Five years ago, in the wee hours of the morning, I was sitting on the ground of a cold stall with this horse’s head in my lap, listening to the quiet, defeated words of his legal owner as she made the decision to let him go after a short but serious struggle with colic that was leading nowhere good, fast. The words had scarcely registered in my emotion fogged brain before the vet began bustling about gathering supplied and his owner and her sister both started setting up for the aftermath like the well oiled machine they were when it came to this sort of thing.
As for me? I stayed curled up on the floor with GP’s muzzle resting in my lap, incapable of processing the series of events I was going to have to endure. I whispered platitudes to both of us, tears streaming down my face, unbidden and unstoppable. I knew noise and commotion were taking place around me, but I didn’t see or hear any of it. I ran my hand down his face, over and over again, only pausing to trace his half moon star and arrow shaped snip. There was only silence for me, which struck me as completely odd, because my world was shattering into irreparable pieces.
I didn’t know how I was going to face the world without this firecracker of a Quarter horse as my partner in crime. He had spent countless hours with me, patiently teaching me lessons that I never knew I needed. He was the first horse I galloped, the first horse I swam with, the first horse I cantered bareback…the first horse I ever truly gave myself over to. Sure, I had loved horses before, in the all encompassing way a horse obsessed teenager loved horses, but I’d never had one that had woven his soul so completely into mine. I didn’t understand what true connection was until GP.
Connection is our lifeblood. It is what truly fills our hearts and gives us reason to see the sun rise the next day. It is what removes the heavy, leaden bricks from our chest when the weight of the world bears down on us, allowing us to breathe again. It is what we turn to when we feel we have nowhere else to turn. It is what fills our empathy with electricity, making it something heavy you can carry around with you instead of it having no weight at all. It makes you want to share love and laughter and light because of the overwhelming amount of love and laughter and light in your own heart. GP showed me all of this as we slowly learned one another, and I found out that underneath the reserved, slightly cranky exterior was a horse looking to connect to someone, to tie his heart into someone else’s. It made us both feel whole and showed me that this life is about so much more than just skimming the surface, as I had unknowingly been doing all along. I was floored at how colorful and bright the world could be when you felt such unmitigated joy in the presence of another being. I carried the lightness from his connection with me and it permeated the relationships I had with the people in my life. I learned how to give to others what this horse had given to me, and the depth it created in my relationships was something I hadn’t had a chance to experience before.
But, then I lost him.
His death came on the heels of a lot of heavy loss in a very short timeframe. I was in an inordinate amount of pain. I let the fear of that loss and pain dictate how I interacted with the world around me, and I shut down completely, shying away from connection as a whole. I could hear the words and see the actions of those who cared, but I couldn’t truly feel it. I could still mimic connection to others, but because I was blocking anything real, it wasn’t something I could honestly emulate when someone else needed to feel it themselves. My empathy was hollow and ingenuine – the words were right, maybe, but there was no resonating feeling that someone could take with them to revisit if they needed to. I felt no inclination to try and reawaken the emotional core that gave real weight to the compassion I once had. I was doing a major disservice to the people and creatures I claimed to care about in refusing to connect. I had completely lost sight of the important lessons GP had taught me.
I coasted through life this way for quite some time, but in the past year, I’ve gotten undeservedly lucky again. I stumbled upon a little grey horse that reminded me of the lessons GP so painstakingly bestowed upon me. Sirius took one look at me, quirked an eyebrow, and began the laborious process of reopening my heart, poking and prodding with a stubborn insistence at me until I let him in. I don’t know what his motives were, but he forced me to see that where I stood from behind thick, well constructed walls was not where I really wanted to be.
He refused to give his all until I gave mine, so in an attempt to meet him where he stood, I tentatively stepped forward into the hole he had chipped into my walls with tireless determination…and was promptly knocked off my feet by the force of what I had closed myself off from for all these years.
I am viewing the world in a way I haven’t in a very long time. Sirius was the catalyst to bringing GP’s initial life lessons back to the surface, followed closely by Remus and then a few very special people who I will not embarrass by naming directly, and I am overwhelmed with such an intense gratitude for their presence that I can’t even begin to adequately express it. I’m suffering some serious consequences for having been so shut down for so long, but even when things are at their most suffocating, I won’t allow myself to entertain the idea of slamming the door on the idea of connection ever again. The kind of warmth, empathy and compassion that I’ve experienced from those who had a hand in reminding me that this life is about what you give and how you give it, are things everyone should get a chance to feel. I have taken this so much to heart that no matter how terrible a day I may be having, I make a conscious effort to connect to someone, to give to them what I have been so fortunate to be given and refuse to take for granted ever again. I make a point to genuinely show them that they are seen and heard and cared about, that their story is important, that it is held in someone’s heart with the proper reverence.
I want them to feel — not just know, but feel in their core — that they are not alone…and the only way to do that, is through the kind of connection that GP taught me to have.
Today, I will celebrate GP. I will wear the bracelet made from his tail and tell stories of some of our best misadventures. I’ll pull out his old halter, the worn purple one his owner graciously gave me to me, and let it hang on my headboard, where it sat for almost a year after his death. I’ll finish this post, and share it on Facebook, allowing myself to be emotionally open and vulnerable. Most importantly, I will reach out to someone in some way that is genuine, to lift them up the way he lifted me up.
I will honor him by giving someone the one thing he always, always, always gave to me: love.
1979-February 28th, 2012