A Young Girl, A Horse And A Life Lesson In Forgiveness

Ashley and Prince

It’s very difficult to forgive, especially when the would-be recipient of that forgiveness has hurt us – emotionally, physically or both. Still, I’m not entirely sure why it’s so hard, given that: (1) at some point in our lives all of us have been “guilty” of hurting others – doing things we wish we hadn’t – and longed to be forgiven; and (2) it is indisputable that forgiveness is a liberating force in the lives of both the “forgivor” and the “forgivee.” Maybe we assume that the act or omission that inflicted our pain was intentional and, therefore, is less worthy of forgiveness. Maybe we withhold our forgiveness in retribution (i.e., as a form of “punishment” for the wrong that has been done to us). Maybe our ego simply won’t allow us to forgive, believing that to do so would be a sign of weakness, or maybe we’re simply afraid – fearful that if we forgive and re-trust, if we allow ourselves to be fully vulnerable, it will happen again and hurt even more the second time around. And yet, we know that forgiveness is possible. Our friends tell us stories about it, we read books that are based upon it, and we watch news documentaries of people who, notwithstanding their having been subjected to unimaginable suffering at the hands of another, somehow find the courage and the strength to forgive the person responsible for their pain. For some reason, forgiveness never looks quite as difficult when it’s emanating from someone else’s heart.  Several years ago, my daughter tried to teach me an important lesson about forgiveness. Unfortunately, I just wasn’t paying careful enough attention – again!

On Memorial Day weekend in 2001, Ashley and her mom went out to a local barn to visit “Nikki,” a beautiful young Arabian horse we only recently had begun “leasing” to foster Ashley’s love of riding.  When they arrived, they found Nikki quietly grazing in the back pasture, after being couped up over what had been a long, rain-soaked South Florida weekend.  In what was intended to be a simple act of companionship, Ashley, sans helmet, decided to sit on Nikki’s bare back while he continued to forage through the grass.  The act seemed harmless enough. However, Nikki obviously “misunderstood” the gesture and thought it was time to run and play.  Without warning, he bolted across the field toward the wooden fence that formed the perimeter of the pasture, as Ashley struggled desperately, but unsuccessfully, to gain control using only Nikki’s mane.  Realizing that, at any moment, Nikki was likely to come to an abrupt stop, throwing her into or over the fence and onto an adjacent street, Ashley chose instead to try and get off the horse “on her own terms.”  She slammed into the ground and was momentarily knocked unconscious.  With no one else around, Cyndy somehow managed to get Ashley to the van and rushed her to the local emergency room, where x-rays revealed a severely displaced fracture of the right femoral head, near the hip socket.  After several hours of surgery, which included the insertion of two titanium screws to realign the fracture, doctors placed Ashley in a “Spica” cast (a full body contraption designed by the Marquis de Sade, which typically is reserved for infants with dislocated hips).

Ashley spent the next 10 days in the hospital, recuperating from the surgery, and another 7 weeks in a rented hospital bed and reclining wheelchair, largely unable to care for herself.  Suffice it to say, it was a very difficult way for an active young girl to spend her 13th summer.  However, thanks to her boundless COURAGE and determination (traits that, unbeknownst to her at the time, would one day save her life), Ashley was back on her feet well ahead of schedule and before we knew it, aside from a small scar and the hardware used to put her back together, seemingly “as good as new.” But, there was one more piece to the puzzle that Ashley was intent on putting in place – a piece that, looking back, required every bit as much COURAGE as the battle to overcome the physical and psychological pain of what could well have been a catastrophic accident.  Less than 6 months later (with yours truly downing copious amounts of sedatives!), Ashley returned to the barn and quite literally got back on that horse – a horse whom she loved deeply – and rode off into the pasture as if nothing had happened.  It was profound display of COURAGE on her part and a touching moment of forgiveness and reconciliation between two old friends. We could learn a lot from our children, if we just paid a little closer attention to what they’re trying to tell us through their words – and actions.  I have a much clearer understanding of that now – as I do of COURAGE and forgiveness.


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