Saturday, May 5, 2012

Run for the Roses

It’s high time you joined in the dance.”

            All of my life, for as long as I can remember, I have loved horses. Most little girls go through a horse-obsessed phase; mine never stopped. I was crazy for horses and dogs. My favorite thing to do when I could not have been more than three was to peruse the encyclopedia for horse and dog pictures, color plates preferred. I memorized the various horse and dog breeds and could name them on sight. When I was four,my dad bought two Shetland ponies. A couple of years later, we acquired an elderly palomino mare .These ponies were actually ridden very little, and we didn’t own a saddle so they were mostly ridden bareback. But we had them. Like our dogs and cats and other pets, they became intimate friends. I brushed them and petted them and fed them treats. I knew well the smell and feel of their manes and tails, the sweetness of their breath. I hugged their soft necks and kissed their velvety muzzles. When we had to give them away because we were moving, my heart broke, but I never gave up dreaming of horses.

            It is now many years later and I am in love with my daughter’s sorrel colt, Legend. I relish the feel of his lips lifting a carrot from my hand, the sight of him cavorting across the pasture. I watch my children play with Legend and his three pasture mates, Ghost, Gallant, and Comanche, and my heart is full. In the years between giving up Golde and Flicka and Baby Doll and the day I was able to give my girl her dream, a lot of things happened. During those years I amassed a huge collection of horse books and toy horses. I kept scrapbooks with horse pictures cut from magazines and newspapers (my friend Deb and I used to illicitly swipe them from our history teacher’s back issues of Sports Illustrated) and, along with Deb, I memorized the names of the Kentucky Derby winners all the way back to the beginning. We were “the horse girls”. We still are.

            Today is Derby Day. I always watch with my daughters now. For a long time I didn’t watch it at all, because it made me too sad. My dad and I always watched it together. He loved horses, too. In May of 1987, we watched Spend a Buck take the Derby. Three months later, Dad was gone, and for eighteen years I skipped Derby Day. But then when my daughters came, and one of the first things Raina told me was, “ I LOVE horses,” I knew Derby Day would once again become a special day for me. Last year, we started a new tradition of having Kentucky Hot Browns on that day, and we watch a horse movie or two before the Derby, and I find Dan Fogelberg’s “Run for the Roses” on YouTube and post it to my Facebook page in honor of the day. My dad informed me when the song first came out that it was not really about horses at all, but about life. About people.

“Born in the valley/And raised in the trees
Of Western Kentucky/On wobbly knees
With mama beside you/To help you along
You'll soon be a growing up strong.”

I got my kids relatively late in their lives. I missed those early years. I was not there to help them along when they were tiny, and they had to figure out a lot of things by themselves. Next week is my son’s last week of high school, and he listens patiently to my advice about how to handle college. Yesterday, though, he said, “Mom, you’re gonna have to let me do this on my own.” It’s true. He’ll still be living here, but it will be very different. I won’t be at school with him as I have been for the past seven years, checking on his homework, making sure he has everything he needs, getting his work from his teachers when he’s out sick. He’ll have to be responsible for those things himself, and I know he can. I have to let him go. He is strong and getting stronger all the time. He is a man now, a fine and honorable man. He’s not a yearling any longer.

“All the long, lazy mornings/In pastures of green
The sun on your withers/The wind in your mane
Could never prepare you/For what lies ahead
The run for the roses so red”

Do you remember? Can you still hear the way the birds sounded on a summer morning? I know I can. I can still hear and see and smell and taste and feel my childhood. It is with me every day of my life. Nothing could have prepared me for what lay ahead. I stayed lost in a dream of green grass and endless sky, innocent and free and unaware of how quickly the time was passing. It goes by so incredibly fast.

“And it's run for the roses/As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered/Your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime/In a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance –

When those three-year-old colts (and the occasional filly) burst out of the starting gate, it always takes my breath away. I get a thrill from head to toe. I always have a favorite-often it’s not the horse everyone else favors-but in my heart I’m rooting for all of them. They are running their hearts out, doing what they love. Doing what they were born to do. We were all born for something; we all have a purpose. We must dare to seek the adventure and the romance and the joy (and pain) that God has for us. We are called to join in the dance.

“From sire to sire it's born in the blood
The fire of a mare and the strength of a stud
It's breeding and it's training
And it's something unknown
That drives you and carries you home.”

Yes. Like those colts, we are the sum of our genetic makeup plus life lessons and experience plus Something. The Something is magic and mystical and beautiful. It is God. When I look back at my life, I can see clearly how He was there all the time, guiding and leading and using people and places and things to make me into who He wanted me to be. We are the clay in the hands of the Potter. He’s not finished with us yet.

“And it's run for the roses/As fast as you can
Your fate is delivered/Your moment's at hand
It's the chance of a lifetime/In a lifetime of chance
And it's high time you joined in the dance
It's high time you joined in the dance.”

What is your dance? Or, as John Keating pust it in Dead Poets’ Society, “The powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse. What will your verse be?” 

Those colts will go on after today’s race to run other races. In life, you win some, you lose some. But you have to try. You have to do what you were called to do. If you never try, then you will never know what you could have done, who you might have been. The colts have to get into the starting gate and run the race with all they’ve got. In the end, win or lose, the race itself still counts. To own a colt that is even eligible to run in the Derby is something horse people dream of. They breed and raise and train them for that moment. So go on and live. Join in the dance and run the race that is set before you, that in the end the Father will say, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

Amen and amen.

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