On Leading Horses to Water

I have this unique gift. I know what’s best for everybody except, perhaps, myself. At least, that’s the reality I choose to live in much of the time. It’s really easy to look at people’s lives from the outside and come up with quick and easy solutions for them, isn’t it?

The real challenge is keeping one’s opinions to oneself. Usually that comes with age and experience. I must admit I still struggle with this sometimes.

For example, I know an amazing young lady who is talented and charismatic and creative and intelligent and thin and beautiful. She should be the queen of the world. But she drinks. A lot. I mean… a lot. As far as I know, she doesn’t let this impact her work, but it looms large the rest of the time. It breaks my heart. I want to shake her until her teeth rattle. “You have so much going for you! Don’t do this!”

I know another guy who hates his job and is constantly hunting for another one. He looks good on paper. He’s extremely intelligent and capable. He gets lots of interviews, but he never gets hired. He can’t understand why. I can. His personal hygiene leaves a lot to be desired. He looks and smells like he has been living in a cave his whole life. He’s actually kind of scary, if you don’t know him. From an employer’s point of view, this has to be a bit off-putting. If you can’t be bothered to take care of yourself, how can I assume you’ll take care of your job? I’m all for self-expression, but it can sometimes be self-destructive.

And then there’s this guy I have a crush on, who doesn’t seem the least bit interested in me. I mean, Hello! I’m amazing! I’m fun to be around, interesting to talk to, nurturing, non-smoking, fiscally responsible, great in bed… I’m a freaking catch! In other words, perfect for him. Why can’t he see that?

The bottom line is that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. If someone wants to be an alcoholic, look like a Neanderthal, or overlook true love, there’s nothing I can do about it. People have the right to walk their own paths. I don’t have to like it.

I get the “can’t make it drink” part. That’s obvious. But I often still try to lead those horses to the water. I really have to work on that. It’s a waste of time for them, and frankly, it makes me look like a pompous ass. Sometimes horses just prefer to roam free.

wild horses

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Think of Horses

Here’s a quote that’s often used in the medical profession:

“When you hear hoofbeats, think of horses, not zebras.” – Dr. Theodore Woodward

In other words, don’t assume some exotic medical malady first, when it is much more likely to be something quite common. A child is much more likely to have a bladder infection than maple syrup urine disease.

But I think this quote can and should be applied to a lot more areas of life than just medicine. One of the reasons that I tend to look askance at most conspiracy theories is the simple, basic fact that the vast majority of people cannot keep secrets. And trying to get a large number of people to agree, let alone march in lockstep toward one common, corrupt goal, is next to impossible. If something nefarious is going on, chances are it’s one person at the heart of it, maybe two at most. Not an entire organization.

I know a woman who thinks zebras all the time. For example, she saw a dog hair on the counter at her place of work, and rather than assuming it fell off someone’s clothing, she instantly concluded that someone was sneaking his or her dog to work on her days off. Seriously?

And when you try to do something helpful for this woman, she automatically believes you must be out to get her. It has got to be exhausting, always running with the zebras like that. And because she trusts no one, no one trusts her. That’s kind of sad.

I genuinely believe that the simple explanation is most often the right one. That’s how I choose to live my life. Yup, sometimes I’m wrong, but I’m also a lot less stressed out.

zebras
It makes me tired just watching.

Happy Earth Day!

It’s Earth Day, and that has me thinking about the intimate encounters I’ve had with nature in my lifetime.

  • I have swum with manatee, dolphins and stingrays.
  • I briefly dated a guy who could imitate a barn owl so accurately that every owl in the region would respond to his call. He also taught me how to walk through the woods at 2 am without a flashlight. (Lift your toes to avoid tripping, and hold a stick ahead of you to thwart spider webs, and you’ll be amazed how quickly your eyes adjust to the lack of light.)
  • Working graveyard shift for 10 years, I’ve probably seen about 2000 sunrises, enough to know each one is as unique as a snowflake.
  • Many times I have watched that moment when the moon expands and turns orange just before it sinks below the horizon.
  • I’ve hiked beyond the overlooks at Yellowstone Park, and was told by a ranger that less than 5 percent of the parks visitors bother to do so. I find this astounding, and a bit disheartening.
  • I’ve rescued wild birds with my bare hands.
  • I’ve pulled my car over to remove lizards from my windshield.
  • I have reclined in a mountain meadow and watched bats fly overhead.
  • I’ve ridden horses through national parks.
  • I’ve seen solar eclipses, lunar eclipses, shooting stars and comets.
  • I have snorkeled above a coral reef.
  • I have danced in the rain.

But perhaps most importantly I have looked skyward and thanked the universe for allowing me to live on this planet and feel the wind upon my face. I hope everyone will take a moment today and do the same.

earth day

Image credit: mauiearthday.org

A Real Cliffhanger

Back in 2005, I took a trip out west with my boyfriend at the time to Canyon De Chelly because I had a fascination with all things Anasazi. The canyon is now a national monument, but people have been living there for almost 5,000 years. Currently about 40 Navajo families are in residence. As with most of the rest of Arizona, the landscape is stunning.

Wide Canyon VIew

To go into the canyon itself you need to take a tour or get a permit. We opted to go horseback riding with a Navajo guide. Frankly, I don’t know how anyone manages to live there, because it is, in essence, a big bowl of sand. If not for the horses, we’d have been slogging along in calf high sand the vast majority of the time, with only the occasional grove of olive trees for shade, and no water to speak of.

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Our guide took us to see some beautiful petroglyphs, and then, further along, some ancient cliff dwellings high above the canyon floor. I asked him if he had ever climbed up there, and he said, “No, because it would affect our bodies.”

I thought that was a curious response, and it had me reflecting upon the great cultural divide between me and this man, who had not spoken much at all up to this point. He began to interest me more than the landscape we were travelling through. I’d ask him questions. He’d pause, as if considering the best way to dole out his words in the most economical fashion. Then he’d respond.

“Have you always lived in this area?” Pause. “Yes. Always.”

Hours later, after his occasional brief response to my inquiries, for some reason the dam seemed to break. When I asked him if he’d ever been outside of this area he paused for a long time. Then he told me the following story.

“One time these people came here and booked a 3 day tour. The lady liked one of our horses so much that she offered to buy it, but she wanted us to deliver it to her home near Boston. So we did. We drove the whole way without stopping. Through many lands. Then we saw Boston.”

“Did you get to see the ocean?”

“Yes.”

“What did you think?”

“It was very big.”

I will always have a mental image of this man gazing out at the Atlantic as if he had just arrived from another planet. “Then we came home.”

At the end of the tour we said our good byes and I realized that this man had a much greater impact on me than I had on him. To him, I’m sure, I was like a brief wind. I wasn’t the first. I wouldn’t be the last. But to me, he was like a stone monument. He would always be there in my mind.

That night we camped, and the next day we drove along the rim of the canyon, stopping at each of the overlooks to take in the stunning views. At the last overlook, the eerie western silence was broken by a strange sound. I couldn’t identify it, and the first time I heard it, I thought it must have been my imagination. Then there it was again.

“Did you hear that?”

“No. What?”

“That!”

I got down on my hands and knees, and stuck my head over the side of the cliff, and sure enough, on a ledge about 3 feet below us was a skinny little puppy. He was shivering and crying.

“Oh, shit. We can’t just leave it.”

“Barb, it’s a 1,000 foot drop.”

“I know. But if I drive away and leave that dog, I’ll never be able to live with myself.”

And before he could say anything, I lowered myself down to the ledge, which, thank God, supported my weight. Don’t look down, don’t look down, don’t look down…I grabbed the puppy, handed it to my boyfriend, climbed back up and walked as far away from the rim as I could get so as not to have the panic attack that I could feel trying to overtake me.

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Alrighty then. Next. Feed the puppy. And man, he was hungry. He ate half our picnic lunch. I would have loved to keep him, but Florida was a long way away. So we took him to the ranger station, and they told us they’d bring him to a no kill shelter at the nearest town. We had one request.

“Tell them his name is Cliff.”