Brushing the Soul

Portrait of Gus

Gus on a summer's day

I haven’t posted since January 11! That breaks the first rule of blogging: Thou shalt write regularly. To which I answer, Life happens. Sometimes it throws a curve ball, or a roadblock, or some other kind of obstacle in our paths. Or sometimes we have very large tasks that take time to plan and do.

In his book, The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen R. Covey called these large tasks “Big Rocks.” I’ve had a lot of Big Rocks to move since the middle of January, but they are mostly moved.

Moving my husband’s business occupied Feb. 25 through March 3. We sorted, sifted, tossed, donated, packed and moved to a lovely new location in our town that better fits his business. Then we had to unpack and set up the servers, the network, the PCs, the desks, the books, and settle it all.

Somewhere along in there I learned that my sister’s battle with cancer is in its final stages. There is nothing more to be done for her. The hardest part about that is knowing it didn’t have to happen. At the first sign of a problem, she went to her doctor. He blew her off. “You’re just getting old.”

She had to wait three months before he went on vacation and she could get another opinion from a different medical practitioner in that clinic. That was in February 2009. Three years, several types of chemo, and two major surgeries later, we are here. Nearing the end of the journey.

Do you know what anger feels like? I thought I did, but I’ve learned better. Thinking of the uselessness of this, the waste of her life, I am at times incendiary with rage. Beowulf’s dragon breathes its scorching fire; I see it now as I write. My fury could consume me and leave me a pile of ashes on the floor, an act of spontaneous combustion.

That’s where it stops. There will be no revenge, no retaliation. Eventually, I may be able to forgive the doctor because as a Christian I’m enjoined to do so. But feelings are not so governable, and I doubt I’ll ever think his attitude was right.

I pray about this. Of course I do.

I go out to Gus’s place. Shoveling out his shelter, carting the road apples to the manure pile, I work off the worst of the anger. I put on his halter and he cocks an ear at me to sense if I’m in a mood he might have to worry about. I loop the lead rope around a fence post because he hates to have his head confined by being tied, and I set to work.

One hand holds the rubber curry, the other holds the stiff brush. I begin with his face, lightly with the brush only, and work down his neck. Curry and brush, curry and brush, following the lie of his coat, I clean the gray mud off him.

He moves around and tries to walk away, testing me, but I bring him back. Four or five times. The gray cracks and blows away and the rich, red-brown winter coat emerges. He stands, head up, ears swiveling as he watches for predators.

I’m at his ribs now, brushing under his barrel, then in long sweeping strokes from neck across the shoulder down the flank. From withers to tail. By the time I’ve brushed both sides and his rump, the lowering sun sets the Swan Range on fire.

A stray beam makes his coat shine. I laugh out loud at the beauty and wonder of the moment. He stretches out his neck and yawns, licks his lips. We are happy together.

I slap at the inch-long dead hairs on my coat, and spit them out of my mouth. There will be more mud to brush off, more hairs that stick to my face and get in my mouth. There will be more road apples to shovel.

Somehow, though, brushing Gus, my soul feels burnished.

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16 thoughts on “Brushing the Soul

  1. Jodi Lea Stewart

    Great words, tragic story, mystifying horse “medicine.” Carol, I have to add that I am a great fan of the way you present the written word. Lovely! As Richard Prosch already said, “…not a word wasted.” Thanks!

  2. Arletta Dawdy

    I felt this beautiful experience demanded to be written and you did it so very gently and caringly.
    My husband had a similar experience about his condition, being dismissed as arthritis of old age when it was mestastisized kidney cancer that ate at his hip and pelvic area. It can be hard to forgive in these circumstances.
    Best to you, your sister and all your family.

    1. Carol Buchanan Post author

      Thank you, Arletta. My prayers are with you, too. That’s a terrible thing to happen.

      (Sorry I didn’t reply yesterday. I couldn’t get the blog to come up for some reason.)

  3. Heidi M. Thomas

    Carol, this is a beautiful piece, so heartfelt and so touching. Horses can be good friends and the action of taking care of them also takes care of you. Thank you for sharing. My prayers are with you and your sister.

  4. Richard Prosch

    That’s a beautiful piece, Carol. The imagery of fire to consume or heal, the way you tied your Big Rocks into your sister’s story, through to Gus –fine writing, not a word wasted.
    You are in my thoughts and prayers.

  5. Sandy Nathan

    Carol,

    I’m so sorry to hear about your sister and the doctor who let her down. My prayers to all of you.

    Isn’t it amazing how horses can fix things? They’re so physical and in the present, they seem like they aren’t spiritual at all. But they are, so much.

    Many hugs,
    Sandy

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