O, for a Horse with Wings!

O! for a horse with wings! 
~William Shakespeare from Cymbeline

(thank you to Bette Vander Haak for all her photos here of our Haflingers and their cow bird friends)

Be winged. Be the father of all flying horses.
~C.S. Lewis from The Magician’s Nephew

One reason why birds and horses are happy is because they are not trying to impress other birds and horses. 
~Dale Carnegie

When I bestride him, I soar, I am a hawk:
he trots the air; the earth sings when he touches it;
~William Shakespeare from Henry V

We all should have a buddy who is along for the ride and blesses us with their company.

There is always a need for a precious friend who has our back – helping to keep the biting flies away by gobbling them.

It is symbiosis at its best: a relationship built on mutual trust and helpfulness. In exchange for relief from annoying insects that a tail can’t flick off, a Haflinger serves up bugs on a smorgasbord landing platform located safely above farm cats and marauding coyotes.

Thanks to their perpetual full meal deals, these birds do leave “deposits” behind that need to be brushed off at the end of the day. Like any good friendship, having to clean up the little messes left behind is a small price to pay for the bliss of companionable comradeship.

We’re buds after all – best forever friends.

And this is exactly what friends are for: one provides the feast and the other provides the wings.

We’re fully fed and we’re fully free – together.


A new Barnstorming book is available for order here:

What If…

What if you slept
And what if
In your sleep
You dreamed
And what if
In your dream
You went to heaven
And there plucked a strange and beautiful flower
And what if
When you awoke
You had that flower in your hand
Ah, what then?
~Samuel Taylor Coleridge “What if you slept…”

What do our dreams tell us of heaven?

The last few nights I have dreamed of those with whom I once had a warm friendship but no longer do. My dreams were of grace and reconciliation, of walking and talking together and rediscovering our common goals and beliefs rather than dwelling on estrangement and sadness as we’ve gone our separate ways.

Upon waking, I wonder what vision of heaven this could be: finding the lost treasure of connection that I allowed to let go. Restoring a friendship is a strange and beautiful flower plucked in a dream. I must hold it gently in my hand as the precious gem it is.

What then is possible? And what now?

Holding Down What We Have

The next morning I felt that our house
had been lifted away from its foundation
during the night, and was now adrift,
though so heavy it drew a foot or more
of whatever was buoying it up, not water
but something cold and thin and clear,
silence riffling its surface as the house
began to turn on a strengthening current,
leaving, taking my wife and me with it,
and though it had never occurred
to me until that moment, for fifteen years
our dog had held down what we had
by pressing his belly to the floors,
his front paws, too, and with him gone
the house had begun to float out onto
emptiness, no solid ground in sight.
~Ted Kooser “Death of a Dog”

God… sat down for a moment when the dog was finished in order to watch it… and to know that it was good, that nothing was lacking, that it could not have been made better.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke

Twelve dogs have left pawprints on my heart over my sixty five years.  Each dog of my childhood was my best friend to confide in, take walks with, to cry into the ruff of their furry necks. They always listened compassionately and never judged, even when I was in the wrong.

There was a thirteen year long dogless period while I went to college, medical school and residency, living in inhospitable urban environs, working unsuitable dog-keeping hours.  Those were sad years indeed with no dog hair to vacuum or slobber to mop up.

The first dog in our married life on the farm, a Tervuren,  rode home from Oregon on my pregnant lap in the passenger seat, all sixty five pounds of her.  I think our first born son has a permanent dog imprint on his side as a result, and it certainly resulted in his dog-loving brain yet he has lived ten years in the largest city on earth, sadly dogless.  

Six dogs and thirty four years later, we are currently owned by two gentle hobbit-souled Cardigan Corgis who are middle-aged and healthy. I hope they stick around with us for a few more years, but we have felt the unmooring of our home’s foundation when we have lost, one by one, our dog friends in the past, usually in ripe old age.

Dogs could not have been made better among God’s creations because they love unconditionally, forgive without holding a grudge and show unbounded joy umpteen times a day.    It’s true–it would be nice if they would poop only in discrete off-the-path areas, use their teeth only for dog designated chew toys, and vocalize only briefly when greeting and warning, but hey, nobody is perfect.

So to Buttons, Sammy, Sandy, Sparky, Toby, Tango, Talley, Makai, Frodo, Dylan Thomas, Sam Gamgee and Homer:  God sat down for a moment when He made you and saw that it was good.

You’ve been good for me too, holding fast my foundation to the ground..

Sam as puppy kid – photo by Nate Gibson
photo of Dylan Thomas by Nate Gibson

Crippled

michael

All of us come to the study and practice of medicine through different pathways: some because of family members who were doctors or patients, some out of our own illness or woundedness, some out of intense drive to achieve and serve.

I came to medicine because of my grade school classmate Michael.

My grade school represented a grand social experiment of the early 1960’s.  It was one of the first schools to mainstream special needs children into “regular” classrooms.   At that time, the usual approach was to warehouse kids with disabilities (i.e. “handicaps” in 60′s parlance)  in separate rooms, if not whole separate schools.

During those years, the average class size for a grade school teacher was 32-35 kids, with no teacher’s aides, rare parent volunteers (except for field trips and room mothers who threw the holiday parties) and no medications or special accommodations for ADHD or learning disabilities.  I’m not sure how teachers coped with a room full of too-often noisy unruly kids,  but somehow they managed to teach in spite of the obstacles.  Adding in children with mental and physical challenges without additional adult help must have been  very difficult.

So the more capable kids got recruited to mentor the kids with disabilities.  It was a way to keep some kids busy who out of boredom might otherwise find themselves engaging in disruptive entertainment. It helped the teacher by creating a buddy system for the special needs kids who might need help with class work or who might have difficulty getting around.

I was assigned to Michael.  He was a spindly boy with cerebral palsy and hearing aids, thick glasses hooked with a wide band around the back of his head,  and spastic muscles that never seemed to go where he wanted them to go.  He walked independently with some difficulty, mostly on his tiptoes because of his shortened leg muscles, falling when he got going too quickly as his thick orthopedic shoes with braces would trip him up.   His hands were intermittently in a crab like grip of contracted muscles, and his face always contorting and grimacing.  He drooled continuously so perpetually carried a Kleenex in his hand to catch the drips of spit that ran out of his mouth and dropped on his desk, threatening to spoil his coloring and writing papers.

His speech consisted of all vowels, as his tongue couldn’t quite connect with his teeth or palate to sound out the consonants, so it took some time and patience to understand what he said.  He could write with great effort, gripping the pencil awkwardly in his tight palm and found he could communicate better at times on paper than by talking. I made sure he had help to finish assignments if his muscles were too tight to write, and I learned his language so I could interpret for the teacher. He was brave and bright, with a finer mind than most of the kids in our class.    He loved a good joke and his little body would shudder as he roared his appreciation.   I was always impressed at how he expressed himself and how little bitterness he had about his limitations.

He was the most articulate inarticulate person I knew.  As an eleven year old peer-opinion-driven preadolescent girl, I’m amazed I could even recognize that about Michael.  It was so tempting to be oblivious and insensitive to the person that Michael was inside his disabled shell.

Sometimes I wanted to hide as Michael appeared around the corner of the grade school building every morning. He would be walking too quickly in his careful tip-toe cadence, arms flailing, shoes scuffing, raising up dust with each step. He would wave at me and call out my name in his indecipherable voice, a voice I knew all too well.

There were many times when I resented being Michael’s buddy, socially crippled myself in my 5th grade need to be popular and acceptable to my peers.  I didn’t want to be constantly responsible for him and my friends teased me about him being my boyfriend.   And in many ways, he was just that.

As he would approach while I stood in my clump of friends on the playground, a group of boys playing tag would swoop past him, purposely a little too close, spinning him off his feet like a top and onto the ground. Glasses askew, he would lay momentarily still, and realizing I was needed, I would run to his side. Despite all he endured, I never saw Michael cry, not even once, not even when he fell down hard.  When he got angry or frustrated, he’d get very quiet, but his muscles would tense up so much he would go into even greater spasms.

I would help him up,  brush off the playground dirt from his sweatshirt and pants and look at his grimacing face. Although he would give me a huge toothy smile of thanks, his eyes, as usual, said what his mouth could not. He looked right past my hardened preadolescent pretense, into my softening heart. Michael knew I needed him as much as he needed me. I was a lifesaver that had been thrown to him as he struggled to stay afloat in the sea of playground hostility.  And he was the first boy who loved me because of who he saw beneath my outer shell.

After two years, the social experiment was over and the school segregated the special needs kids back to therapeutic educational classrooms.  Though I never saw Michael again, I heard him on the radio six years later, reading an essay he’d written for the local Voice of Democracy contest on what it meant to be a free citizen.  His speech was one of the top three award winners that year.  I was so proud of how he’d done and how understandable his speaking voice had become.

I’ve thought of him frequently over the years as I went on to medical school, knowing that my initial training in compassionate caring came as I sat by his side for hours, even when I didn’t want to be there, learning to understand his voice and his heart.  I didn’t appreciate it then as I do now, but he taught me far more than I ever taught him:  patience, perseverance and respect for the journey rather than the destination.    He taught me life isn’t always fair so you make the best of what you are given.

Michael, wherever you are, you did that for me and it set me on the road to practice medicine.  You helped me reach deep into my too often selfish heart to reach out to help others.

And in my own imperfect special needs way, I know I loved you too.