BY JANA MAUNEY
For years when people greeted me, “Hey, how are you?”
I quipped, “Livin’ the dream!” frequently letting my voice drip with sarcasm as some task or other that awaited my attention—one that I might not really mind, but which I just didn’t want to do right this second.
That answer often got a chuckle from folks, many nodding, answering, “Absolutely!” I have one friend who, on seeing me after a time, just met me always with, “Still living the dream, aren’t we?”
It wasn’t always this way. More often than not, our interactions came from a place of fun. Still, if anyone said, “What do you dream about?” it probably wouldn’t be whatever we were working on right at that moment. Usually, the upcoming weekend came to mind.
The last few weeks, though, I thought, “You know, living the dream is not that far off.”
My son, who made sure to give me each gray hair I now wear as badges of honor, works as a scientist—doing work I can’t even understand. A man of principle, his dad and I (married 41 years) are amazed at him. And when he misses home, he will say, “I miss the dogs.” He is my son.
I still get to see people I love with whom I worked for decades—and I don’t have to do the real work part. Substitute teaching is not a bad gig. I get a bit of extra for my habits (animals are expensive habits). When I leave, I don’t bring work home. And then, for a few days each week, I’m really retired.
I have dogs who love me, whose highpoint of the day, if I have left them, is the walk we take when I come in the front door and out the back, changing school bags for tennis balls, slapping a hat on my head, doggy faces grinning at me, three creatures whose whole lives light up when they look my way. In these three amazing companions, I see all the dogs I’ve ever loved, always with me, ever running, happy, free. Everyone should feel so loved every day.
Ah, but then, the horses. The miracle of horses in my life brings God’s love real and close—so amazing that they are here at all! There was one amazing week in Israel, riding 5-7 hours a day on those beautiful Arabians, those desert horses. I hung on tight and then, towards the end, rode more freely—an event better than I ever imagined one could be. My own two lovely geldings who lift their beautiful heads and walk, sometimes run, to me when I enter their pasture still make my heart beat faster, the dream fulfilled. For well over 50 years I dreamed of horses—then, there they were.
What if …
What if, when my son had gotten out of college, then hit the wall of 2008, finding jobs easy to find but difficult to keep as they folded one after another, then back into higher education and graduate, then post-graduate school, and away from my close influence even further…
What if, when I watched (again) Secretariat or The Black Stallion, I had not felt, hmmmmm, I wonder…
What if, when I went online, looking for somewhere close to me that I might just see a horse, and touch the fantasy, I had stopped instead of thinking, “There’s not a lot of later left.”
What if, then, seeing those few names I found, I had said, “I’m too old,” or “I can’t afford it,” or any of a hundred other good reasons not to contact the few barns I saw online for lessons.
What if I had missed the horses? It was so close, that decision.
Life could still have been good; even great. For sure, I’d have more cash in my pocket, though just as easily, I’d have found another avenue for spending it. But, oh, the thought that I might have missed them can bring tears to my eyes.
I have heard, and now say to folks, “At the end, you regret what you didn’t do.” Of course, there are some actions taken we regret.
But, oh, my … what if I had missed the horses?
But, I didn’t. And I smile as I remember cantering up those steep, rocky Israeli hills so far across the ocean, a dream trip finally fulfilled post-pandemic closures; as I think about my goofy Tripp stomping over to nip on Ghostie as he feels SURE Ghost got a treat that he (Tripp) missed; my sweet, so sweet, Ghostie, who gently puts his head beside me, yearning for a touch.
As I readied my bags to head for a class last week where I would tell students, “This is your assignment,” I sang quietly to myself. Two teachers talked softly near me, and I didn’t want them to think I was listening. I picked up my stuff and walked on to my day. In my bags, I carried my computer, some knitting, books to read—all fun stuff.
Later, a sweet friend said to me, “You know, I don’t remember hearing you sing before like that.”
And I realize, right now, I pretty much am living the dream; I see friends, I have hobbies; people I love; animals I love—my amazing dogs, and the miracle of horses. I sing more freely. My horses: I sing to them and of them. Just a few years ago, who could’ve imagined it?
Of course, dreams can end—I’m not foolish enough to think no difficulties will arise or I won’t experience life’s searing surprises anymore; it won’t be the first or fifth or nth time.
But, now—right now—by the grace of a God who gives, in so many ways, I live my dreams. For as long as I can, as much as I can, I will be grateful and absorb strength for the hard times.
And be so very, very grateful for the life I live.
After all, I did not miss the horses.
Jana Mauney is a retired teacher, having taught for 44 years. Her first word may well have been, “horse.” She lives in North Carolina with her husband and three border collies and has two beautiful Tennessee Walking Horses who board at a farm close by. She came late to the horses, and it never fails to move her when she walks in their pasture, they lift their beautiful heads, and walk—even sometimes run—to her.
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