be cherished, to hold, to protect and to love, yet they wander the grassless pastures searching for someone, some human, to reach out to them, to offer a hand of kindness.
I once knew all I needed to know about the facts of life. Now I walk out into the pasture and feel them crowd around me, waiting to be touched, to be held, to be loved. I hear them question me about why, about the loss of their former life, about what happens next. “I don’t know,” is my response. “I honestly don’t know.”
“See me,” they call out as they walk towards my outstretched fingers. I match them, step for step, for it is a voice deep within me voice that also calls out to them. I realize that I need them as much as they need me. The young, self-assured cowboy has turned to the only friends who have stayed with him through the years.
“Feel me,” they ask as they come to me. Not one, not ten, but hundreds, thousands, pleading from all the dark, forgotten barns and backyard lots, rising from the dusty ashes of burned bones and shattered dreams.
“Touch me,” they say, wanting just that, a human touch, the feel that someone cares about them not for what they can do, but for what they are. The sad soul looks back and I see the emptiness of a human race that destroys all that is good.
“Heal me”, they cry, those too weak, too old, too alone, those facing the horror of spending their last moments in a terror-filled chamber with blood-covered floors, who lie in their own waste without food or water, those whose bones will someday decay in back pastures, the bones of a once beautiful foal born into a world that doesn’t care.
I thought I knew the facts of life. Now I can only stand in the pasture and feel the burning tears as I look into the Heavens and ask why.
Perhaps His answer doesn’t come in the form of a booming voice or a burning bush, but an awareness that many of us feel in our later years – while this isn’t where we intended to be, that this is where we are needed. As a grandmother taking care of babies, as a foster home for old dogs, as an old cowboy holding on to a horse, we learn that the real goal in life isn’t money, knowledge or wisdom, but that by fulfilling the needs of others, we learn all we need to know about ourselves.