As a horse keeper, I know how important a predictable routine is to my animals. They thrive on a schedule, with meal times at the same time every day and familiar people feeding and handling them. But it doesn’t always work out to keep things comfortably identical day to day.
Some days I have to feed early due to my work schedule, so I’m flipping lights on in the barn when it is still night outside. The horses blink in their adjustment to the sudden light, leaping up from their shavings beds to shake off the sawdust remnants that cling to their coats. Some days I don’t get out to the barn quite when I’m expected, and I can hear them bouncing their empty water buckets and knocking the sides of their stalls with their hoofs, declaring their impatience at my tardiness.
On the days when the weather is terribly windy, wet and cold, the routine of going outside for the day is changed, and the horses must adapt to a day inside their stalls. After several days of establishing their indoor routine, the weather brightens and they are able to go back outside again. I vary their stalls so they become used to going in and out of any stall I ask them to use. I vary the walk to their outdoor enclosures as much as I’m able, to get them accustomed to a new path with unfamiliar sights, sounds and smells, and to trust me that I will get them safely to their destination even if it isn’t the way we took yesterday.
And I expect obedience even if things aren’t the same. Sometimes there is a subtle change in the scenery that I haven’t noticed but the horses always do. If something is a bit out of place from the previous day, or there is something new that wasn’t there before, the horse I’m leading often stops, gives a soft snort, and takes in the new configuration, trying to absorb it and accept it. Once settled, then the horse will move on, satisfied that all is well, even if everything is not the same.
One day, I moved one of our garden gnomes to a new outpost in the yard. The horses were not amused. In their minds, she was not where she belonged and seeing her someplace unfamiliar undid them one by one. Once they accepted her in her new home, it was no longer a problem for them–until I moved her again just to keep them on their toes.
On this New Year’s Day, I feel I’m too often like my horses in my reluctance to gracefully accept change. I prefer things familiar, safe and comfortable. Life rarely serves that up tidily, and in fact, most days are a jumble of coping with the unexpected. I’m not always sure the path I’m on is the straightest one, or the one with the fewest potholes, nor am I that confident that I’ve chosen the best path. I may stop, pull back, try to turn around, even snort a bit. Sometimes I may refuse to take another step.
But there is no turning back. Time leads irrevocably forward, with us in tow, and we must follow, however reluctant we may be. I’m grateful for the gentle flow of the hours and days into years, all too aware of the quickening pace as more of my life has been lived out than lies ahead of me.
Perhaps what I’m needing most this new year is a slower walk, taking the time to look at all things with new eyes, and to breathe each breath appreciatively, keenly aware it was not my last.