YOU HAD A LIFE!!

(Parables of Sunlight by Margaret Dulaney)

Every now and again I come across a book so luminous and lyrical, that I find myself telling everyone I meet – “Oh, I’ve just read the BEST book!”  in fact, I gulped it in two evenings, even though clearly the reader is supposed to open it at random, read a few pages, and put it down to reflect on and to allow the gentle aroma to lift your spirits with a tender smile.  It says something about our culture that these books are not the ones to receive awards or reviews.  In fact, The Parables of Sunlight, by Margaret Dulaney, is self-published.  (What a world! What a world!). 

     The book is about death and how we relate to dying, and also about the way we treat our animals and the humans on the journey of our lives. She is, as she admits, casual, even glib about this serious topic, (except when it comes to her beloved animals).  It’s an attitude, she writes, that none of us could have adopted “if we weren’t convinced that everyone on earth will one day enjoy their own otherworldly vacations.”

   And then she tells a story so lovely that all week I’ve walked around with a little smile at the corners of my mouth.  I keep repeating it to every poor person who makes the mistake of crossing my path.

    I’ll quote it, and then you’ll see why I ‘m so delighted by this book and by Margaret Dulaney, who deserves the widest audience.

I have a library (she writes)  full of ecstatic visions, near-death experiences and the writings of the mystics. And, though I am no longer looking for descriptions of heavenly landscapes, if I am able to find in a story of return from death even a morsel of new truth, I feel it is worth the attention.

  There is the man, for instance, who learned during his brush with death that none of his grand accomplishments—awards, successes, career advancement —could outweigh a small moment in the grocery store when he was particularly kind to the harried woman behind the checkout counter. There is the young woman who was reunited with (and could understand the thoughts of)  a bird that she had as a child. Given the opportunity to communicate telepathically with this old friend, she took the opportunity to apologize with great remorse for the times when she had tossed the bird to the ground after it bit her. ‘Can you ever forgive me?’ asked the young woman of the bird.

            ’Are you able to forgive me for biting you?’ the bird replied.

            ‘Of course,’ answered the woman

            ‘Then I hope you will forgive yourself for tossing me to the ground when I did so.’

            There was another woman who was greeted on the other side by an enthusiastic group of friends, none of whom she had known on earth, but whom, she understood, she had left behind when she had taken her plunge into her life. These dear ones raced up to her, apparently against their better judgment, which would have allowed her time to find her footing, and surrounded her. They couldn’t wait to hear about her life, eager for every detail.

            The woman told about her life thus far, without sugarcoating the details. She had not always behaved as she would have hoped. She had hurt people. She was no saint. But interestingly, as she outlined the details of her life’s journey, the faces of her friends did not alter from their original anticipatory delight. Bright and fascinated, they would respond, “but you had a life! A life!’

            They regarded her as if she were the bravest of the brave, an award-winning astronaut returned from a solo circumnavigation of the moon.

            ‘You had a life!!’

The Healing Power of Animals

I want your story of your animals, dog, cat, birds, skunk. I think our animas are like angels, come to teach us how to love. For example: Sixteen years ago I prayed to God to bring me a Relationship, the companion of my heart.  I was lonely.  I wanted a man to share my life.  I thought a man would heal the ache in my soul.  Instead I got a horse.      

   A horse? I didn’t want a horse, but once having ridden this young Arab mare (only three years old, just a baby), I was captivated.  I’d never met a horse so smart. Or so courageous.  One day we were riding with a group out on the spacious New Mexico mesa under that huge Western sky, when we came to the carcass of a cow.  The older  horses shied, balked, twisted, lunged, refusing to walk past the carrion smell.  It was my little girl, Spring, who at my urging stepped daintily past the corpse, leading the others in her wake.  

    I won’t go into my refusal to buy her. But one morning I woke from sleep with a sudden clear “knowing” that Spring was going to be sold and moved to Portland, Oregon— that I would never see her again. I telephoned the stable in New Mexico.  “If Spring is ever for sale,” I said, “please let me know.”  

    “That’s strange,” said Katherine, the stable owner.  “Only yesterday her owner called to tell me she’s moving to Portland, and she’s putting Spring up for sale.”

     When God is in charge, there’s nothing you can do,.  I put an option on the horse, and flew to New Mexico for a month to make a decision.  But I’d already made up my mind.  It made no sense for me to own a horse. I lived on the East Coast, with a vacation cabin in New Mexico. I’d always be in another state, far from my horse. And horses are expensive!  How could I afford a horse?

      But all that month, every time I sensibly decided to deline, I’d feel that little tap on my shoulder that I think of as the voice of angels: “Try again.”

      There is a character in Shakespeare’s play, The Merchant of Venice, who “talks only of his horse. That’s me. (Actually that’s every horse owner that I know.)

      I won’t bore you with her beauty, the way she lifts her head or tail when she steps out in her long walk, the way she moves into the bit, or she lowers her head to make it easier for me to latch her bridle, or thrusts her head into her halter; and if she could, I think she’d probably buckle the snaps.  

     Moreover, she loves me.  Non-horse people don’t think that horses love.  Once I was brushing her beautiful hind quarters when she swished her long tail—and held it by muscular force draped over me. I was veiled in her embrace.  After three or four seconds, she relaxed, letting her tail fall free. I was shocked. That takes effort.  She deliberately held her tail over me, in a kind of touch.

     We have been together now for 15 years.  I brought her East. We have fox-hunted, done dressage, won ribbons in horse shows, but our favorite is jumping and trail-riding, and we trust each other enough that she will even go out alone on trails we’ve never seen before.  I say this because some horses I know will hardly leave sight of their stable, they get so nervous all alone.

   Now with the pandemic, she has become even more significant. My sister has a lap dog. One child has budgies. I have a horse.  Masked and isolated in lock down, I went for months without touching another human or being kissed or hugged. I was avoided by grandchildren and daughters and friends.  At the end of four months, I felt myself going bonkers. Humans are pack animals. We are supposed to touch, relate, not live in sequestration, like a prisoner in solitary. Few can live like hermits or a yogi in a cave.  (And this has given me new rage and indignation at how we throw prisoners into solitary confinement, letting them out once a week to walk outside one hour: some confined to solitary for months and years! Cruel and unusual punishment: that’s torture.) 

     Intellectually, I knew this sequestration was enforced for my safety, but my Unconscious mind had other ideas: that my children, grandchildren and friends wanted nothing to do with me— that I’m old, worthless, useless, unwanted, unloved. It was a message I fought and often lost.   Still, I had my horse. 

   Every day I could drive to the stable and brush my horse, or give her a carrot or apple. Even if we didn’t ride, I could run my hands down the smooth muscles of her beautiful neck, rub her ears, kiss her soft muzzle, breathe into her nose, so that we exchanged breath in an intimacy as deep and calming as sleeping with a lover. She would nuzzle my neck, gazing at me with her enormous brown eyes. The eye of a horse is the largest of any land mammal, exceeded only by that of an ostrich, whale, or seal. A horse is so sensitive that, even through layers of a heavy leather saddle, it can feel the blood pulsing in your thigh.  She knows, therefore, when you are excited, angry, frightened, irritable, and likewise when you are quiet and calm. Being flight animals, a horse responds to your emotions as she would in the herd, so that she jiggles or jumps in appropriate fear, according to your emotions, or else she walks calmly along, trusting you even in danger (a cow, for example, or smelly pig or goat, if she’s never seen one).  On the other hand, you learn to trust your horse as well. She snatches the scent of bear long before you, and tells you with startled hooves and ears of peril. Believe her. She knows more than you.

    Sometimes I would go to the stable anxious and upset, but in only a few minutes of brushing her, I would grow calm under the influence of her love. I think I could feel her sending out waves of loving tranquility.

    Lockdown is easing now. Restaurants are carefully opening outdoors. People still wear masks, stand apart, careful not to touch.  My grandchildren still will not come near me, fearful of infecting me. But when I go to the stable, my horse out in her pasture pricks her ears and lifts her head at hearing my car. She steps out in her loose long walk, approaching me, and she lowers her head for her halter.  Then we walk along together, companionably, to the stable, where she will be brushed and touched and massaged and then ridden, she and I out for an adventure together. I will feel her muscles moving under me in a walk or canter.  I come home, take a hot shower, and all is well with the world.

   I had wanted a man. I got a horse.  

at a horse show