I was told that strength comes from individual values built on three tiers. Like the three legs of a kitchen stool that holds me up when I reach to the top shelf for something I need or want. I reflected back to my childhood. What stuck with me over the sixty-plus years? Where had I always turned when I was unhappy? Of all the things that interest me, what brings me peace? What keeps me sane when the world goes crazy and people are mean? Where do I find solace when life hurts?
I confess. It was this very graphic of The Black Stallion that captured me as a toddler. My mother was a reader. She had escaped poverty and traveled the world in her imagination with books. We couldn't afford to buy many. They were a luxury. But there was a king's ransom of them to be found in the public library. With the knees of my corduroys worn through from galloping on my hands and knees around the house, I'd follow my mother through the antiquated doors before scooting quickly to the children's section. There, I drug my fingers along the spines of the stacks until I found the tall, fire-engine red one, the one I knew had a beautiful black stallion on every page. Pulling it out, I'd lower myself to the floor where I curled comfortably against the shelves, turning page after page, dreaming of what it would be like to own that horse.
Our home was full of educational books, so when The Black Stallion was unavailable from the library, I'd peruse the pages of our American Heritage Collection that rested on the shelves in Dad's study. There were books about ships and machines and maps, but the ones that interested me were those about the Native Americans. They lived with horses. They were, in fact, called the Horse Nation. They valued horses, painted them for war, and appreciated the colors of the Appaloosa and the markings of the Medicine hats. Caring for horses was an important stepping stone for a would-be warrior. The wealth of a man was measured by the number of quality horses he could provide to the father of his bride-to-be. Native Americans also told stories around their fires at night, cared for their needy and elderly, wasted nothing of the buffalo they hunted, fought fiercely for what they believed in, and lived with nature. Of course, a four year old would admire such a people.
Our house was bordered by a thick forest of scrub pines and soaring poplars where a little girl could hide for hours on end, building twig fences and stick barns for a herd of plastic dime-store ponies. I could hide behind the massive trunks of the poplars and break bushy branches from the pines to build a fort to hide in and defend. It was my secret place where I could hear my mother call out that dinner was ready but no-one could find me except the squirrels scolding me from their nests above or the mother thrushes scratching beneath the pine needles for worms. From the chartreuse greens of spring to the dull, dry greens of summer, and the brilliant yellows and oranges of fall, the woods sheltered me from outsiders and gave me cooling shade and a place to bury each turtle or kitten or baby bird I found but couldn't save.
Life isn't easy. But if you can find what gives you strength, what gives you peace, you can make it through.