Many years ago, after reading my latest story in front of a creative writing class, the teacher said, “You have the ability to make people laugh and cry at the same time, Jerry. You can create realities and draw people into them so strongly that the words on the page are never seen. That’s what makes a great writer.”
Perhaps so, but while I was always thankful for her enthusiasm, I knew another ingredient that made the difference between good and great, an ingredient that I’ve yet to master. There is a wall built around us, a solid, protective structure that keeps the outside world separated from our souls. We cannot, or so it is said, let that wall down or our own identity will disappear.
On a rare occasion we crack open a small door in our wall. We allow the words of another to penetrate our self-imposed solitude. Perhaps it is a story being told, a poem being recited or a scene being carefully crafted by a wordsmith that allows us to actually touch one another. That moment is almost magical, it tells us that we are not alone, it allows us to share, to know another human – it’s that skill that makes a great writer.
But there are other times when words can’t carry the message. No matter how desperately the emotion needs to be conveyed, no matter how much we want to reach out the doorway and touch another, there are no words that can be used.
I live in a world of horses, a world in which well-written books or expensively-produced movies mean nothing. Horses have a different language, a different form of communication. If you allow yourself to be a part of it, you know how powerfully it punches through the doorway of our protective shield.
One horse comes through the gate. Another horse that you know has never seen the arriving horse before, runs along the fence, almost screaming. They are instantly joined together from that moment on.
A horse that has been completely resistant to training suddenly melts in the hands of a new trainer. A potential adopter walks onto the ranch and, through some form of magic, the horse of their dream is standing beside them. They know, both of them, that they found one another, that it was meant to be.
We witness those magical moments at the ranch on almost a daily basis. Those moments are beyond words, they leave us speechless.
“Don’t destroy the beauty by trying to understand,” a wise man once told me. “It just is. Let it be.”
Several weeks ago I wrote about Jessica Rekos, one of the children in Newtown, Connecticut, that was taken from this world in the most unspeakable way imaginable. Just as with millions of others, the story ripped us apart. When I read about her love of horses, I knew we had to do something to turn the horror into something good.
When we received a large donation in honor of Jessica, our almost instantaneous reaction was to use that donation to help as many children as possible, children that were experiencing stress far beyond what they should be experiencing.
A search on the internet found a supplier of small “plush” horses, and a few days later we started the “Jessica’s Horse” program by giving dozens of those small horses to the local police departments to be used as gifts to children. There are now around two hundred of them riding around in the trunks of police cars, carefully bagged and ready.
Yesterday we received another shipment of 200 horses. Our volunteers will spend a day removing the tags, tying little note cards to them and placing them in plastic bags. They will be ready to deliver in a few more days.
Each one of those toy horses will end up in the small, precious hands of a child, a child who needs something to hold tight. Each one carries Jessica’s dream.
The moment when a police officer removes the horse from the bag and hands it to a child is when words completely fail.
Early this morning I checked my email and found a note from Facebook. It was from the mother of Jessica Rekos. “As Jessica’s mom, I am so proud that my little girl has inspired such an amazing program. She did amazing things in her short life, and she continues to do so! Thank you for doing this – for Jessica, and for all of the children you’re helping.”
And words once again fail.
I can never imagine what Jessica’s family has been through. Yet she took the time to say “thank you.”
Habitat for Horses is more than an organization working with law enforcement to salvage the animals that are being destroyed by mindless, heartless criminals. We operate along that delicate line between horses and humans, trying to open the doorways that separate us from one another. It’s that connection that brings potential adopters to us, that connection people feel when they donate to our cause.
In the morning we might be found in the middle of a busy highway kneeling over the body of a dying horse, and that afternoon watching a little girl break out in laughter when she climbs on the back of her first horse. We might be on the phone with a sheriff from another state talking about a case of neglect, then talking with a distressed horse owner who found themselves unable to afford hay.
We receive our thanks by knowing that what we do is what our supporters would be doing if they had the time. Our thanks comes from the smiles of adopters, from the soft sigh of a horse as he beds down for the night, from the nod of a cop as we drive off with a trailer load of seized horses. Those kind of moments don’t need words. “It just is.”
But to receive thanks from Jessica’s mom….
From hundreds of miles away, a door opened and we touched. Yes, the tears come. It is an honor, a blessing, and we will value it always.