Divorced after 20 years, I found myself in the same place as so many women my age; dating in my 40s. Swipe left, left, left, right. I’d tried online dating a few times and it almost always ended disastrously. I tried to maintain a good sense of humor about it, but I’d been through everything from having a guy shove his hand down my pants with no consent to a first date marriage proposal followed by several days of stalking. Each time, I’d do what many of you who’ve been here will find relatable. I would delete my dating profile and take a break to regroup. I’d see a happy couple who said they met online and, ultimately, I’d try again. It seemed the only way to meet anyone these days.
Maybe I was naive to believe I could get to know men a little in advance. On my dating profile, I was always very honest about who I was and what I wanted. I considered anything else a waste of precious time. I had no problem politely leaving bad dates before the waiter even had time to bring water. I felt the best way to proceed with online dating was with the objectivity and honesty I hoped to see. I hadn’t yet learned the lesson that my level of openness actually made me quite vulnerable. That transparency afforded men a step by step guide on how to get to me. I didn’t recognize the red flags that meeting a perfect fit represented.
He was a skilled online predator and I was his type. He liked long-haired brunette horsewomen who did dog rescue and had been previously abused by other men. That was his chosen prey again and again. Finding his perfect fit thus motivated him to become my perfect fit. My innocent desire to find someone coupled with his skill at luring prey left me completely unaware of what would soon devolve into my personal Hell.
Once upon a time,
in a land notsofar away, there lived a beautiful Woman. The Woman stayed very busy caring for her family and circle of friends. Her cherished circle was actually smaller than you might think. Cherished because that reflects the attentive gift her friendship truly was. Her beauty and essence, though, shone like the sun, casting a shadow fading thousands deep. She spent each of her evenings in her favorite spot by the Water’s edge. The River looked refreshing and cool, but she only ever sat on the Water’s calm edge communing with her Reflection. She didn’t want to get wet and risk discovery; them discovering her and her discovering the depth beneath the surface. This time was hers alone; the only thing she kept for herself.
It wasn’t the relationship one would assume a beautiful Woman to have with her Reflection. Hell, she didn’t even know she was beautiful; not really. She had come to believe that was something people said because they wanted something from her. No; her relationship with her Reflection was something different. She had no one she could trust growing up. Those who gave her life spent most of her childhood slowly, cruelly stripping it away. Sometimes, she wondered if nature had mercifully given her camouflage so she wouldn’t have to revisit the ugly past. For that reason, she was grateful others viewed her this way. No one looks at a beautiful Woman and says, “Damn...she’s really been through some shit.” Consequently, being considered a beautiful Woman was an odd juxtaposition of all eyes on her and nobody ever looking deeper. It allowed her to be functional Bedrock for her chosen circle. Still, she visited herself daily to ponder her thens, nows, and somedays. At times, she thought she might fall into herself. The fluidity was refreshing and inviting.
The beautiful Woman was altogether beautiful. Her inside matched the outside. She was one of those rare people who take the pain of their past and use the gritty friction to create a shine only dulled by them choosing to cover it themselves. A kind and selfless soul, she often did for the comfort of others. She was generous with everyone around her, never withholding safe haven, love, or life. She was the kind of friend that rarely manages to find a friendship not out of balance; her giving way more than she took. She had found only one friend who was her equal. The surreal fragrance of Mountain Laurel filled her nose and welcomed her home as her Reflection looked back at her with soft eyes from the Water at her feet.
This part of the River was still. She could hear it rushing nearby, but here there were always tracks where deer had stopped to quench their thirst. She reached down and touched the water. Her friend’s once whole form rippled, reminding her of its fluidity. She thought that fitting as she felt herself ripple often. She wondered what would happen if she just let go and became liquid. Would she disappear into the ground like rain or would she become something more? She longed to step into the water, but the fear of losing what others had come to rely upon stopped her every day. She had carefully carved herself into this trusted Rock. The Water would forever change her. So, she balanced herself on the Water’s edge, only visiting.
Her soft Water eyes knew her struggle. They also knew Water. She heard a voice that sounded like hers say, “Do you not feel most yourself when you are here?” The voice paused as a leaf gently swirled through her face and then stopped against a tree root, finding life in her translucent shoulder. She continued. “You know...There is strength in being liquid. See how I hold back the dirt and wash everything in my path? Do you see the roundness of the rocks in my current? They were sharp once, but I have smoothed them over. Do you see how much life thrives within me? I am you. You are me. It is time to trust us. I believe in you. Today is a perfect day for a swim.”
Today, she skipped thoughts of thens and went straight to nows and somedays. She spoke to her watery friend, “What if they can’t handle all of me? If I get wet, I am afraid I will become Water. They know, love, and need me as Rock!”
If eyes made of Water could soften even more, they did. It looked as if they may have shed a tear and then simply accepted it as another drop meant to change form. Just then, a Water Strider gently landed in her Reflection’s flowing hair. Time stopped as she observed the Strider sitting effortlessly on the Water. It seemed a kind of unthinkable perfection. The Water supported the Strider with ease. The Strider trusted the Water. Her mirror spoke. “Had I been Rock, when I passed over the sharp stones, creatures, plants, and ground, I would have destroyed them and maybe myself. It is ok, good even, to allow yourself to be Water. As Water, you will soften them and you. You will flow around them, through them, and past them. You will quench their thirst and round their sharp edges. They will be washed and moved. So...what if you become Water?”
She looked deep into herself and felt it wash over her. It WAS time. She believed. She could be...NO...WAS stronger than Rock and fluid in movement and growth. She locked eyes with herself and said, “They DO get thirsty around this time.” She smiled. She smiled back. When she stepped into herself, she felt the change. As she became Water, limitations washed away, fears were smoothed as stones. Now whole, she burst forth with hope that spun itself into brilliant colors woven into a rainbow of promise. It lit her path with new possibilities as she floated home; soaking wet and even more beautiful than before.
Death locks eyes down tunnel end
Bearing witness to resurrection
Scars left awaiting alchemy
Escape cold empty descent
Fight to Live to Love to Be
Pheonix alight on Survival's Branch
We speak truth
Masterful alchemists arise
Born of suffering's journey
Bloody copper pain transcends
Freedom's golden light unveils
Is an ability
Often a casualty
Of regretful minds
You make the story fit
And blame the next misfit
Until your guilt is gone
And you're fine
As I entered the dimly lit barn, I wondered if the abused pony I was there to pick up was even inside. There were no other horses in the barn and it looked like the rickety old building hadn’t really been used in a while. Soon enough, though, a little black head popped over the top of one of the doors. What I saw was not for the faint at heart.
The person who owned this barn had found this pony wandering in the woods bleeding from his legs, mouth, and head. Someone had tied him up by an ear, his lip, and his back legs; sterilizing (gelding) him with no anesthesia. I could see from his injuries that he had broken free (probably due to the pain) and run away. During his escape, the pony had ripped his entire right ear off, as well as part of his upper lip. He had torn the flesh on his legs as well, leaving bloody lines where the ropes had been. The person who found him had been hiding him for a couple of months and, unfortunately, had made his medical condition considerably worse by not having his wounds treated.
Amazingly enough, the animals I rescue always know that I’m there to get them. There was an instant bond between this little guy and me. Even with the horribly festering wound where his ear used to be and swelling all the way down to his nose, he let me put a halter right on him. I took him out of the stall, walked him around a bit, and walked him right onto the open horse trailer I had waiting outside. The trust he placed in me that day never wavered for a moment.
Volunteers, family and I settled on the name “Bishop” for him. Bishop’s next few months were spent on medical care and trust building with the rest of the world. Let me tell you, trust building is quite a challenge for a little guy going through multiple surgeries and daily wound care. Every day, I led him around and practiced going all over the Ranch. You’d be amazed at all the places that horse treats manage to hide, waiting to be found by a brave little pony.
I knew that Bishop had an incredible future. I knew it the moment his little wounded head popped over the stall door. If there is any one gift that equips me to do this work, it is the ability to see these animals as they *ought* to be. When Bishop healed, he would work in Community Outreach; a shining example of kindness, forgiveness, and overcoming adversity. We practiced for this work several times a week during his recovery. Day by day, he learned to go into small rooms, walk on strange surfaces, stand tied for volunteers, walk up and down steps, stand near a wheelchair, and to accept all sorts of other therapy related situations. As his wounds healed, so did his spirit and heart. Bishop was gaining purpose along with confidence and health.
Bishop’s first therapy visit came on Halloween. Each year, the miniature horses and donkeys in our program were dressed in costumes and taken to a nursing home to give out candy and visit with residents. Bishop was ready to come along. His last major trust issue centered on the place where his ear used to be. To keep people’s hands off of that area, I dressed him in a cowboy hat for the event. I was concerned about him having a bad experience because residents inevitably want to pat these guys on the head like big puppy dogs. He wasn’t going to wear a hat to every visit, so he’d have to find his way on this issue eventually. It was a good practice event and Bishop excelled.
One of the traits of a good therapy animal is the ability to recognize someone who needs their help and to then be the animal that the person needs in that *moment*. I marvel at this intrinsic, untrainable quality. An animal either has it or they don’t. It is either a part of who they are or it isn’t. I’m not talking about the ability to stand or sit still while someone pets you. I’m talking about knowing whether someone needs a kiss, a hug, silliness, calmness, a face toward them, or a face away from them. Those are the animals that are truly therapy animals. Would Bishop turn out to be the therapy pony I thought he would?
Bishop’s second therapy visit was at a very large facility. Two buildings of residents met outside to see the animals. There were nearly 50 residents, which is at least twice as many as my guys are used to visiting. We’d be very busy trying to get to everyone and give them adequate time and attention. Bishop did *not* have his hat. He was very brave and went willingly into nooks and crannies with multiple residents surrounding him; situations that made the other animals nervous. Bishop held his head up, smart enough to direct people’s hands to his neck or his nose or his back. He changed energy level and personality for each individual he met. With some people, he simply stood still. With others, he was silly and clever. He playfully used his teeth try to take the bag off the front of one resident’s walker. Everyone loved him. There was one resident, though, that *he* decided needed him more than the others.
The small framed woman sat in her chair blankly staring into some other time and place that the rest of us could not see. She was vacant and distant. Bishop walked to her and insisted that she notice him. He gently placed his head in her lap, exposing his ear site to her completely. One of the nurses tried to get her attention and took her hand and made her pet him. Her efforts were admirable, but didn’t cause the frail, little woman to check in mentally with us. She was not going to be forced or jarred into coming back from wherever she was.
Bishop knew what she needed. He continued to rest his head in her lap…just being there with her…breathing warm pony breath on her and presumably visiting her in whatever empty emotional place she had gone. He invited her back with us. Slowly, after a few minutes, the woman’s gaze began to come down from nowhere and look us in the eye. She looked me in the eye and then looked past me to Bishop. She then picked up her own hand, something no one guessed she had the motor skills to do, and began to pet Bishop. She was rubbing him where his ear used to be. He held perfectly still, knowing what she needed, and gave that vulnerability of himself. She then looked over at me, eye to eye, and said one word that spoke it all. She said “Apple”. That meant “thank you” and “I’m with you” and “I love him” and “I know what he is and what he likes.” The staff was dumbfounded. Me…I knew that Bishop had arrived at his purpose. Bishop had arrived at his purpose.
The next time you long to connect with what is right and good in the world, think of Bishop. Think of the little pony who overcame overwhelming adversity, forgave the human race for abusing him, and now works to make the world a more loving, accepting, unconditionally giving place. Think of how *you* can do even a little bit of what Bishop will do for the rest of his life. Reach out to someone who needs you and make their life better. My wish for you is that they will look you in the eye and say “Apple”.