Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Deal With Chiron

...and the thing about horses. Dr. Kevin likes horses. A lot. More importantly, he's doing some good work with them, healing some people who need something less monkey-minded than a human to set things right.  Good and important works.

I don't like horses. They're beautiful and fast and powerful and all that, I see that, but so is an elk or an antelope or damn near any other large prey species. So I don't dislike horses. They just don't impress me much.

I was raised on a ranch (cue the fade out and flashback music)... or, technically more of a farm. Or a survivalist compound. And I did ranchwork when I was old enough to work. Horses were tools. But, unless you were doing competitive rodeo, they were extremely expensive, high maintenance tools. Not only could a pickup carry more, but over the years it was cheaper to run. The places a pick-up couldn't go? In rough country I was faster and more endurant than a horse. I'm sure the horse could have gone faster, but in that country no rider would let it for fear of the animal breaking a leg.

I had actually thought the horse was kind of a compromise- if you didn't have a teen-aged boy who liked broken country running and a pickup, a horse was probably your best option.

Then one day, my boss and I and a friend had to go way up in the hills to mend some fence. The friend brought mules.  I had always been a little iffy on the difference between mules, donkeys and burros. These mules were big animals. And strong. They carried almost twice as much as a horse the same size. They weren't afraid to run on rough country. And they were smart enough that they responded to voice commands. (Some horses can be trained to voice also, indicating that an extraordinary horse is almost as smart as an average mule.) Better than a horse in every way that mattered to me.  14 year old girls, and the men who want to be them, feel differently, of course. ;)

So Kevin's ribbing me a little on the horse thing, especially with regards to Chiron the centaur. That's his name at the top of this page.  Horses are funny. This is serious.

I don't remember when it hit. I know it was before Roger's thing. I was teaching a close quarters course for my tactical team at the old agency and realized that I wasn't teaching martial artists. These guys weren't hobbyists. And I wasn't teaching self-defense.  I wasn't teaching people how to protect and defend their loved ones.

These were men and who would risk their lives, did risk their lives almost every day for people they didn't even know. They would go hand to hand against odds to save someone they didn't even like. If it came down to it and it wasn't just a stupid gesture but might actually work, they would give their lives.  They walked into this of their own accord.  Every morning they strapped on a gun and kissed the wife or husband good-bye, hugged the kids and went out to make sure bad stuff didn't happen.

I was training people who put it all on the line- and they didn't do it for their best interests or in a way that directly protected the people they love or even people they knew. They just did it. Because it was the right thing to do.  The motto of Spetznaz Team Alpha: "If not me, then who?"

There's no other word. I was training heroes.  In all of history and myth, Chiron is the one who resonates most with that.


Illogic said...

I don't know if it's your writing or the story itself, but I feel the tingle of shivers down my spine when I reach the end of it.

Scott said...

As I get older I appreciate the those kind of public servants more and more.
And I too am baffled by non-female pro-horse romantics over 14.

The full quote (we could say it's like a motto for all Jewish people) is:
"If not me, who? If not now, when?" -Rabbi Hillel.
It's part of the passover ritual.

Unknown said...

Strong post--great story. Yeah, I got a familiar shudder. Nothing funny. Such work takes a toll. Some times it takes a while to realize how down and in we go without sleep/eats/basics far beyond a point it's easy to admit to oneself much less others.

So the wounded healer-hero-protector-warrior-man just doing what needs doing--is deadly serious. We lose too many people after they come off post without a 're-entry plan' or simple 'road map'. More casualties than we are willing to admit, don't you think ?

I think it's 'notable' that "Chiron" is at the top of this blog. If you didn't have steel balls you couldn't pull it off. So, I trust you don't mistake dark humor stimulated by respect for something else.

I follow you re the horses. Just different story lines. My father was a 'slave-driver' with me from about 10-22.....if horses had been involved...I'd probably have taken up horse tipping.

Not sure how 'dark night of the soul' ever stuck. A 'pitch black decade' resonates with me....preceded and followed by less dark 7 year stretches.

Protracted periods of exposure to various forms of vicious, intentional, unpredictable, and interpersonal violence--with no end in sight--can be more frightening than 9 guys moving in to maim you with full support of 'soft handed' petty tyrants in positions of power or flying solo in a city jungle as years blend into decades.

I haven't been man enough to try hanging in the woods with granola guys to date. Losing 'Irish brothers' during battles has wounded me far worse than losing family to death, a woman to divorce, financial security, going to 30-40 suicide-homicide funerals, and the rest.

So, I walk into a stable of horses after being away from them for 20 years...during a period marked by news of serious medical problems, active PTSD, getting a glimpse at real possibility I stayed in too long. As I move from stall to stall, same basic thing happens. Horse decides it's okay to end some imposed 'standing in the corner facing the wall' position, moves slowly but deliberately toward me, sniffs and mouths my hands and arms, places big ole neck on my right shoulder to snuggle and lean into me.

Next thing I have both arms around a horse's neck, tapping out a heartbeat with one hand in silence. I've no idea what's happening-don't care to. Just start confiding in the horse about too much time dealing with physically and inter-personally violent people sensing the horse knows all about it. Monotone, matter of fact, ...the slog has become a way of existing.

So the first horse and me just stand there leaning into each other--no expectations, no worries, just leaning into each other because it seems the natural thing to do. No sentimentality or emotional moments. Maybe sharing a shudder.

Same thing with 4 different horses in succession. Never seen them before. Vaguely aware that hyperarousal is muted, things don't hurt so much, no thoughts, a bit of stillness and quiet.

Took me many weeks to become aware of what was happening during that time with those horses. No point in trying to use words to describe. I can say it was the first time I felt 'safe'---first time in maybe a decade I felt somebody had by back. No need to do or be anything other than what was....that afternoon.

I've been having more of these experiences--but the shifts seem to run deeper, the stillness holding. A bit of relief.

Ten tears in a bucket--muther fock it. I'm okay with horses. I like how you express your not liking them so much. I'm relieved to hear about your wife and kids. I was divorced 7 years ago, 'Daddy's girl' is just now reentering my life----losing nearly 6 years with my daughter from 15-21....most unkind cut of all. My 18 year old son moved through this rough patch together.

And I believe I am the luckiest man alive. Wounds are irrelevant.
I'm up for some fun. I've come across some decent people, reconnected with horses, my dog is a trip, and it looks like there might be a wedding in my future.


Unknown said...

For the record, I am no kind of romantic. Not a horse romantic.

However, if the contents of the above post are construed to be evidence that I am guilty of being 'an over 14 yo non-female pro-horse romantic'...even if the verdict is unanimous feelings of vulnerability or fear of ridicule.

I stand by this statement without shame. Not the least bit interested in 'turning people on' to whatever transpired between me and those horses.

Not looking for support or validation or safety in a group. Right now, live and let live.

Rory said...

Thanks for sourcing the quote, Scott. Interesting tht I know it from a Russian anti-terrorist team. There's an ironic message in there, somewhere.

No worries, Kevin, and no need to justify or defend your views. I do appreciate the story however, and the background.

ush said...

"Losing 'Irish brothers' during battles"

Kevin, I can't resist asking because I'm Irish and have never heard this term before; what's an Irish Brother? Ta

Kami said...

The deal with me and horses (horses that I trust anyway--the ones that run around half-wild and have sworn off humans I stay as far away from as possible) is that we can have fun together. To me in a way they're really big dogs, but instead of pulling me along by a leash, they can carry me. They're friends.

Which is why, although I enjoy riding on rented horses because it's less tiring than hiking and I can go farther faster, it's not the same as riding a horse that knows me or riding a friend's horse that likes people. Rental horses are jaded souls, and I can't blame them for that, tourists being what they are.