I'm a fan of happy endings, no denying it. I love reading and writing happy endings. Not Cinderella happy endings or shallow ones tied up too pretty with a big red bow. No. I enjoy a good struggle, some loss and heartache, tears and Dark Nights of the Soul. In other words, my favorite happy ending literature includes the edginess of life. But, in the end...a happy one. The main character has learned, grown, changed and found a silver lining hiding in a mess of grey clouds (Yes I live in the Pacific Northwest--can you tell?) I love writing and experiencing those kinds of happy endings. That's why its especially hard to write this post.
I had a happy ending clearly in mind when I brought Chance home one cold December day three years ago. He was not the first mess-of-a-horse that has shared my life. I must have been about 9 or 10 when I met a coal black pony colt starved nearly to death. I had accompanied my grandfather to pick up a load of wood in our old Chevy truck and spied the colt lying in a paddock. The owner appeared more concerned about making a few bucks than the condition of his horse. I begged my grandpa to help (I'm sure tears were involved) and my parents got more than a truck load of wood that day. We made "Star" at home in an old chicken coop and began the long and expensive road to rehabilitation. After veterinary care, a good dousing for lice, and plenty of feed the colt recovered completely. Strong and handsome he was eventually sold to a Shetland Pony farm and trained to the cart. That early experience with taking something cast off and turning it into a happy ending must have imbedded itself firmly in my psyche. God loves to reuse and recycle; He loves happy endings, right?
I've owned, adopted, fixed up and passed on numerous animals of every size and shape. Always there is the feeling of well being in being part of nurturing life and the reinforcing of an idea that effort, patience, and dedication are the keys to securing a happy ending. Effort equals reward. I've resold horses that ended up in my life and recieved the double pay out of a few bucks and a satisfying feeling.
From the start things were a bit different with Chance. I'll never forget seeing him for the first time that raw winter day, his skin draped over bony haunches, eyes staring off into the distance as if he'd long since dissociated himself from the pain of the present. He didn't look like a good investment and I knew it. Still, I felt drawn to him and that happy ending. While decidedly mediocre in conformation and athletic ability (less than mediocre) he was a good age and lovely color. Once a handy vet trimmed off the stallion ornamentation and he recieved lessons in polite behavior I saw potential. Lots of effort, no doubt, but potential. I felt pretty sure another happy ending was in the future.
Chance must have been born under a rain cloud. He had a hard time mastering physical basics--like loping--and mentally remained a bit off. Fear was his best friend and even other horses--his own kind--rejected him. While he improved100% over three years time, it wasn't enough to make him trustworthy or "normal." He often dissociated both on the ground and under saddle and could go from broke and trained to wing-nut in three seconds flat. But, he tried. Just wasn't happening. I've known people like that.
When my neighbor saw him fall and have what appeared to be a seizure, I forbade my daughter to ride him. Increasingly I felt uncomfortable riding him and had the strange feeling the horse was becoming less broke every day. When we saw him have a seizure while standing in his stall it all started to make sense. He was off and there wasn't alot to be done about it. From a veterinary stand point neurological problems are hard to diagnose. I sent his DNA away to rule out a particular disease and discussed the options but I had a sinking feeling my experience with Lady would be repeated. Why me? And why not a happy ending? I'd spent hundreds and hundreds of dollars and hours on this animal. My daughter and I loved him, in all his weirdness, and he seemed to deserve a happy ending. His entire life, up to the point I'd gotten him, had been about fear and rejection and neglect. It was hard to make peace with what I knew we'd have to do.
Putting Chance down was sort of the culmination of a season of comtemplating death. It began in October when I had the honor of writing a post script about the life of an amazing woman who died at the young age of 40 from a brain tumor. She had horses, a husband, and a four year old son. In the way God does, something beautiful was birthed in the life of a young woman who'd recieved both Mary's unselfish love and inherited her two horses a few years after her untimely death. My job was to catch that silver lining and share it. As happy as I was to do it, the story haunted me. Why, God? I felt myself asking the question over and over and getting no real response. The love Mary invested lived on, but it seemed unfair.
After writing Mary's story I lost my dog Chase to carcinoma. The dog that greeted me every day with a gift of some sort (stick, flower, token stolen from the cemetary next door) and helped raise my two children. He was a friend who knew how to love, no strings attached. No, a pet is not the same as a human being, but their loss hurts just the same.
After saying goodbye to Chance and allowing the tears to dry and my heart to breath a little I've come to some conclusions about happy endings. Maybe this isn't the place to focus on them. Life hurts and we're all going to say goodbye over, and over, and over again. If I didn't place my hope in a grander eternity the weight of it would be too much. I'm realizing these days how stingy I am with my love. Yeah I like to help out, but that's mostly if its going to feel good later on; include an ending that justifies effort expended and costs incurred (also called conditional love) . I think of all the Chances--human and animal--that languish in all sorts of places because they aren't a worthwhile investment. They have nothing to offer but brokenness.
The scriptures say over and over that love is the only thing we get to take with us some day. Love is valued above and beyond all; love conquers death and fear and hopelessness.
I love both the above pictures. One is the first time I saw Chance actually respond and find resonance with a human being. Probably no coincidence that human being was my daughter. Children don't hoard love and parcel it out for deserving causes in the way adults do. The second is a drawing by a thoughtful boy. It reads, "Chance," and then under it, "Forever."
Guess I'm going to wait on that happy ending. In the meantime...Love.