By Ellen Nimmo
I won the horse on a bet. The bet was rigged and far less interesting a story in itself. But the horse? What a ride.
When I pulled up to the house there was the animal, my would-be winnings, as advertised in the small town classifieds section for a few hundred dollars. He stood out amongst the other lot mates with a striking white coat complete with whimsical brown spots. When I hopped on for a test ride through the recently harvested corn field, he trotted off without prompt and tossed his head brattily, but still, I already knew there was no turning back.
“He’s probably a one-person horse,” I can remember the guy telling me with a note of significance in his voice. I nodded and gave a couple “Yep” replies, as though I knew what the hell he meant. In a way, I did. In another way, I had to discover it myself. “His name’s Top Kick,” he told me as I continued nodding, patting the horse, reveling in the luck that had brought me such treasure.
Top Kick, apparently, is slang for First Sergeant in the American Military and this horse couldn’t have been further from having a sergeant’s disposition. He wasn’t neat or orderly; a tangle of wild mane and dust that flew from his speckles and spots, gritty from joyful rolls in the dirt. He wasn’t keen on duty or conformity and he wasn’t particularly courageous. He was low on the totem in every herd. Last to eat. Last to get refreshed at the water trough. Top is what I called him or Toppy (pronounced Top-eeee). Nicknames for a nicknamed horse.
If you find yourself on the archaic, but still active social network, myspace.com, you can find me there, grinning wildly, coffee cup in hand, standing under a blooming redbud, sloshed on happy. It was the morning of the first day Top Kick came to live with me.
One day not long after, I was working on fencing or clearing out brush or picking up sticks or some such thing, generally minding my own business, when suddenly a snake dropped from a tree, dangling down in front of my face a la a scene from Indiana Jones. I screamed. As one does. Then looked at the snake and laughed in relief, only a giant green gardener. But wait. What was that sound? My heartbeat drumming in my startled ears? No. It was the thundering hooves of Top, swirling up from the back pasture, rounding the corner of wild blackberry bushes and swooshing up under and through the trees, screeching to a stop at my shoulder to see what on earth was the matter. Nearly plowed me over in haste, the dear creature.
What he lacked in gracefulness he always made up for in flare. In movement and personality, there was no real elegance, only oodles of authenticity.
There is a scar in the middle of my forehead. Heming in the split flesh, I got stiches in the emergency room of a tiny hospital late one stormy night; the doctor and nurse studying me closely as they worked to close the gash incurred on that fateful night when I let foolishness topple into a folly-full rage. Top was there for that. In some ways, he was a catalyst to the stormy fortune that would befall me just outside the stinging electric fence that dark and rainy night; jerking to free his head which had been momentarily pinned down by his hoof atop the abandoned lead rope, the rope’s clasp catching me right between the eyes. My hand reached up to a crater of oozing flesh, blood streaming my face with the horror of a life that felt magnificently out of control, in so many ways. Talk about scream. I sat back on my haunches, the grass and dirt puddling up with mud and blood, turned my hemorrhaging head skyward and howled till my voice went hoarse. Looking back at that moment, it feels like the epitomized version of a young woman whose inner anger and discontentment was erupting. And why? In many ways, my life was so full of blessing and opportunity. But I felt angry. Angry at the world. Angry at injustice. Angry at apathy and systems of impotence and dysfunction. Angry at the boyfriend that tried so hard to keep my spirits lifted. Angry at family. Friends. Angry at God, though I wholly denied his existence.
There’s a hundred other stories I could tell you about the ways I felt angry, hurt, abandoned, and madly discontent for years and years and how those feelings came spilling out, sometimes at the hand of a dark and stormy night, as much as I tried to ignore and mask them. But I don’t know if I have the courage and probably none of us have the time.
Fifteen or sixteen years have passed since I first met Top. Since I bled and cried at the stormy skies. And sometimes I wish I could go back and try it all over again, knowing what I know now. Through the years, through many more tempests of various sizes and strengths, I’ve been fortunate to have some of those wounds heal. I no longer feel a rage of discontent. No longer the hopelessness of a world gone wrong. No longer steaming at a God I claimed no belief in. Actually, perhaps a more honest thing to say is, those things have lessened, altered through an evolution of process and perspective.
If you believe in a God that’s intimately involved in his Creation, then I guess it’s not a stretch to say you might also believe he can use anything and everything in Creation to bring himself rightful glory, to point us to himself, to illuminate the dimness which rests between the eyes of our heart. Clasping our hearts to his; even through the most thunderous and bloody of moments.
I reckon Top has played a significant role in my life, to that very end. To his very end.
Top was euthanized last week. The choice wasn’t straightforward. No, it was littered with questions, doubts, and fear. And, to be blunt, it was a dreadful few moments as the poison took his life out; galloping riderless into pastures unknown.
Another storm to weather, this time, without my trusty, dusty companion. And it’s tempting, in the tremors of sorrow, to write something sentimental about how it was well worth it to have loved and lost and all that. How I’m grateful for the memories which still bring a joyful smile to my face. As true as those things are, and they are true, it still sucks. Plain as day. The tears and questions and fits of anger are still around, but when I meditate on the journey, the trials and trails that come into my life, there’s a peace which presides. A peace because God is working to heal the wounds of my heart. Sometimes I feel this peace in profound ways; other times, it feels like a distant hope, barely visible on the horizons of some winding, rocky trail. Serpents still descend from trees – where will my help come from?
The miracle of a gritty conviction remains:
When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.
Yet I am always with you;
you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart
and my portion forever.