The older I get, the more I think that life is made of moments. Of course there are great life arcs and plans and goals and sweeps. Humans may lift their eyes to the peaks, and not just stare doggedly at the foothills. But perhaps the paradox is that it is in the foothills where one may find the peaks.
Today, there was a moment.
It sleeted in the early morning, and I woke to a sky the colour of doleful rhinos. It will be a practical day, I thought: get the mare fed and check the rugs and carry the hay. Too horrid for anything else.
Then, little by little the sky began to clear.
Perhaps I’ll just take her round the block, in hand, I thought. I’ve been riding a lot lately, and she adores going for a mooch on the end of her rope, and it is one of the things that we do together that I love the most.
Then the sky cleared a little more.
Perhaps I can even take off the rug, I thought.
I wondered if I should ride, after all. The weather was turning fast. But I had this gentle idea of a walk in my head, and I honoured it.
As we walked away from the field, my sister appeared. The sun, as if from nowhere, shone down on us with vivid conviction.
I knew the sister was busy. I looked at her. ‘Just round the block?’ I said.
So we walked and talked. We talked about everything: life, death, family, love, fear, regret. I had the lovely sister on one side and the lovely mare on the other, and the Scottish hills and the blue sky beyond.
My sister has just lost a friend. She was a friend of all of ours. I remember her from my childhood. She was Italian and she was the most cosmopolitan, glamorous creature I had ever seen. She was always laughing and saying outrageous things. She became my sister’s bosom companion and they spoke of everything. We watched her bring up three impossibly tall, gentle, clever boys. And then she died. The funeral was last week.
That is why we spoke of life and death.
I said: ‘I think that when you get to our age, one death is all deaths. I think it makes us grieve Dad all over again.’
We contemplated this.
I said: ‘We will get through the sadness together.’
I meant all the sadness. The middle of life is when you know that sadnesses will come, not in single spies but in battalions. The only thing you can do is work out some kind of way of dealing with them, so that you are not drowning but waving. At the moment, my main plan is: love, and sticking together. My sister and I shall stick together. The whole family will stick together. I love my family very much today.
The moment came at the end of this long walk and this long conversation.
The three of us were standing, in the sunshine, getting ready to part. The sister and I were finishing our talking. She is leaving tomorrow, so we did a farewell hug. The mare, her sweet head low and relaxed, her eyes soft, her big body gentle and at home in the world, turned to the sister. She gave her velvet muzzle, and the sister stroked it. The mare was very, very still. She was offering something.
I have a secret theory that the kind ones, with the big hearts, can sense human sorrow. A simple moment of sympathy ran between the human and the horse. I watched it, and I felt more touched and proud of my thoroughbred girl than if we had done twenty flying changes. There was something so authentic and generous in that moment that it brought tears to my eyes.
As I walked Red back to the field and gave her her breakfast, as I watched her go politely to her place and stand, waiting for me to put the bowl down in the yellow grass, whinnying a little in anticipation, I thought for the hundredth time what a miracle mare she is. A flinging pied wagtail, the first of the spring, suddenly flew in over our heads and settled on the ground, preening itself in the sun. There was another moment.
Write it down, write it down, shouted the voice in my head. The moments must be recorded. The small moments – of love, of joy, of reality, of honesty, of being alive – are what make me human and actual and true. If I can stack up enough of them, then perhaps there will always be a light, on the darkest day.
I think: I never really know what this blog is for. I think: perhaps it is for this. It is the place where the moments can be stored. It is the crock of gold. It is, as I so often say, because Yeats lives in my head like a singing thing, so that I can take down that book, and slowly read.
There was no camera with us on our walk this morning, but this is what we look like – deep in conversation and thought, with the sympathetic wonder-mare by our side:
And from today:
And speaking of generosity and authenticity – oh, oh, the Dear Readers. What enchanting things you said yesterday. I smiled and smiled and smiled. Kindness of strangers; little arrows of sweetness from one unknown heart to another. That is what the internet is for. It never ceases to amaze me. Thank you.