Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Inkhat Falls Off A Horse!

First, I apologize for radio silence. Holidays are exciting.

A few days ago I took a fall off a lovely brown thoroughbred. The actual fall was fairly dramatic. Coming to a gymnastic, the gauntlet of the jump course, when my pony, due not to animosity but a sudden loss of confidence, swerved right. This was not a big deal. I lost my balance and slipped to the side, but, determined not to fall off, I began straining back in the saddle. I had one leg half way back over, the other in the stirrup, and my hands around her neck. I had a good shot. Then I heard a high squeal.

I looked up to a very close look at the rear end of another of the horses in the familiar, tensed position which proceeds a kick. From my position on the side of my horse, I was directly between them. After 15 years of riding, I knew enough to be certain that if the hooves connected with any part of me, I would give. Human bodies simply do not win that fight. Instead, my horse used this convenient rear end to literally scrape me off. Taking the hint, and not wanting to be stuck between the two balls of hooves and muscle, I let go and slid to a stop 3 feet away on my knees, looking up at two bewildered horses.

And then I got up, brushed myself off, hopped back on, and did the jumps correctly. I iced the logical areas, and woke up with a small collection of scrapes and bruises. It wasn’t really a thing.

Except I forgot that not everyone falls off a horse multiple times in their lifetime. For that matter, not everyone loses track of how many times they have fallen off. Some people hoped that I wouldn’t die. I never felt close to death. Grave injury? Casts? Sure, but I was fairly in control, even of my own choice to dismount. I attempted to explain this to Amanda from Nimble Toad, but she seemed dubious. She urged me to write a reflective piece on the fall, but it wasn’t a moment of revelation, mostly of impact and, later, dull pain. It did make me think of a fall I had a few years ago, which was revelatory. I wrote a short mediation on it my sophomore year of college. You can have that, instead.

Just off Michigan State University’s campus is a kinetic statue of silver sheet metal called Balanced Soul. It sits just behind the first line of down town buildings, in an alley I often walked through to get coffee on the way to class. I gave a lot of thought to it, especially on the day I had to limp past while it spun delicately and gracefully above me. I had fallen off my horse. I had, indeed, lost my balance.

A balanced soul. It’s a noble goal, given a million names in a million religions. It is the universal cosmic objective. How odd, that we should all strive for the same thing, only with different words. I remember thinking the same thing the summer before, sweating in the Indian heat, reading about Mahatma Gandhi in his own city, knowing the sea he picked salt out of was only a car ride away. The ceiling dripped silently onto the cement behind me. Above me, a fan, knocked off its center, spun sideways. It made a sorrowful groaning noise.

I stared into his family portrait, at the Great Soul as a child. Somewhere under the carefully cropped hair and meticulously arranged suit was there a secret of the universe, or did he discover it somewhere in the African savanna or the great universities of Europe or the mud huts of his own home? Are we born with our future planted inside us? Do we grow into it like shoes? Is the balance simply our movement through life?

That morning my life seemed rather petty. I had never found myself to be good at any one thing, but mediocre at many things. Never a great artist, a great writer, a great scholar. I had average intelligence, fairly pretty, an okay rider. I recall watching a talk show with my mother. They were speaking about child prodigies, explaining the scientific theory of the working of their brains while the children sat, hands folded, staring at the camera, feet swinging below the seats. My mother, shaking her head at the screen, mumbled about how amazing it was; how much she wished she’d been born like that. It took me months to learn to hold a pen correctly, while my peers scribbled away in their notebooks. In riding, I was always in classes with students younger than me, my peers moving to higher and higher levels above me. I failed my first driving test, something I had sworn I would pass the first time simply because my mother hadn’t. I scored average on ACTs. I gradated high school with a solid B. The horse I bought was medium height and of an uninteresting pedigree. He too was cute, if not actually lovely. We never did spectacular, but no one could say we had failed. I finished off my last riding season before college almost completely in the center of the Michigan Hunter Jumper Association’s rankings.

I decided that if I couldn’t be the best at jumping, neither in speed nor style, I would simply concentrate on being a solid rider. Quiet, strong, difficult to remove from the horse’s back. It meant I would rarely place high, but I was at least versatile. When I joined the polo team in college they soon learned that, while I was neither the most aggressive nor the best at connecting with the ball (if I could at all), I could stay on any horse. I would often be just beside the action, spinning in circles on a wound up horse, but at least not on the ground, and at least near play. I was beginning to find my place in the world.

So it was a bit of a surprise when I fell off. It was on my own horse as well; a horse whose temperament had always been calm and steady, not inclined to break or take off. For three years I made the hour drive back home to ride him, carefully harmonizing school, work, and my sport. He seemed calm at the beginning, completely normal, his neck bent in and his back powering forward. His power was concentrated below my legs. At a turn in the fence whatever complaint he had with the world suddenly exploded. I had about a moment to feel his back tense underneath me, and just enough time to feel bitter against my own brain. I was neither strong or fast enough to stop what was about to happen. Then my left hip and shoulder slammed against the sand.

So, what is the worth of a balanced soul, when destiny can come along and mess everything up? Is the worth of fighting something so much stronger than your human body? Of course. I remember the seven year old Ghandi, the great soul standing behind glass in a museum, as unaware of his destiny as this girl, or the perfectly perched sheets of silver. Where is the perfection of the structure? Certainly not still. The artists created the thing to balance in motion, just as the Great Soul was contained, not in the photograph of the little boy, but in the journey to the ocean, the closure of thin fingers around a ball of salt. Holding it to the sun, balanced in his palm.

That's all for today. I'm heading back out to the stable.