Wednesday, November 25, 2009


Today's Forecast: Drizzle turning to showers. Heavy rainfall expected tomorrow.

These are the days where even disciplined equestrians falter, fall short, give in, succumb utterly to...a glass of wine and a good book by the fire instead of riding. Those who live in the Pacific Northwest exist under grace these days--have you looked outside? I need a wet suit just to go to the barn.

Here's what riding looks like (when I actually accomplish it): Muster up motivation by the fire, toasting my backside extra long knowing it will be freezing in a few short minutes; capture a filthy beast and work up a sweat scraping mud off two inches of wet matted winter hair; put horse in trailer and drive slowly to the arena, squinting through the raindrops pelting the windshield; tack up a frisky distracted horse and attempt to relax atop an icy saddle (by this point I am already exhausted and ready to return to the toasting backside step); wrangle an under worked thousand pound beast jacked up on alfalfa and oats--rodeo should be a winter sport--for thirty minutes or less before giving up and returning home; clean out trailer and feed beast more rocket fuel for next "ride"; brush soggy turd off of damp wool sweater before entering the house and collapsing in front of fire. Glamorous the winter equestrian is not.

In lieu of doing much riding, I'm catching up on a vital winter activity--movie watching. Besides reading, the television is one of the few things I'm enthusiastic about during weather such as we've been having. Recently I watched, The Soloist.

The premise of this film intrigued me and is "based on a true story." I'm a sucker for anything based on real life, even though I know Hollywood holds a permanent Oscar in "artistic license." Here's the storyline: Robert Downey Jr. plays a journalist in a personal and professional slump. The guy can't seem to find a good story anywhere much less "write" anything inspiring in his own life. Jamie Fox is a schizophrenic homeless man who plays a two-stringed violin while babysitting a shopping cart full of trash. When Downey encounters him by chance on the street one day, Fox babbles something about going to Julliard. Julliard? No way. Dirty, crazy homeless guys don't possess the talent necessary for Julliard. Still, Downey is desperate for a story and has time on his hands. He calls the school, gives the homeless guys name and, surprise, surprise finds that he did in fact attend Julliard for a time. What transpires from there is a journey of friendship between societies trash and a "normal" guy who initially simply wants a good story and professional notoriety.

To be honest, this film didn't capture me right off the bat. Downey (infamous eternally in my mind for his role in the '80s film, Less Than Zero) and Fox are both good actors but the story didn't touch me until midway through. Right about the point where Downey receives an award for his columns recounting his adventures with Fox and Fox begins to utterly resist any attempts to rehab him. In one scene, Downey begs the director of an LA homeless shelter to give Fox a diagnosis (with corresponding medication) while outside hoards of homeless people shoot up, fight with each other, babble incoherently, and guard filthy trinkets. The camera pans repeatedly to signage on the shelter that reads: The wages of sin is death. When Downey cannot get a diagnosis and Fox resists medication, he tries music lessons, a concert he hopes will be "transformative"(it fails) and even puts Fox in an apartment so he'll at least be off the street. All those things are inspiring material for his newspaper column. Fox is not impressed. When he discovers Downey has tampered with his family affairs he throws him to the ground and says, "If I ever see you again I will cut you open and gut you like a fish."

At that point the film grabbed me by the heart. It begged the question, Where is God's grace for the graceless? For the ones for which there is no diagnosis, no inspiring "after," for the many who live among us broken, despairing, and resistant to all attempts of rehabilitation. It's uncomfortable to consider the ones who can't navigate normal society and never will. The ones who can't produce and simply take up space. Those of us who are productive, who are able to hide our brokenness, put programs and medication and rehab before our fellow sinners and shriek as Downey does when they are resistant--"I am a professional person; I have a job!" This apparently validates our space on the planet.

A few things stuck out for me in this film. First, the wages of sin is death. Brokenness exists in every creature in God's creation. Some hide it better than others but no amount of humanist rationalizing can take it away. Only One can do that.

What also exists in every creature is the fingerprint of God. It's more obvious in some then others but we simply have to look for it. In the film, Downey sees it for the first time when he takes Fox to a concert and watches him live the music in peace and utter bliss. He later says, "There's something higher out there and I don't even know what its called."

Lastly, love and friendship is the one thing that is transformative. Downey at first resists friendship with a homeless person and laments, after being physically threatened, "I thought I was going to help someone who had lost their way; now I can't see a belief in anything worthwhile." Instead of fixing he is encouraged to, "show up, just be his (Fox's) friend. You can't fix LA."

What does this have to do with horses? Though I do not put animals on the same scale as human beings, I own a broken horse and think often about the state of God's creation. Sin mars the world but His fingerprint is there if you take the time to look for it. And friendship, with a person, with an animal, can be transformative. I know, I've seen it with my own eyes.

I conclude with Robert Downey that there is something higher out there. It is called Grace.


Linda Benson said...

Catherine - I so identified with this post about riding in the Northwest winters. It's really hard to get motivated to ride when the temperature hovers at 45 degrees and the wind is blowing. Today the sun shone, so with best intentions, I donned turtleneck, fleece pullover, muffler, barn jacket, orange cap (it's still hunting season), and laced up my riding boots. By the time I got out to the barn, feeling like a stuffed snowman, the clouds had thickened and the temperature dropped again. So I swept the barn, pulled a few weeds and called it good. There's always tomorrow!

Catherine said...

I feel your pain and consider two rides a week great effort in this weather. Though it would be wonderful to ride more, my horse is still green so I console myself that ANY outing is good (and, though exhausting, necessary for mental health:) Happy holidays to you; hope you get to enjoy your horse this season.