From Chicken Soup for the Horse Lover's Soul II

The Glory of an Imperfect Resurrection

For man there are only three important events:birth, life and death; but he is unaware of being born, he suffers when he dies and he forgets to live.

Jean De La Bruyere

Easter of 1995 had nothing to do with resurrection or life. The Saturday before Easter, I was diagnosed with aggressive, stage-four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. The only good news was that I didn’t have any cancer cells in my spinal fluid, indicating that the cancer had not spread tomy brain. Every other major organ was affected.

Someone else would have thought about their children, but I had no children. Others would have thought about their spouse, but I had no husband. I thought about my nephew, Patrick, who was not yet five, but he had a mother who already loved him beyond all measure. I thought about my mother and realized the news would devastate her, but she had other children, including Patrick’s mother who lived on the same property. By human standards, I believed myself fairly expendable.

My greatest sorrow that day in the intensive care unit at Cleveland University Hospital did not include my own life. I had been in and out of intensive care and in one hospital or another for the last five months. I was so weak I could not change position in bed. My hair had been falling out for weeks from massive doses of prednisone. I needed a machine to push air intomy lungs past the tumors inmy bronchi. I had prettymuch decided that a loving Godwould have endedmy life months before as a kindness.

No. I only thought about a promise I hadmade to a strongwilled bay filly that was coming three that April. I had promised her that she would never be broken like so many horses. By breeding, Mandy was a National Show Horse, three-quarters Arabian and one-quarter American Saddlebred. In reality, she was a trash filly destined for the slaughter sale in Sugarcreek, Ohio, because she was born the wrong color. I paid $200 (meat price) for the neglected filly and she had grown to be my dream horse—beautiful and intelligent and totally oblivious to the violence that so many people called training.My deathwouldmean a fate farworse than death for Mandy.

Mandy was counting on me. So, I embarked on a two-year odyssey of high-dose chemotherapy, radiation, bone biopsies, spinal taps, CT scans, stem cell harvests and bone marrow transplants, blood transfusions, infections, hearing loss, vomiting, alopecia and pain. All to keep a promise to a horse.

When the psychologist suggested I develop a positive vision for the battle raging within my body, I turned to Mandy for inspiration. She rescued me. I closed my eyes and Mandy charged onto the battlefield of my disease with the rage of amare defending her newborn foal. She trampled cancer cells that took the form of snakes into shapeless pulp in the grass. When Mandy finished destroying the cancer snakes, she came to me glistening with sweat from her brave task. Taking me onto her back, she swept me away from the carnage and pain to the top of a high hill. Looking back from that great height, the battlefield became a familiar meadow filled with wild flowers. I knew I was home and safe and free of the nightmare below. I smelled the sweet saltiness of a sweaty horse, felt the swell of her ribs beneath me, heard her hooves pound the earth, tasted the wind racing across the grass. For a moment, I blotted out the foul odor of DMSO, a blend of dead fish and rotted garlic used to preserve stem cells for bone marrow transplants.

By the second year, the vision changed. A time came when I could notmountmy rescuer. “Letme go,” I beggedmymom. “Just close the coffin and let me be dead.”

“What about Mandy?” she asked quietly. “If I let you go, what will I do with Mandy?”

My mother never quit reminding me of my promise to Mandy. If she minded taking second place to a horse, she never said, and she died without my ever asking.

I could abandon anyone but Mandy, so I wept and closed my eyes tightly and dragged myself into the saddle and clung desperately to hermane for the climb up the hill. I did not look back. The vision was no longer about triumphing over my cancer. It was about simply holding on toMandy as tightly as I could to survive. I was consumed by depression and looked for some reassurance that my cancer nightmare would end. I needed proof that it was over and decided that riding Mandy for real, not just in my mind, would be that proof.

Somewhere along the line, I also decided that achievingmy goal would not count if I asked for help. I would not even ask God for help. After all, it was His fault I would not get to ride Mandy until she was six or more.

I am convinced that God is the Divine Horseman, with a flawless sense of timing and feel, and perfect patience. I turned away in anger time and time again, and he waited for me to find the right answer, no matter how long it took. If I were a horse, I would have been in the remedial round pen.

It took six years for me to ask for help.

It also took shatteringmy wrist forme to admit I lacked the strength and flexibility, not to mention bone density, to cope with the insecurities of a mature green horse. And I had so successfully protected Mandy from abuse that she regarded most humans with fear that erupted into aggression. When my brother-in-law tried to remove the saddle while my sister took me to the emergency room when I broke my wrist, Mandy attacked him. Eight hours later, as I worked to free Mandy from the saddle under her belly with one hand, I realized I had created a lethal gap in her education. It took six months for my wrist to heal and nearly a year for Mandy to overcome her phobia of a saddle.

As my health improved, my mother’s health declined and I cared for her with the same devotion she had given me throughout my illness. Her heart grew weak and our time grew short. Mandy understood and waited for me. Two weeks before Easter 2001, I held my mother’s hand as her tired heart stopped. Once again, I found no resurrection for myself among the March daffodils.

Now it was just Mandy and me. Going it alone finally no longer mattered. I turned to the Divine Horseman and asked for help and he opened the gate. He sent me angels—an outspoken friend who granted me no quarter and a horse trainer some called a “horse whisperer” who disliked both titles.

Sherry Lindon introduced me to Clark Howell as “the womanwith the problemhorse Iwas telling you about.” Iwas humiliated.

“My horse and I are just a little stuck,” I corrected politely, unable to look the tall, raw-boned cowboy in the eye. Mandy’s only problem was me.

“Well, . . .” Clark said slowly, “we all get stuck once in a while. The hard part is admitting it.”

I knew then that he knew the awful truth. I wondered if he could feel it the same way Mandy did. I had come to the clinic with Sheri to evaluate Clark and decide if I could trust him with Mandy. With one handshake, he knew I no longer trusted myself.

Clark had organized Pat Parelli’s first clinic in Ohio and was a long-time apostle of natural horsemanship. He understood Mandy’s aggression as the defensiveness of an insecure prey animal. He didn’t mind that I took a vacation to hover outside the round pen and watch his every move as he worked Mandy.

Mandy carried a rider successfully on March 9, 2002, nearly six years from the day I was told I had non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma. Clark’s son, Jesse, had the honor of that first ride and I will always be a little jealous. Ten days later, I rode Mandy myself in Clark’s arena.

I never told Clark why I had to have Mandy home for Easter. I could not explain to him how an empty barn could feel like a tomb on Good Friday. Mandy was supposed to be home by Good Friday, but Clark could not deliver her. I’m sure he knew I was standing beside the answering machine, refusing to pick up. No doubt he thought I was angry, but I was crying. The Divine Horseman asked me to wait. Mandy and I both have a problemwithwaiting for our cues. Iwas left to contemplate the Saturday before Easter as a holy vigil of memories and broken dreams.

Clark promised to bringMandy home on Sunday—Easter. I cried a little harder and was very glad I did not pick up the phone. It is too hard to explain such tears. Clark does not know the significance of his words or that yesterday’s delays and today’s commitments have only made him the instrument of the Divine Horseman. He does not know the redemption and resurrection that is woven intoMandy’s homecoming.

Mandy is my Easter present. Like the resurrection of Lazarus, it does notmatter if we stumble out of the tomb. The Divine Horseman knows accuracy is more important than speed, that controlling all four corners is the bestway tomake a turn. It is not necessary to gallop off the battlefield. It is enough to walk away victorious.

I often ride Mandy to the top of the hill that overlooks the meadow in my vision. I smell her sweat, tangle my fingers in her mane and taste the wind that blows between her ears. From her saddle, I am not afraid to look back, or ahead. It is the glory of an imperfect resurrection.

Linda K. Hren

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners