I Loved The Shoes, But They Didn’t Fit

In my other life, I wore heels everyday.  Work days, weekends – it mattered little.  I also drove a Jeep Cherokee.  I loved feeling like I could see things that I would otherwise never notice.  I traveled tall.  My shoe collection was legendary and even Casual Fridays involved four-inch heels that I would walk in endlessly – back and forth, staircases, multiple floors, the streets of DC and every other city I needed to be in.  I was a physical example of over-compensation.

Never mind that my back would curse my name each morning when I got dressed.  “Ha” to those who wondered how my stride was even remotely normal and not some mincing step more analogous to those who have had their feet bound.  I rarely wear them any more, but believe me, when I do I’m painfully reminded that they don’t fit my life.  One of the step-sisters insisting that Cinderella’s glass slipper really did fit.

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And this is why I won’t be going back to the barn.  As much as I delighted in warming my face against a horse’s flank, found comfort and connection picking dirt out of their hooves, brushing their tails and singing to them.  No matter that I felt love for Elmo and developed a woman-to-woman understanding with Valentine.  And as much as I enjoyed chatting with my rider yesterday, a young woman with a smile that was bright enough to change the weather – the metaphorical shoes didn’t fit.

Honestly, it’s too fresh to recount.  Suffice it to say, I don’t take kindly to being yelled at, belittled or demeaned.  I don’t enjoy other people commenting about the unkind nature of any diatribe – especially when it’s directed at me, because I fall silent and don’t commiserate.  Let me stress – neither the rider nor the horse were in any jeopardy – this was just about me and the instructor.  As plebian as it sounds, I bore the brunt of her irritation and/or she just simply didn’t like me.

If I had a thicker skin, perhaps none of it would matter.  If I believed that personal attacks are a profoundly effective way to get someone’s compliance, I might have been fine.  Unfortunately, I’ve been there done that, and have a higher expectation of those in charge – regardless of the environment where they bear that mantle.  I’ve had my confidence rended and discarded, spent years trying to find those shreds and re-form them into something resembling me.  Perhaps that is why I counsel leaders with a conviction that is so fierce.  Anyway, let’s just say, the shoes didn’t fit.  And that reality hurts.

“If I turn my gaze away from you, dear Earth, please do not feel hurt.  I will come back and kiss you again.” — Rumi

None of this has deterred me from my wish to spend my days in a way that substantively helps others and nurtures my soul.  Hopefully the equine rescue farm will be better.  Some connections to Walter Reed may help me in my hopes to work with wounded warriors.  Perhaps I can also figure out what I should do with my blog, as this first year of posting  comes to an end.

But right now, I want to turn away from the day.  I need to do battle with the self-doubts that are speaking in full-voice about all that I am not.  It’s a short-lived pity party I promise – and I hope you don’t mind not being invited – I rarely serve anything, and the conversation is hardly lively.

And yet, before I left I made sure to kiss Elmo and Nyles and Val – give them carrots and whisper in their ears that which I wanted them to know.  That they were doing great things, with grace and patience and kindness.  And I was so happy that they had come into my life albeit for this short, but meaningful time.

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It’s All So Simple – When It Isn’t So Complicated

Yesterday was my first experience volunteering with the non-profit Lift Me Up.  I got to the barn over an hour before my official ‘start’ time.  In part my timing was off because I mis-read the instructions;  my subconscious though was clearly insistent on spending some time in the quiet of the morning communing with the horses.

Frenchie knickered when I arrived and was rewarded with a couple of carrots (this is me – of course I had brought carrots along). We nuzzled over the fence for a little while and I was overcome with emotion.  Horses are inextricably tied to memories of time spent with my dad – riding with him and/or my sister, lesson after lesson with Mr. Gardner as he scolded me when I missed the lead found in the horse’s hooves (I would be looking at my father – always seeking that goofy smile of his), Gold Nugget (the most beautiful Palomino in the universe).  I sat on a fence, feeling the sun greet the morning and watching the horses in their pastures anticipate the arrival of their morning hay.  As each bale was dropped I watched them argue and tussle over who had dibs, bucking with the feistiness born of indignation and bluster.

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I don’t think there is anything more glorious than an early morning sun, the smell of fresh hay and eavesdropping on conversations between old equine friends.  I could have stayed like that all day and felt like I had been given the gift of golden memories and magical mornings combined in a perfect olio.

Ironically, I ended up bringing the largest horse in for the morning’s work.  Nyles is a beautiful, mouthy guy, who likes to nibble on your sweatshirt, hair and anything else within touching distance.  He’s a big guy and I couldn’t even see the top of the head of the other volunteer who helped me with grooming.  So, I sang quietly to Nyles as I tended to him with the requisite different types of combs  and brushes.  And not to put too fine a point on it – but yes, we kissed.  I kissed quite a lot yesterday (and I think I already have a favorite in Elmo, who truly does return the kiss).  And all would have been well if I could have just spent the day like this.

“Who are you?”

“No one of consequence.”

“I must know.”

“Get used to disappointment” — William Goldman

The volunteers couldn’t have been more indifferent to me and more importantly to the riders scheduled for therapy.  With great discomfort, I introduced myself to everyone, tried to make the requisite small talk and failed miserably.  Ok, this experience isn’t about me.  I struggled physically with the need to keep my body twisted towards Nyles while consciously maintaining weight on the rider’s leg.  A lovely, profoundly challenged man, he shouted with delight while on Nyles’ back, though he was unable to sustain holding the reins or fully balancing himself (it was clear that he was learning more about balance, and with some assistance to dismount, was damn graceful once I was able to move his leg back and over the saddle).  He laughed most of the hour and when he would make eye contact with me,  he’d also try and lean forward to touch my head.

As we walked, I would talk to the rider and sing to Nyles.  Or perhaps it was vice versa.  It is no exaggeration when I write that I was the only one who spoke to this lovely man.  Or the horse.  The volunteers spoke to each other about various aches, pains, marital issues and competed to see who had the most comprehensive knowledge of the barn’s tenants.

When Nyles was done working, we brought him back to pasture.  The next hour I spent with another gentleman and Valentine (a horse with a fair amount of gravitas and a limited supply of grace).   He was able to hold the reins and balance well, which was a selfish relief, for at this point I was struggling with my own body’s resistance to the efforts from the first session.  And my heart was hurt from feeling dismissed by the other volunteers.  Believe me, I know this is a function of being new and having tenured people watch as well-intended folks come and go without commitment or comment.  It is as reflective of my insecurity as it is their indifference.  But I was disappointed for a bit.  And worried as I walked into the house looking like a bent, pained old woman.  Can I hold up my end of the bargain even with some limitations?

The answer remains unclear.  I know I will go back next week and look forward to seeing my equine friends and riders, if not my colleagues.  I don’t cave that easily and I have yet to wave the white flag when my body wimps out.  So the odds are good it isn’t going to happen this time either.  I know the challenges of working in the non-profit world, I just need to find the rhythm so I move with its gait and not against it.

I gave Frenchie a good-bye carrot and nuzzle and headed home, my senses heightened by such a powerful exposure to the morning and my heart a muddle.  I’m not buying a new pair of paddock boots just yet, but I’ve already made a note to buy some apples for next week.

White horse in field

White horse in field (Photo credit: Wikipedia)