The Peace of Wild Things

Andy is marginally spiritual. And I mean, marginally. He comes to church to appease his parents when he visits. We talked about our surfer days on the Florida coast, both of us much younger and cooler than our middle-aged selves. But revisiting those summers of board shorts, Sex Wax, and the perfect wave (or lack thereof) was fun, especially now that we'd grown up to become a doctor and a priest and neither one of us had stepped on a surfboard in years.

We had coffee over hours and talked about slipping over a wave on a surfboard, as close to flying as one can get without actually leaving the ground for both of us. I wondered if surfing was what the spirit of God did over the waters of creation. Andy explained the physics of the act. We talked of the freedom of what being outdoors was for each of us, either hiking in the deep, brambly forests or watching the sun set softly into the deep ocean.

"Yes, the peace of wild things," I offered. Andy shrugged and asked me if the two versions of the Bible were the King James and the New Testament.

A scientific mind with marginal spirituality, indeed. But he's a presence in my life, one of those people who stays in the margins of my life with intermittent emails and sporadic conversations when one or the other thinks to call, which may range from weeks to months to many, many months. I long-ago quit worrying (most of the time) about who God moves in and out of my life. Some people are permanent, those I want holding my hand when I slip from this world into the next. I want Brad and Mary each to hold my hands until I release them and take the lovely hands of God in my last breath. I have a wonderful group of those friends from years, even decades, whom I can call and sob or laugh with, and they take my call, whenever, and love me, however. Some people are newly-around, and they may be around or may not. Friendships need time and trust and space to see if they have the proverbial legs for the long run.

Still others are those acquaintance friends. We meet them, say we'll keep in touch, may even do a fair job for a while. We'll Facebook friend them, post on a wall, but fall away after a while because life is life and only the best love survives the impermanence of life. They live in the margins of our lives and loves, yet they are there, waiting for God to pull them in when God needs their particular voice.

"You look thin. Too thin," he said when he saw me last.

I agreed, then explained how I'd lost weight and couldn't sleep for whatever reason, and the twenty-seven vials of blood I'd recently donated at my doctor's office didn't explain. And life had been crazy. He asked all the scientific medical questions and gave his opinions. I nodded. He said he'd email my doctor to see if he could help. Tired of talking about whatever might be wrong with my health, I told him thanks, and that I'd talk to him later. Later for us usually meant months later.

Later for him meant enough time for me to get home from church. My phone rang.

"You have exactly thirty minutes to get your boots on. You need some mud on the tires." Then he hung up.

Mud on the tires, for this Southern girl, means getting dirty, running in the wild until dust covers you and dirt is in your hair and on your skin. It's being in the freedom of wild things until you remember how to be wild and free and release that part of your soul that needs to be healed by the God who moved over the face of chaos to create order. You either get it or you don't.

Andy showed up, right on time. I had my boots on.

"Where are we going?" I asked.

"To let you run," he said, and turned up the radio. Paula Poundstone and Roy Blount, Jr. opined about the latest politician caught saying something about Arizona's immigration law that made no real logical sense - the law or what the politician said. Forty minutes later we drove up to a horse barn. I climbed out of Andy's too-expensive sports car, and he grabbed his camera equipment.

"Riding?" I asked. "Riding?" I repeated, when Andy kept walking toward a man mucking a stall. They'd obviously met, discussing whatever plan they'd concocted between my "Go in peace to love and serve the Lord" over an hour ago and this moment when I stood in hay and horse shit.

The stable owner motioned me over to a mare. "She needs to be run. She tangled with some barbed wire a while ago. She's still healing, but there's some open pasture there." I ran my hands over her scars, still visible, still healing. The wounds still looked deep to me.

"No, she needs to run," he repeated. We saddled her, and I climbed on her back. She stepped backwards, not sure she should walk out of her stall. After all, she'd been healing in there, safely contained from all that was out there. Her pain had been contained in a small space.

Andy took the reigns and walked us both to the pasture gate. I sat on the mare, watching Andy close the gate to the wide open space. He climbed on the fence.

"You're not riding?"

He shook his head and held up his camera. "I need to take a few test shots. New camera. And I'm a better surfer than rider. But go. I'll watch."

"You're a terrible surfer," I yelled as I turned the mare toward the open. She didn't want to go at first. Neither did I. Whatever injuries we have, at first they are too painful to move. Even after they're healed enough, we're still not sure they won't sear with pain. Staying in a small space seems safest. Not moving at all seems safest. She stuttered and stopped, and I let her. I wanted her to stop. I hadn't been on a horse in a while, and I didn't know if I could ride at a run anymore.

I wasn't sure what I could do anymore, actually. Simply being on her back, resting in the saddle, seemed to be enough. Maybe a slow walk. Maybe that would be enough. A few steps. A few more.

Then a canter. She decided that. She decided to see what she could do, and I was along for the ride. I took a deep breath and let her run. A full, free run. She ran, and I held on and let her run for me. I let her run with me.

She ran so I would remember the freedom and peace of wild things, so I would remember how to run even with the scars, even when I felt like staying still.

After our run, after I helped settle her back into her stall and said a blessing for her gift to me, Andy and I sat on the fence together. He showed me the pictures he'd taken, of her running, of me leaning forward into the wind with the breath of God storming around us as she held me in her run, as she reminded me of what running wounded felt like - that it could be done, with power and life. Life is running wounded, because unless we stay alone in a stall, we'll tangle with the barbs of circumstance, love, and humans. Godly life is remembering, even wounded, we can run and live and love.

Some of the pictures were just her black mane and my auburn hair, soaring together. The last photo was me, leaning against the wooden gate, covered in dirt, smiling. "Told you you just needed some mud on the tires," Andy said.

"That's your professional opinion?"

Andy shrugged. "Sometimes healing is about remembering you're okay, just as you are. What is it you say, the remembering the peace of wild things?"

I looked at the photo of me again, the one of me dirty and laughing after running wild.

"Thanks, Doc."


The Peace of Wild Things
by Wendell Berry

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.


Wormwood's Doxy said…
There was a time when that poem helped to save my life...

I would love to see the photos of you riding that horse. Right now, I need some mud on my own tires.

Vicki Lane said…
Wonderful post! I was directed here by estaminet (I posted a Wendell Berry poem this morning and she knew I'd like this one.) I'm happy to have found you!
I'm Jamie said…
A friend directed me to your blog, and I'm glad she did.
This is a wonderful post and perspective to carry...
I only wish I could see the picture ;)
Beautiful. Beautiful. (Stops. Blows nose. Sniffles. Dries tears. Deep sigh.)

Just beautiful.
Anonymous said…
Ditto Mother Kaeton's words. And I REALLY needed this today. Thank you.

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