As a metaphor for life, I have always felt that horseback riding fit pretty well.
I was given a good horse. For a long time I was a little shy with him and kept him at a slow walk. Later, I was a little too crazy and just let him run. We busted down a few fences and climbed some mountains. Whenever I fell off, he just stood around until I was able to climb back up. I admit, I rode him a bit hard at times. These days, we're both happy to keep it at a trot.
At times, I turn in the saddle and look back a way. Most of the trail has grown over. Hopefully the next man through won't notice too much damage I have done. Maybe a notch on a tree or two might have actually helped. I hope so.
The trail ahead is even less clear. In the past we might have galloped up the next crest to see what was on the other side, but by now, we've seen most other sides, and one pretty much reminds us of another. We just save our energy and enjoy the ride.
A man can't help wondering how long his trail is, though.
Psalms 90 states:
"The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years, yet is their strength labor and sorrow; for it is soon cut off, and we fly away."
Not exactly comforting, especially since I am coming up on threescore and thirteen.
The fact is, though, I feel good and I am reasonably happy and productive. The horse under me is still strong and willing. We may not have a lot of jumps left, but we won't slump in the rodeo parade.
The reason for these thoughts is twofold:
One, a new year is approaching, presenting questions which only time can answer.
Two, I have recently lost one of my best friends, and he was younger than I.
Pete's horse was a Pinto, I imagine -- about 14 hands high but sprightly and smart, sure-footed and dependable, never left the trail except to find clear water or good grazing. If we had been real cowboys, Pete would have been a top hand and a man to have along for any reason.
I knew him long before I met him. He was on a short list of people I hoped to hang out with and call friend. I didn't really expect to find very many folks who met that criteria at my age, but after moving to Payson, I have met several.
Pete was gentle, not soft. His principles were rock-bound, but he knew his way around a direct argument. I have seen him many times hold his ground in a way that had the opposition almost apologizing for not fully understanding the whole picture. And, while I think he was fearless, he was not foolish. He knew the odds as well as a Vegas dealer. He just picked his spots well.
He became an instant friend, and, unknown to him, someone I admired enormously. A day or an evening with him passed easily and warmly. He was knowledgeable and up to date on most subjects. His judgment was keen, never led by popular mentality. On a golf course, he was a fierce competitor, but he had compassion for the loser, which happened to be me more than once or twice.
But, he ran silent and deep most of the time. I imagine someone not taking a second look might have taken for his demeanor shy or even aloof. The wicked, dry humor and sharp observations were usually meant for a small circle, and I was always proud to be included.
Not long ago, Pete was playing golf regularly and well. Then, prostate cancer was diagnosed. He took all the treatments and was pronounced "clean." Something was still wrong, though. Something had been triggered in other parts of his body. Within a few short weeks, he couldn't get out of the house.
Some of us went to see him a few times on weekends. He seemed better -- cheerful and almost playful. We drank excellent wine from his cellar, and told old stories and new ones. We were scheduled to go again last Sunday, but an early morning phone call stopped us short. Pete's trail had come to its end.
In the blink of an eye, the world changed. We had such grand plans for next summer. Our regular golf outings would resume. Meals would be shared. Trips had been discussed.
"For everything there is a season and a time."
No man knows for sure where his trail will wind or for how long.
For a too-short period, I rode with one of the best -- Pete Dygart, 1940 - 2007.