Reading is such a phenomenal activity. We can learn, we can experience, we can escape, and we can get lost and get found again. So many things can happen. And the joy is that you will never know what is around the next bend.
Some time back I was reading WILD by Cheryl Strayed about her hiking journey along the Pacific Crest Trail back in the 1990s. Cheryl found that she had lost her way in life (and her moral compass) after the loss of her mother. Reaching rock bottom, she was determined to see if a personal hiking journey over 1,000 miles would provide the opportunity for proper reflection and introspection to set herself back on the right course in life.
One might ask why I was reading the book when I just saw the movie several weeks prior. Well, I wanted to read more about what Cheryl was thinking and about her story. Maybe there was a something in her story that would be helpful for me, some insight that would enlighten me. And it happened.
Cheryl and her mother were very close. Through troubled times of marital strife and family financial woes, Cheryl’s mother was the “glue” that held much of Cheryl’s life together. One profound reflection in the book discusses Cheryl’s mother and her love of horses. Her mother was determined to have horses and the joy that they brought to her life even during difficult times. This joy for horses and activities with horses were the backbone of much of the family life. Cheryl’s mother was able to translate her love for horses into the fabric of their family life and how to use the various activities (riding, grooming, and stable cleaning for example) as examples for how people care for each other and their environment. Then Cheryl said—“Horses were my mother’s religion.” I was breathless.
Why was I breathless? My mother had a similar love for horses throughout her life. She was thrown from a horse as a teenager and sustained a back injury that would cause a life-long ailment, affecting her health (physical and mental) until her death. Yet my mother always loved horses and everything about them. I was always at a loss for her deep affection toward horses and admittedly at times, annoyed by it. Late in life as she and my stepfather had a horse farm, I wondered why they would take on such a burden and complicate their lives so.
Because horses were her religion! I don’t mean this in a sacrilegious sense. My mother was a very devout person. But horses were an outlet for her when many other things were going wrong—an abusive marriage, divorce, physical ailments, and mental illness. Her love for horses was the perfect outlet for her creative energy and was the demonstrable way for her to show her love for so many things. The love and care for my brother and me was primary but horses were a close second.
By reading Cheryl Strayed’s book, I was transported back to my childhood and then I paused to reflect on my adult interactions with my mother. Why was I so intolerant at times? Why was I so unable to see her view of things and unable to understand her needs? Why could I not see the value of her love and devotion to these beautiful creatures?
I was breathless because this reading experience had taken me where I had not anticipated going this morning. I was going to be reading about someone else’s journey and maybe there would be some tidbit that would be helpful. I did not anticipate having to engage in my own introspection, yet reading made me do it. I loved it! I’m glad I was breathless.