I obviously didn't find Jesus in a cowboy hat. What I found instead were some of the loveliest folks on the planet whose horse was in the stall next to mine.
Their names are Dave and Lisa. They're from downstate, west side. Dave is a businessman. Lisa is a stay-at-home mom. They have 4 20-something kids in college and out. They love horses and came to learn. Lisa couldn't ride because she was caring for her mother with Alzheimer's during the day. So it was just Dave out there with me. Lisa met us for lunch every day.
Now these two were what you'd call The Beautiful People. They've been married 25 years and she is my age. You could tell that they were the prom Queen and King in high school. Gorgeous couple. Really beautiful both inside and out. They took me under their collective wing as I struggled through the hell that was that clinic.
On the third day I was there, the second of the clinic, I noticed that Dave was a bit down so I asked him about it. He told me the following story: Apparently the day before had been the 22nd anniversary of his father's massive life-ending heart attack. He told me how much he loved his Dad and just how heavy the day always has been for him since. He said he plays the whole thing over and over in his mind. He said the images were hard to shake. The tears were streaming down both of our faces as he spoke.
So here is where Jesus did show up. I, too, was incredibly sad. THAT day was the 22nd anniversary of the death of my dear friends Bob and Maxine (Walt's parents). These are the same folks whose furniture figured prominently in my post a few days ago. They just happened to be from Charlevoix, the town where I had been staying during the clinic. Being there always reminds me of them, no matter what time of year it is. Despite the beauty of the surrounding area and all that that place has to offer, I still get stuck in decades past whenever I'm there. It starts when we pull off of I-75. My heart gets heavier and heavier at the same time I have the same familiar giddy sense of anticipation that I used to have. Like maybe this time they'll actually be there. I know I will go to the cemetery. I know it will break my soul wide open once again but I can't wait because I miss them so much. And their son Jeff is buried right near them. The whole thing always takes me back to a very fragile time and leaves me emotionally raw for weeks afterward.
So there I was next to somebody, whose pain and loss were far greater than my own of course, who was experiencing the same kind of heartache at the same time as I was. He told me his story. I told him mine. We waited for Lisa to come so we could all have a nice lunch and finally laugh again.
Sitting there with them was so gently comforting. I listened as they shared about Dave's wonderful father and Lisa's ailing mom. I heard, in between their words, the weight of their situation and the grace with which they bear it every day. They heard my story and my anguish at being so far away from my kids while feeling such deep sorrow. They sensed my vulnerability and did not exploit it. Buck sensed the same thing and did. Bullies do that. I'm probably stronger for both.
We got through the rest of the clinic with a few more weeping casualties. A few of the English ladies and the super pretty western lady who had a mean mare were crying in the barn. I think one of the guys even got super pissed off to the point of looking vaguely teary. One of the ladies who opted out of the last day was an Olympic Dressage rider. He totally hurt her feelings in an obvious drive-by. She was so dejected, she just didn't return for the last day.
The last hour of the last day he started circling me. And watching. And taking potshots at me. Then he finally swooped in and grabbed my horse. He got off his horse and walked over to me and said 'gimme those reins!'