At some point in our lives, the push and discipline of work must give way to a release that frees the spirit within and recharges us. Hearing and feeling the melody and rhythm of music or nature, and moving to their cadences without thought for others’ possible observances or opinions, has always been one of the ways my spirit shakes off weariness, takes flight, and leaves me in a restful place hard to contrive. Over the past two weeks, two days apart from a job I love but find depleting at times has led to the rediscovery of this truth and helped redefine priorities.
The first outing resulted from a surprise invitation to join friends at a Bluegrass picnic overlooking fields of mares with young foals alternately grazing then cavorting over lush green pastures as the sun set. A Bluegrass band for the evening provided a lively atmosphere for casually dressed guests filling their plates and cups, who arranged themselves at small tables or on bales of hay. Nearby, small children collected handfuls of shedded stall-bedding and tossed it to sky then watched it fall, laughing and calling to one another, as others cartwheeled down a hill.
One of the guest musicians, performing a song he wrote as a special request, was Arthur Hancock, whose family founded Claiborne Farm over a century ago. He sang a melody with simple lyrics, “Sunday Silence”, about a horse who had given him comfort after long work weeks. The colt had been a Kentucky Derby and Preakness winner in 1989, and later the same year had won the Breeders’ Cup Classic. Voted American Champion Three-Year-Old Colt and American Horse of the Year, Sunday Silence was eventually inducted into the Hall of Fame. After retirement from racing, Hancock’s prize colt was sold to Japan where he stood as a leading sire for the last decade of his life, until his death in August of 2002.
The take home lesson from the song: Sometimes it’s simply the presence of another, whether animal or human, that calms our frenzied lives and brings us back to a saner perspective on the life God allows us to enjoy for a season; but there are times when the highest and best use of a life requires releasing it back into God’s care, apart from us….the most difficult of separations.
A juice-harp player, in and out of the mix like a double-dutch jump rope artist, oversaw carefully stored Mason-jars filled with apple slices floating in a clear, unlabeled liquid. When not providing accompaniment to the band, he carefully scooped ice into plastic cups from a cooler at the base of a pickup’s lowered tailgate. A sample of the “shine” found its way into my hands,, and soon thereafter I joined children and the picnic hosts kicking up their heels, doing the Texas two-step, gliding effortlessly over the stone patio as the band “hit their stride”. (I love the uninhibited nature of children whose spontaneous movement to music breaks the ice of hearts hardened by jobs that make adults feel like they have to be reserved and dignified even at social gatherings after work.) I confess: the full moon, music, and best Kentucky shine I’ve tasted —–the ONLY shine I’ve tasted for those of you raising your eyebrows—-promoted dancing for which I find no apology is necessary. It was good, clean fun, and my best dance partners where children, who easily outlasted me!
Singers and dancers alike say, “All my springs are in you.” Psalm 87:7
As an added reprieve, there was today: An overcast morning when work had left a voicemail while I was “sleeping in ‘til 6 am”, saying I was on the schedule (unbeknownst to me), asking if I was coming in. I had been waiting two weeks for the beautiful spring day forecast to open like a wildflower on a wilderness trail , planning to hike with a new friend and our dogs. Priorities shifted quickly. I called my employer back and troubleshot the miscommunication, knowing the hike in the woods would help me do my job better in the coming week. I needed this day off more than a padded paycheck. I made a conscious decision to let it go and enter the day without the weight of guilt.
Despite the unexpected when I cried briefly driving by a familiar trail marker on the way to a trailhead parking lot, I found my dogs and present company gracious about taking a minute for unspoken memories before recollecting my thoughts and focus. Engaging in a new conversation helped nudge my thoughts back into the present where emerging wildflowers and fauna couldn’t be ignored. Somehow, the steady and predictable cycle of nature, fresh each time it reappears, reassured me that with each transition in life there is always God’s creation in transformation before us, and the healing presence of caring animals and people. (Thank you to my friend, whose spirit of peace and thoughtful consideration were added blessings on this particular day.)
The subject of animals came up in conversation, both at the Bluegrass picnic the week before, and during the wilderness hike in new company. More specifically, how animals play a significant role in our lives, helping us to discover things about ourselves, healing wounds of the heart and spirit, while challenging us to reciprocate care, even as we are faced by our own limitations and the choices made that sometimes cause division. Essentially, how we rescue each other by feeling compassion towards those who depend on us, including the trust animals invest in us, though we may feel inadequate or undeserving. We also acknowledged the deep sense of loss when a pet must be put down or dies, because they were a part of our families. It was an interesting detail to learn my new hiking friend’s first funeral out of seminary was for a beloved, champion horse, belonging to a woman for whom he’d done farm labor throughout his training for ministry.
The righteous care for the needs of their animals……Proverbs 12:10
Someday soon, when there is time for another break from work, I look forward to building a fire after a hike or trail-ride, sharing food, stories, and reflections around the calming flames of an open campfire, remembering to make music and dance, if the spirit so moves, in one of the most beautiful outdoor adventure settings found in the diverse geographical regions of Kentucky. Music, moonlight, and dancing in the Bluegrass are hard partners to outshine.