Rage boils up faster than I can contain it and I go ham on a 1,200 pound beast who refuses to do me the favor of being easy on a day when what I really need is a freaking break already.
Twenty minutes later, my horse finally loaded in the trailer, I sit in the cab of the truck and shake with anger. Filled with remorse at having taken out my frustrations on an innocent animal, I cry the tears that probably should have come on Monday when I learned my parents would be undergoing not ONE, but THREE, back-to-back surgeries in the coming weeks. Two for my mom (wrist and ankle), and one for my dad (back).
Arriving at the arena, I quietly rub Gracie’s ears and beg her forgiveness. Even though I don’t deserve it, she obviously grants me absolution because our ride is flawless.
Driving home, my horse in the trailer behind me and my faithful dog on the seat beside me, I know that I am extraordinarily lucky. And while I might logically beat myself bloody for having behaved so badly with my horse, I do something different—I let sit. I let myself fully experience the remorse and regret, and I accept the fact that, at least in that moment, I was exactly the kind of person who lashes out at animals. Knowing I am capable of such bad behavior is appalling, to say the least, but I let it linger.
In the past, this kind of episode would have led to hours, days, or even weeks of self-flagellation, wherein I mentally berated myself for being horribly flawed, utterly imperfect. But this time I force myself to heed the advice of a wise counselor, who said: we all mess up, so let yourself really feel it, make amends if you can, and then forgive yourself, get over it, and move forward. Period. What more can you do?
And he is absolutely right. What more, aside from begging my horse’s forgiveness (and feeding her a candy cane) can I possibly do? I can’t undo what’s already been done, so I decide to accept my imperfection, own it completely, blame it on no one, forgive myself the transgression, and move forward. Which doesn’t alleviate the responsibility of trying to do better in the future, nor lessen the stress of knowing I’ll still be caring for my parents, but at least I won’t be beating myself up on top of everything else.
In the world we live in right now, where hideous things are happening to innocent people all over the globe, it might be easy to dismiss my stupidity with my horse, or my angst over the coming weeks with my parents, as trivial or unimportant. And yet I believe it all matters, just like it matters when someone’s heart gets broken, or their wallet gets stolen, or they get laid off, or fired, or whatever else happens in our day-to-day lives that causes us to struggle. Because learning how to manage those smaller issues determines how we grapple with the larger sorrows, whenever they happen.
If I don't learn how to deal with my frustrations in a way that makes sense (and doesn’t involve yelling at my animals), or I don’t learn how to forgive myself for moments of weakness, how will I ever learn to behave with dignity, irrespective of my emotions, or how to truly forgive the mistakes of others?
It’s all connected, the big and the small, the personal and the global, and it’s our job to learn to navigate as best we can, whether we learn it at home, at work, the barn, or in the post-surgical care of others.
I think Frederick Douglass said it best when he so brilliantly summarized the human condition like this: If there is no struggle, there is no progress.
Here’s to progress, then.