The movie begins in black and white. I watched the Wizard of Oz every year through my growing up. I am remembering Dorothy’s unique experience as the twister scooped up her house and carried her and Toto up over the rainbow. And then down the house came with a thud. And the wind stopped and all was quiet. She walked carefully over to the old kitchen door and cautiously opened it. And as she swung the door open – color explodes on the scene. She is in another world.
I drive up to a house at the end of a dead end road. There is a mobile home and an unattached garage built in the 1970’s. I park and walk up to the old garage door and carefully open it. What was a garage is transformed into a barn. And I am in another world. The smell of hay refreshes my senses. As I cross the threshold; a rainbow of aromas flow through my body. The fragrances are rich with meaning. The sweet hay is the first to greet me. It is sweet because it also suggests provision. The barn is full. I can rest because there is enough. I am grateful. And as I travel further in, I hear knickers from my friends inside. Three horses greet me with a bid to come further in. They are ready for breakfast. Pine shavings and horse perfume fill my heart. “Hi, my friends.” They nod – more suggesting I hurry with the meal than a greeting of love. But I know affection is woven through their herald. All three – one mare and two geldings – are paints. The American Paint horse is a breed of horse with large pinto spottings of white, brown and black. Typically they have two colors but my Tonto has three, which is more unusual. Tonto is an 18 year old gelding that is nicked named “Dennis the Menace.” He thinks way too much for his own good. Tonto was given to me at a time of deep grief in my life. My son had died a year and a half before and so the timing for some added comfort from my life long love of horses was perfect. My saddle had been waiting in the attic for 15 years in hopes that another horse love would come into my life. Tonto shares the barn with Ritzi and Gizmo. Their winter coats have been shed and they shine in the sun that is peeking up over the horizon. I hear the barn swallows chirping at me to move so they can bring breakfast to the crew in the nest above my head. I deliver the long awaited meals to my three 1,000 lb. companions. They are grateful and dig in. I lay my head on Tonto’s side and draw in deep drafts of his fragrance. Ahhh. I rest. Breathe deeper. I listen to the crunching of hay, I feel his breath, his heart. The rest of the day is gone. Only this moment is here. I step back from his side and ask for a kiss. He leans his head close for me. His soft mussel makes for a velvety kiss – sweet affection. That’s my practice – a muzzle kiss when I arrive and one when I say goodbye. Before I leave my haven, I stand at the stall and gaze out into the field. I hear a few frogs as the sun continues to rise out of bed. The birds outside have been up for an hour. I suck in all I can grab from the moment. It’s good. My shoulders are relaxed, I tune into my breath – paying attention to each inhale and exhale – letting go for the moment of my addiction to calculating and planning my day. One last deep breath and I have renewed confidence that I can embrace the day ahead with gratitude.
One morning, in the middle of February, I arrived at my barn sanctuary and I noticed the fresh bale of hay had a lot of alfalfa woven into the flakes. Hmmm. I better watch that. The winter sun is shining, bringing a fresh shot of sugar to the field and some sass to the herd. Alfalfa will only intensify the piss and the energy level. I delivered the morning meal, got my kiss and completed my chores. I saunter over to Tonto’s feeder and leaned on the post, just absorbing the joy of the moment. Tonto looked over at me, turned his head close and – as if in slow motion – opened his mouth and bit my arm! I was in shock! What?! I staggered out of the stall, got the lead rope and proceeded to “encourage” him to get the hell out of this barn! As reality sunk in, my arm throbbed. A rainbowy bruise the size of Canada appeared on my upper arm – like a polaroid picture developing. As my tears flowed, I got the whip and began waving it in the air to communicate – “don’t you dare come back in here – not yet – not now!” I began to sob. Loud wails rang out into the early morning stillness. I stumbled outside into the pasture as I wailed and waved the long whip around threatening pain if he comes near. He ran. I cried tears of lament. My sobs continued . . . I began to listen . . . as if stepping outside my body, looking down at myself, and listening to my broken heart. I wondered. This seems extreme – more grief than one would have expected from such a betrayal. What else is happening here? Betrayal . . . a trust broken (and yes, I know Tonto is an animal and perhaps I had misplaced trust). This isn’t about a horse. These tears are coming from a deep place – grief that has been carefully stowed away because it was too big to live with. I search within, inviting my story to immerge. Betrayal . . . a violation . . . a broken trust . . . deep wounds. The darkness fades and thoughts of betrayal between a child and trusted adults come into view. I think that often our large emotions of today are rooted in the wounds of long ago. And so often we are hell-bent that our distress, anger, fear, panic, etc., are about what happened today – about a horse bite. We don’t want to unpack what has been carefully tucked away a lifetime ago. The lie is that those past hurts don’t affect my life today. But they absolutely do.
Author Richard Rohr has said, “We pay a big price when we put all our energy into keeping a heavy lid on the unconscious.” So, with courage we choose to look in; because it’s the only path to freedom from our wounds. Embracing truth. Choosing to not pretend anymore. Allowing light to shine in the dark places. Inviting the whole story up from storage. My giant wails continue as I wave threats and curse words in the air. I listen and I peer into history. And a pasture becomes my therapy office.
I allow myself to remember a little girl. Her heart is ravaged, afraid, and alone. She is determined to be strong and unaffected. So, she finds a way to shut down a part of herself – so she can function in a place where the pain is not allowed in. Tears are no longer allowed. Survival depended on not feeling – closing down. Betrayal brought no sobs back then – no – those will have to wait about 50 years. Then there will be space – a safe place – perhaps in a garage barn among some hay, pine shavings and 1,000 lb. friends.
‘“The Lord has set the sun in the heavens, but has said that he would dwell in the thick darkness.’(1 Kings 8:12). God in the dark . . . A voice said to me, God suffers with you. God weeps with you. God lives in your darkness. This is the recognition that turns our darkness into a shining thing . . .
Today I’ll say to myself, accept life – the places it bleeds and the places it smiles. That’s your most holy and human task. Gather up the pain and the questions and hold them like a child upon your lap. Have faith in God, in the movement of your soul. Accept what is. Accept the dark. It’s okay. Just be true. You are loved. Your pain is God’s pain. Go ahead and embrace the struggle and chaos of it all, the splendor, the messiness, the wonder, the agony, the joy, the conflict.” Sue Monk Kidd.
The gaze back in time continues. It’s hard to see through the haze – trying to swim through the darkness back in time. The shadows don’t want to be exposed. The small girl wants to be seen but holding the truth of those who wound instead of protect and heal, feels paralyzing. But she IS holding it – that’s the truth of it all! Perhaps now the present can help hold the sorrow with her. We can walk side by side and bear the load together.
“The message that I discovered in Dorothy’s cyclone was that crises can be holy beginnings if we allow them. If we listen, we’ll hear God calling from the tumult . . . When the cyclone struck, Aunt Em threw open a trap door in the floor and disappeared down a small, dark hole into the cellar, shouting for Dorothy to follow her. There’s always the risk that we’ll retreat into the security of the cellar rather than ride the cyclone to a new place.” Sue Monk Kidd.
May we each choose to take the risk. When part of our story is ready to be seen and heard – may we join God in compassionately entering the cyclone – that was perhaps long ago placed down into the dark cellar. Embracing light, truth and presence. We just may find that we are in another world . . . of healing, peace and beauty.