I’m not sure how long it took to get here on Charlie, but from the way the sun shone through the trees, I guessed it was after lunch now. We found the old cabin easily enough, although it had been a few years since I’d been here. Could have been more than a few years.
Everything changes, including old cabins. And horses. Me. Life.
It was nothing to look at, but it was our family’s cabin, nestled clear up in the mountains, and to me it was something. My cousins and I would come here to play when we were little, and our dads brought us in an old, rambling truck with barking dogs in the back and crying babies in the cab with their mommas. Back then, we’d cram into the back of the truck like sardines and the cab would be just as crowded. We’d start out early in the morning when dew still hung heavy on the grass and tree branches, and soon enough we’d be at the cabin and mama and a couple of aunts would start cleaning things up while me and my cousins would play in the woods and find wild raspberries to eat.
A few of us kids would find old firewood to burn and someone would light a fire outside, and I loved listening to the sound of the pop and hiss the fire made. I made special care to stay away from the aunts with young babies, for fear I’d be in charge of a small child. A couple of my cousins liked that kind of thing — taking care of babies — but I wanted my freedom, all the freedom my whole eleven years of living could give me. I spent it looking for rocks in the woods, climbing trees, and wading in the nearby river. If I was lucky enough, I’d sneak off by myself and find a good spot by the river and just watch the water tumble by. I wondered how many rocks the river touched over its lifetime, and if the river was going to be here a hundred years from now.
But now was now, and I wasn’t a kid any more.
I had decisions to make, and I was running out of time. I had five more days. Tops.
Everyone dies. I read there’s two things that’s for certain in this life: Birth and death. Every one of us is guaranteed this rite. No one gets off the earth alive, at least not with their outside armor intact. And even though I wasn’t very old by some people’s standards, I knew people my age who weren’t really living, and old, old people who weren’t either, but some people were living life fully, like they were going down a river with white rapids and having a ball. That’s where I wanted to be, on a raft, riding hard and happy through a river with tall trees on either side.
I wondered if I ever suspected, when I was eleven way-back then, that I would miss my grandparents and cousins like I was missing them now. I think God might purposely keep us from thinking certain things at times when we’re young because He wants us to live in the moment and not worry about the what-if’s or the maybe’s that will undoubtedly come our way. I think that if God put too much worry in my head back then that I would have missed the snapping and hissing of the fire. It might not have snapped as loudly or hissed as convincingly. Maybe I would have missed a lot of rocks being stashed in my pocket, and the river water might not have been as swift.
Joy and Eileen found their husbands a couple years back, and Eileen already had a baby. We were best friends…cousin best-friends, but somehow I didn’t fit in any more. I didn’t understand what it was like to be loved by a man, and I didn’t understand Eileen’s letters to me when she talked about her baby crying in the middle of the night and how it made her heart hurt when he wouldn’t stop. It was like I was an outsider, looking in, and so I’d write back to her and recall our days at the cabin and how I’d pull Eileen away from the baby cousins whenever I could so she could get a taste of what I loved: the river and trees and rocks. But she’d always gravitate back to the crowd of relatives, and the babies. Maybe not everyone was like me, or maybe she wanted me to be more like she was. Whatever the case, she had her baby now, and I suppose I still had the river. Only it wasn’t the same any more.
Memories kept rising up in my head.
Rosie (my first favorite horse) had died, and I found her in late January. I might have been sixteen then, and with her was a small hen scrunched up by Rosie’s neck, trying to keep warm. My reaction, while I knew my sweet horse had died, was concern for the hen and at the same time I think I was glad Rosie had the hen with her when she passed. At least, I’d like to think the hen was there because Rosie was pretty gentle and never mean, and often I’d see her laying in a field in the summer while hens pecked around her head and feet. I remember taking off my winter gloves and hugging Rosie’s neck. It was still warm so she hadn’t been dead too long. I drank in the sweet scent of hay and grain and horse, one of the sweetest aromas I still cherish, and I remember thinking that my sweet Rosie would never see another summer again, and that she died during the coldest month of the year. But as quickly as I thought the thought, my heart got happy, because I knew Rosie was in heaven.
Some people would argue with me, about horses going to heaven, or animals going to heaven. In fact, I remembered back in third or fourth grade, sitting in church, and for some reason the preacher got on the subject of animals dying. I think people remember what they want to remember (at times), but in my case, I was positive the preacher said animals didn’t have souls and they didn’t go to heaven. This burned in my spirit and when I left church I frowned at the preacher. Had my mama known I was frowning I’m sure I would have gotten in trouble, but when no one was looking, I walked up to him.
He was tall and fat and wore an eye-piece.
“You may know a lot of things, but you don’t know everything,” I told him. “Animals do so go to heaven when they die.”
The preacher opened his mouth to speak, but I needed the last word so I abruptly left.
And today I still believe animals go to heaven when they die. Sometimes I wonder if the preacher ever changed his mind on the subject.
It might have been cold that January, but where Rosie was, it was spring or maybe even summer, and she was galloping through a playground of clover and alfalfa and the grass was soft so she could roll and be free.
That’s where Rosie was, all right. And I kissed her soft ears and I thanked her for giving me all those rides, and I was pretty sure she enjoyed letting us kids ride on her back, because that was what she was meant to do. She never fought the rides. Not once.
I wished I knew what to do, that I didn’t fight the ride…or, rather, the decision I needed to make. How convenient to be born a horse, I thought. More convenient than being born human, in some ways.
Charlie gave me a look of boredom, and began eating the sweet grass. He was a good horse, too. I was lucky to always have had good horses to call my own.
But the inside of my brain was mixed up, and it felt like a million things were popping and exploding inside me, and I couldn’t slow it down. I came up here to get away, but my thoughts were with me and they were angry and unsure and explosive.
Tears streamed down my cheeks, but I didn’t make a sound. I lay back in the tall grass, with the river near my feet, and looked up at a sunny sky and fluffs of clouds and shook my head. It was too much. Thinking, making decisions…I couldn’t do it so I squeezed my eyes tight and pretty soon I was vaguely aware of a light breeze and the smell of wild lilacs as they caught a ride on the wind. At my right was the book I had with me, but had never opened its cover, though I had read it a hundred times before. Above, the light had changed and evening was near. I must have fallen asleep. Charlie was at the river, taking a drink.
I sat up. The insides of my brain felt different now. Looser. Something had broken away, but I wasn’t quite sure what it was. It was like breathing was easier and it didn’t take as much effort.
I felt love all around me, I heard my cousins laughing and for just a moment, I thought I smelled campfire coffee. Love wrapped itself around me like a vine and held me tight. The love overwhelmed me to the point that I gasped and looked up into the big sky and I knew that there was no such thing as chance.
Peace settled around me. I knew what I had to do.
Charlie and I made our way back down the mountain. From where we were, you can’t see the sun set much because of all the trees. There was enough light, though. Just enough light. And I let Charlie take the lead, because he knew where he was going and where to step just right.
The year: 1942. I hadn’t been a nurse that long, but I was going to go ahead and join the Army Nurse Corps. There was nothing for me here anymore, and something kept calling to me, and I was pretty sure this was what I was supposed to do. Maybe if I was more like Eileen, I wouldn’t have this calling, but I was me and this was now, and it was where I was supposed to be.
My mama especially wouldn’t be happy, but I think she’d understand. I didn’t like leaving her because my daddy died just last year, but mama was strong and she helped make me strong, and I know my daddy would want me to follow my heart.
There wasn’t much light left now, but Charlie knew the trail. It was comforting to me to have him know where to step because dark was catching up to us.
Soon the stars would come out. Soon, we’d be home.
Until then, I surrendered myself to this animal, because he knew the way.
When the stars came out and I looked up, I was reassured that I may be just a little speck in this vast universe, but I was still loved and cared for and no matter what was ahead of me on the trail, it was going to be OK. At least it would eventually be OK.
Think about it: A million stars were above, the far-off roar of the river was the mountain’s song, and gentle winds whipped through pine trees. The rocky trail went onward with pioneer-determination.
Like stars and rivers and wind, this is our Spirit. We are allowed to go on, because it is OK, and when the stars fade the sun will shine again. We are our own pioneers, going forward. It’s good to look back every now and then, but to look forward to what is yet to come and not know exactly what it is?
That is adventure, that is living, that is faith.
And that’s what Now is all about.