Sometimes I see things which are not small, which must be written down, which must be remembered. I think: I want to put this in my memory box and have it always. (I sometimes wonder what this blog is for; now I think it is that memory box, where the precious things can live.)
Today, I saw one of those things.
Up at HorseBack, a young girl was working a horse. Nothing especially wonderful in that, you might say. Except that this particular girl had been in a car crash that induced catastrophic brain and body injuries, so that her life would never be the same. She was going to be a jockey, had graduated from racing school, and then, in seconds, all that future was taken away.
I’m pretty good now with people who have parts missing. I used not to know where to look when I met someone who had no legs or no fingers or no arm or no eye. For God’s sake, shouted my British, embarrassed voice, don’t mention the war. Now I’m so used to it that sometimes I literally don’t notice. But someone in a chair is a whole other order of magnitude. I don’t know why it is different, but it is. I feel myself putting on the pity face, and the pity face is the last thing in the world that anybody wants. The thought of not being able to do everything for myself is my own greatest fear, and I am projecting that onto the chair-bound person.
The interesting thing is that this lasts for about five minutes. I can’t seem to stop myself doing it at the very start, but, before long, the chair fades into the background and the human comes into sharp focus. That human might have a body that has been wrecked, and a brain that has been battered, but they still have their character and their spirit and their idiosyncrasies. Once I get that, I can put the stupid pity face away.
This girl worked a sweet little mare on the ground. The mare is called Ellie-May, and she is one of the kindest horses at HorseBack. She is universally beloved and very well trained, but she is not a trick pony. Nobody taught her to follow a motorised chair, and at first she would not do it. The human had to have some skills. She had to gain Ellie’s trust and empathise with the equine mind and send out signals which the horse would believe. Undaunted, she did all that, and then the mare followed her accurately through a fairly complex obstacle course.
‘I can’t believe she just did that,’ I said. It was a raw, cold day, but I felt as if I were standing in shafts of sunlight.
Perhaps the most wonderful thing was the girl’s mother. I can’t imagine what it would feel like if you see something like this happen to your beloved child. I can’t imagine what you do with all those hopes and dreams you had for that child. I can’t imagine how your heart must break for that child. Yet this mother was making jokes. She made me laugh so much that I had to be asked to be quiet, since I was distracting the horse. The mother not only was full of merriment, but she made jokes about her daughter’s physiotherapy, and told me of the teases they have together. There was not a trace of regret or self-pity.
What strength, I thought in awe, some people have. There are so many unsung people. They are not film stars or famous footballers or prime-time politicians; they grace no magazine covers and win no prizes. They mostly don’t have much money and they have no fame. But there they are, unbowed, getting on with it, making jokes about something which should not really be that funny. They are the kings and queens of the human spirit, but they wear no crown and demand no protocol. They remind me that, whatever happens, one should never give up.
And that was why I wanted to remember, to write it down, to put it safe in the box. That is a memory to keep.