Wednesday, August 15, 2012

The Dove of Peace

my old bearded self with (from right to left) Brujja, Trigger and Archimeda  
Copyright   Synthia Maes

Feathered Friend. That’s the name I chose for the stray pigeon that one day walked into our stables right between the legs of our horses, looking at me and cooing kwok as if to say: “Is there anything to eat in this dump?” Our two Jack Russell’s Thelma and Louise looked suspiciously at the bird and in their canine brains I saw a resolution forming: will we attack now or will we attack later?
I forbade them to come near when FF appears for her breakfast, supper and diner.
After a few days, the dove and I understood each other perfectly. Kwok meant: “I’m hungry”. Kwok kwok: “I’m starving, get a move on.”

When FF has a full stomach, she spends time eyeing the horses inquisitively and seems to find delight in evading their hooves at the very last moment. They, at their turn, study the bird carefully, their boney heads near to the ground, their eyes full of wonder and a little bit of suspicion. The canines sit on their haunches, looking alternatively at the scene and at me: we understand: no attack. But still we wonder how it would taste, that creature that’s even smaller than we are.
And I watch this tableau with a sense of gratitude and blessing.
It helps me to forget the past.

For thirteen years, as a travelling writer in mostly war-torn countries, I have witnessed how vile this world can be. In those days, I thought I could endure it all: the violence, the tragically wounded, the misery, the suffering. It was only years afterwards that I realized how wrong I was. Somalia, Bosnia, Kosovo, Iraq, Iran, Mozambique, Burundi, Liberia, Gaza, Burma, Lebanon, (I could go on) tattooed my soul with deep cuts that took years to surface.
And when they did, I lost the will to live.

My “beautiful girls” Archimeda, a pure bred Arabian roan, Brujja, a coal black Argentine, and the reddish quarter horse Trigger are an antidote against the things I’ve seen and witnessed. I love my horses to death and they trust and cherish me. With their sharply honed instincts, they can feel that something in me is broken. Often, we stand head to head with our hearts open, communicating without holding back anything. They see the tears in my eyes, these honest souls, and if need be they will guard me against my sadness for hours. Just standing there, very close, comforting, sighing deeply now and then, shuddering from time to time as if to say: was it so vicious, the things you saw?

 black and white snapshot from Archimeda performing some hand licking J
Copyright   Synthia Maes

In turn, I open my heart for their grief. Horses can cry. I have witnessed it more than once. At those moments, my whole being reaches out for them and then it materializes: deeply felt contact without words. Archimeda is very sensitive, easily frightened, being elevated by a man who did not understand her delicate character. He thought she was aggressive and could not be handled. How wrong he was. Archimeda is the sweetest thing when being treated with kindness. She weeps for the times that she was out of control with fright and confusion. I have been frightened many times in my life, so I understand, I let her know that, she cries, and afterwards she feels like newborn and we play a game of hoppa, me mock chasing her, uttering cries like I imagine Indian tribes howled when playing with their horses. She absolutely loves that and gets all excited, snorting and showing her strength and agility. Brujja has been a horse ball steed. For a horse, that means being treated roughly with the whip and the reins. Horses that are being forced to “play” horse ball have scars where the reins have cut into their mouth by the brute force exerted on them. I caress these scars and Brujja nuzzles me, bows her head and sometimes sheds a tear. I tell her I have seen many other scars and frightful wounds on humans and that the days of suffering for her are over: no more horse ball, no more whipping. In answer, she sighs deeply, her under lip quivering. And then, precisely then, as if she feels her presence is warranted, young Trigger comes to us and with her reddish eyes and her funny ways she brightens us all. We had Trigger since she was a foal and she has no trauma whatsoever. The only thing she knows is kindness and love, and she returns it royally. She has a sense of humor. When Trigger is frightened by something, which happens rarely, she will plants her hooves firmly on the ground and looks at me as if to say: will we attack now or will we attack later?

On these occasions, I softly say to Trigger, winking at Brujja and Archimeda, FF and my two little rascals Thelma and Louise bobbing eagerly with their heads: Easy, sister, don’t forget we have the Dove of Peace in our midst…


TNeal said...

Bob--I appreciate both the agony and the ecstasy you share in this piece. I understand the joy and delight our animal friends bring into our lives. Our young golden makes me laugh and dance with her "come play" antics. At "A Curious Band of Others," I wrote about how my dancing times with Penny help me remember the joy of my faith. Thanks for your sharing.--Tom

Marilyn said...

Bob, thank you for this heart warming story. When I was a child I learned of the connection between animals and humans. My brother stole a german shephard dog who had been beaten so bad, his teeth showed between the permanent tear on his lip. We were moving to another city, and we took Shep with us. People were afraid of him because of his teeth showing, but we knew his gentleness, loyalty and gratitude. He never stopped thanking us, and we never forgot the blessing he gave us.
Blessings to you and your beautiful animals.

Bob Van Laerhoven said...

Hello Marilyn and Neal: many thanks from this Belgian(Flemish) writer and blessings to you both for loving animals, a trait that, sadly enough, is missing in too many of our species.

Robin Levin said...

Bob brings up an important point for writer to remember. While it is our moral obligation to expose the horrors of human affairs, it is possible so depressed over them that one may choose to end one's own life. This happened to Iris Chan after she wrote "The Rape of Nanking." Other well-known writer suicides include Ernest Hemingway and Primo Levi. It is most important when researching the dark side of human existence to keep things in perspective and not succumb to despair.

Bob Van Laerhoven said...

Thank you for your comment, Robin, and your wise words. Fate has brought me, a writer living in a small part(Flanders) of a small country(Belgium) to several war-torn countries. I learned that we all are more vulnerable than we like to think we ware. And writers even more than normal (:-)) people. I have been at the brink of darkness, but my horses are slowly leading me to the Light again...

Mary Kay Barton said...

Thank you for sharing that touching story, proving that we are not left alone in darkness by the higher power if we look for the light. Bless you and your tribe

Bob Van Laerhoven said...

Mary Kay, me and my tribe thank you very much for your kind wishes...My "beautiful girls" absolutely love your words :-)