High Horse

Dentzel Co. Horse circa 1910

Our mother died last year before reaching her 86th birthday. She didn’t die from COVID but the awful avalanche of complications that arose while trying to arrange medical care during the pandemic definitely crushed her (and our family) mercilessly.

An affliction novelty that makes it impossible to breathe on your own, our most rudimentary life instinct becomes instead a prisoner’s hard labor. Inspiration normally has so many wonderful meanings. Suffering lurks around it now, though, like a smirking opportunist. The kind of wretch that coldly loots one’s homestead while the mourning family huddles together graveside. Remember when burials were possible? Still, harsh skeptics have a matter-of-fact attitude about keeping a national tally of the smothered. That it is, and always was, inevitable collateral damage. Blank faces and odd shoulder shrugs during an other’s terrible distress; the same sort of disinterest one might convey about yet another goldfish floating upside down.

A cousin recently sent me a picture taken when I was only three. There I am, sitting high on a wooden horse while Mom carefully guards me. She steadied me a lot over the decades of brambles, bumbles, and braggadocio that I expected her to follow. In innocence we posed by a Merry Go Round carving because that’s where parents love to take their kids. Up high then gliding lower, playfulness is abundant within such boisterous circles as calliope music joyfully drowns out what an admission ticket actually costs. Giggling children don’t notice and adults don’t care that progress can be very imaginary. Entertainment for its own sake cutely obscures the oscillations behind the endless chase.

Sally bounces on an ostrich. Billy soars atop a camel. Freddie straddles a tiger just like the stuffed one that guards the dreams of his pillowed bed. I pretend to gallop on a white stallion with scant physical evidence except my childish neighs. Nobody worries about who’s the farthest ahead when the delights of a timeless ride enthrall everyone so much they don’t care about getting to finality. I stood alongside an enchanted grandchild at the Burlington City Park Carousel two years ago and still smiled plenty. It unexpectedly reminded me of a magazine cartoon with two men looking at a map while traveling on a destitute back road. The bubble caption from inside the vehicle said,” I don’t know exactly where we are but we seem to be making good time.”

Mister Ed was a naughty talking horse on a TV sitcom during the 1960s. The show’s catchy theme song,“A horse is a horse. Of course, of course”, was the tease behind the tormenting of owner Wilbur that the audience sang along with. Getting up on your high horse, however, trespasses far beyond silly comedy with its glaring arrogance. Excessive grandeur is initially ridiculous and eventually atrocious. Derogatory judgment tends to ensnare the same person that tries to lasso someone else with it. No person and no group is strengthened by a propaganda of contempt that trivializes another person’s struggles. Some things may never make sense to us but neither does mocking elevate a pompous taunter.

Self- righteousness is a giddy feeling that evidently is contagious. Maybe we act mean to others as a way to ward off what secretly terrifies us? Anaïs Nin wrote, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” Eulogies of great people confirm the worth of their heart insights, not their haughtiness.

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