I often buy books, put them on my bookshelf to read later, then forget about them until they speak to me. Daniel Taylor’s Tell Me a Story is an example. The book, which joined my collection shortly after publication in 2001, is about the life shaping and healing power of our stories.
Taylor says our personal stories help us understand who we are and how we fit into life’s narrative. Like all stories, lives have a beginning, middle and end. According to Taylor, endings provide an opportunity to work out the inherent possibilities of beginnings and the consequences of choices made in the middle. A good life, like a good novel, ends with a resolution.
At 66, I am interested in final scenes and in particular, how mine might play out. So let me tell you a story:
As a kid growing up on the Sunshine Coast reading seemed as natural as breathing. Yes, we had television, but books offered both solitude and entertainment. I enjoyed Nancy Drew, the Hardy Boys and the Bobbsey Twins, but for pure excitement, nothing beat the Black Stallion series.
Like many young girls, I yearned for a horse. Not just any horse, I wanted one like The Black – a loyal Arabian, sleek and strong. An impossible dream, unless a shipwrecked stallion swam ashore – which I selfishly wished for on many stormy nights.
One fall some friends and I scraped together enough money for an hour-long trail ride. We arrived at the ranch full of girlish excitement, debating favorite horse breeds and colors. When we saw the rental horses, our chatter stopped. Six skinny horses stood saddled and tethered with their heads hung low to the ground. None resembled the noble steeds conjured in our imaginations.
I took advantage of the moment and lay claim to the only black horse, which caused a girl fight – high-pitched yelling and name-calling. The ranch hand observed for a while before he stepped in with six straws in his fist. We knew the rules. I drew the short straw.
On the outward journey, disappointment grew. The horses lumbered. No amount of tongue clicking or rib kicking encouraged a faster pace. Worse, they stopped to munch on grass at the trail’s edge while the rental clock ticked away our time. When we resorted to violence – using reins for whips – the nags sidestepped and kicked out with their hind legs. We stopped whipping, they resumed eating and moved on in their own time.
As we neared the turn-around point, the equine energy shifted. Heads lifted, eyes widened, ears swiveled forward and nostrils flared. The horses snorted, nickered and collectively picked up the pace.
When the team broke into a trot, we all cheered. Cheers turned to laughter when the trot morphed into smooth rocking canter. Laughter turned to screams, when the canter grew into a full-on gallop. We yanked on the reins, yelled whoa and cursed. Nothing slowed them.
We arrived back at the ranch clinging to our saddle horns white-knuckled and white-faced. The ranch hand ambled over and patted one of the steaming beasts. Then he grinned at us and said, “Good ride girls?”
At this point, I wonder why I chose to begin with this story. You might ask the same question. In poetry, horses sometimes symbolize sexual energy such as in Dylan Thomas’ Fern Hill. While subterranean impulses might be at work here, I doubt their energy is in the sexual realm.
Rather, the story speaks to me of wishes, disappointments, relationships and aging. At this moment, I choose to focus on aging:
- The horses take their sweet time on the outward journey. My life is like that. I drag my feet. I procrastinate.
- At the turning point, a sense of urgency arises. Going hell-bent for leather on the way home.
Nearing my own turning point, I also feel a sense of urgency. Time is too precious to waste. No more procrastination allowed. I commit to using the time left to create the best possible ending to my story so that: I return home white-knuckled, white-faced, and when asked, “Nice ride?” I reply, “It was golden.”