A sharp frost, the first of the autumn, was followed by wild sunshine and brilliant blue skies. I rode my mare early and then she and her friend, the little Paint filly, were loaded into the trailer and taken to the vet to have their teeth done. Going to the vet sounds a workaday chore, but here it involves driving up a long slope and looking out over one of the prettiest views for twenty miles. The valley opens like a book and the line of high wooded hills rolls away to the horizon. I always mean to take my camera and I always forget.
The mares were immaculate and the teeth were done and we put them back into their quiet field and then I raced to my desk and wrote 2089 words and did my HorseBack work. I had a heartening message from the wife of one of our veterans and she allowed me to reproduce it on the Facebook page. (For any new readers, HorseBack UK is a charity which uses horses to help veterans with life-changing injury and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, and I write their Facebook page for them. It’s the first voluntary job I’ve ever done, and it brings me weekly joy.)
I think quite a lot about the wives and husbands, the children and parents, the ones in the background, quietly getting on with it, bravely facing their new reality. For all that we concentrate on the veterans themselves, it is never just one person who comes back changed from a hot war. The ripples spread outwards, from a dark pool. This morning, it gave me more satisfaction than I can say to give those families a voice.
Across the Atlantic, another horror is spreading, another shooting, another pointless set of deaths. There are new families who will never be the same, who have to look their own hideous reality in the eye and somehow take its measure. I don’t know how they do it; I don’t know how those smashed hearts go on beating.
I don’t write much here about the big world happenings. I used to, in the beginning, because I am interested in geo-politics and the news. I have twenty-seven opinions on every current event. I’m not sure whether it is my age, or whether it is the internet and the rolling twenty-four hour news which never sleeps, the websites, the vocal commentariat, the Twitter feeders, but it appears, to my bashed old mind, that the world is growing more inexplicable and sometimes mad. Children should not be dying weekly in the greatest superpower the world has ever seen. (Forty-five school shootings this year alone. Forty-five. If that had happened in Britain, people would be marching in the streets; teachers would go on strike; politicians would resign; Whitehall would be thronged with protest banners; the BBC would talk of nothing else.) America, it seems, can do everything except stop its own citizens from being gunned down. It is a place which fascinates me. It is a land of great gifts, rich culture, dazzling talents, astonishing achievements, glittering hopes and dreams. It gave us jazz and put a man on the moon. It has more Nobel Prizes than the next ten countries combined. And yet, for all its brilliance, it cannot do this one thing. It cannot keep its people safe.
A huge question like that – why? why? – defeats me. The madness and the pointlessness, the sorrow and the pity, beat me, in the end, which is why the blog turned back to the small, ordinary things. The known things, the consoling things, the things the bruised heart and the battered mind can take in and understand: these are the things of which I write.
So, as this shattering news broke over a wounded people, I gentled my horse, and watched my dog race over the ground softened with dew, and looked at the hills, and did something for the veterans, and wrote a book, and made some strong coffee and clung on, by my fingernails. As life gets bigger, the small things grow more important, in a wry paradox. If I can hold on to the small things, the turning earth shall not tip me off.