Worry is an addiction that interferes with compassion.
On Sunday morning, we lost Kiki.
I arrived at the barn around 8 AM. The two horses who are sharing my journey were standing at the top of a hill that overlooks the whole pasture – but on Saturday, the group had been an inseparable three, reunited fast friends after a few years of living apart. We had just moved them all to a new barn on Saturday morning, a place where we were sure they were all going to be happy and very comfortable. As I walked out to the field, my boys took a couple of cautious steps towards me, then stopped. Worry lit their dark, liquid eyes. When I crested the hill, I saw Kiki down, near the back fence, and not moving. I didn’t have to cross the back field to know he was gone.
Animals become like family to us. We all grieved with Kiki’s owner, Ali. She owned him for twelve years, and taught him everything he knew about how to be a riding horse and a pet, after his previous career as a racehorse. Ali gave Kiki the best of everything, and loved him deeply. When we enter into the relationship of owning an animal, we know that the relationship usually has a lifespan shorter than our own – and yet, we still throw ourselves in, head over heels.
There is nothing logistically easy about the death of a horse, and so there were many details to consider. Could the truck make it across the field? Could we save his blanket? Was there a way to save the fence? And so, we were occupied for most of the morning. Once in awhile, I noticed my horses worriedly pacing along the fence. These two – Nelson and Yale – entered my life by accident, but have become part of the daily rhythm that sustains me. Seeing them upset made me feel their upset. Here’s a photo I snapped of Nelson pacing the fence on top of the hill, watching as his old barnmate was hauled gracelessly away.
Things calmed down by Sunday evening, but my boys did not. For the next three days, they stood on top of one hill in the pasture, overlooking the whole field. They did some grazing, but did not move far from that spot, and barely moved from each other’s sides. When they walked to the barn for feeding, their steps were hesitant, their heads swiveled, and they quickly lost interest in their grain. Watching them, I realized that animals worry as much as we do, in their own way. Whatever they had seen had shaken them. They needed to be careful and watchful, because something big had changed in their world. Even if they couldn’t make rational sense of Kiki’s death, they felt wary of the change, and very restless. After two days, they hadn’t eaten much, or drank while I was there. I was starting to worry.
Things stayed like this until Tuesday morning. I arrived shortly after sunrise, and my heart stopped when I did not see them standing at their hilltop spot.
I called them – once, twice, a third time, nothing.
Entering the barn through its creaky gate, I started to steel myself up for another walk to the back field – and then I heard it. Thunder over the hill. Against the backdrop of the sun cresting the hill, Nelson and Yale came galloping from the pasture, and practically slid to a stop at the barn. Their heads tossed, their nostrils flared, as they snorted their demands for breakfast. It was like I could see the worry disappearing with the steam from their breath.
They were going to be okay. They just needed a little time.
On Tuesday evening, I stayed later in the studio, throwing bowls with a several of my students. I’d assigned them to watch Staley’s latest video, and in response, Drew, a junior, was coating slip on some experiment bowls and a teapot, wiggling his fingers into the stuff and spreading it loosely on the forms. He was having a lot of fun, so – inspired – I started playing with slip on my bowls. I detoured from the tight, worried forms I’d been making for months in anticipation of Empty Bowls, and started to play. Pushing and pulling the form, I think I actually giggled as I pushed holes into pieces. I’d try something; Drew would try something; we sort of mimicked each other across the studio. The other students working on wheels were making bowls for a service project – using their talents for a good cause – and their dedicated energy seemed almost tangible in the air.
It was the most fun I’d had on the wheel in months. It felt like a complete release. All of the worry and responsibility I’ve taken on, all of the changes in my life and work… I was going to be okay. I just needed a little time.
I snapped the featured pic on this post of a board with four pieces I made that day. Two on the right are tight and worried. Two on the left are my gallops across the field. Sometimes craft (art?) synchronizes so, so closely with life, it makes you wonder how the two ever got out of synch in the first place.