Firm log bridge. Icy snow on top. Near Cardigan Mountain, New Hampshire.
I took riding lessons for a few years, starting at age 49. At first I had no instincts. I lacked courage, and the horse knew it. I sometimes praised a misbehaving horse, hoping he would behave soon. He would turn the opposite direction from what I’d just directed—to test me—and I would not correct him. My teacher, Terry Schreiber, would grab the horse’s bridle, yank it, turn him the right way, and sometimes give a slap. She’d look up at me and say, “See? He wants to be disciplined.” The horse sighed, deeply, like a shudder almost. “Hear him sigh? Now he understands. Now he feels secure.”
At the time I didn’t understand. But I do now. The horse’s purpose was to do what his rider and Terry wanted. His job was trotting and cantering, and he knew the parameters. The rest of the time, he received food and free hours for rolling and resting. Terry’s firmness was that horse’s beacon. Everything was all right when Terry told him what to do.
Ultimately I settled on a fantasy that served me well on the horse. I pretended that I was a Revolutionary War mail carrier and that I had to get the mail to the troops. It sounds silly, but it helped me ride as someone who must guide her horse, not someone who was spending a fun hour. The horse story makes me think of foundations we need in life. Ethical foundations, behavioral foundations, health and survival foundations, and, below them all, our purpose for living. These frameworks prop us up. They give us form. We know where we stand. We sigh, deeply.
I know my ethical and spiritual foundation, and it guides me. I think I know how to behave out in society; sometimes I falter, but often, someone will point this out to me. I know how to be healthy and survive, even though I sometimes step away from what I know is right and have to step back onto it. But the deeper purpose in life—that has changed in the last several years. Nat’s and my two daughters are on their own and have been for a few years now. I am still a mother, but for some years now, I have not had to spend most of every day actively teaching and caring for them. They don’t need that now. We navigate an adult relationship with them. My purpose might seem personally narrower, but professionally it has expanded. This year I published a book I’d been working on for many years. And now I look out into the gulf of possibilities for my next projects.
Sometimes that gulf feels giant, too big. Then I imagine Terry Schreiber standing there urging me to stand on my foundation—firmly but with love. Pushing me onto what I know I can do and dream of doing. If I can stand firmly on the foundation that now defines my life as wife, writer, mother of grown daughters, and small-time adventurer, I can end each day with that deep sigh.