by Laura Crum
(Believe it or not, this rambling post is at least partly about horses and writing—for those who wish I would return to the theme of this blog.)
“Truth is, everybody is going to hurt you; you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for.” --Bob Marley
A friend of mine posted this quote on facebook and it made me think. There is a lot of truth there. The way I often phrase this concept to my son is, “Nothing worth doing is ever easy.” I find this to be true of people, animals, and pretty much everything else in life. I guess it depends on how you define the word “suffering,” but my experience has been that all the good things in my life have also been a very real struggle at times.
Take motherhood. Every mother out there knows exactly what I mean. I don’t really have to say more. There is nothing more rewarding and yet there is also nothing more frustrating. Two halves of a whole. You definitely suffer—you shed tears, are miserable, get angry…etc. But you know from the bottom of your heart that it is entirely worth it. Your love never falters. (I wove all my insights about this experience into my tenth novel—Chasing Cans—for those who are interested.)
My relationship with my much-loved husband wasn’t always easy either. We were both strong people; we butted heads when we disagreed. But there was no moment when I didn’t know that whatever pain came to me from our struggles, Andy was and is entirely worth it. My love never faltered. I don’t believe his did either.
“If she’s amazing she won’t be easy; if she’s easy, she won’t be amazing.” Another quote from Bob Marley.
I can’t say I’m amazing, but I can say for sure I’m not easy. And yet Andy and I were very happy together. At the end of his life, when I apologized to him for all the ways I was difficult, he told me that he wouldn’t change our past even if he could. “You’ve been a good wife to me,” he said. (Of course, this was a guy who liked a challenge. I don’t think he ever would have chosen an easy woman. He never chose the easy road in any part of life. As he put it, “I like scary things. I’m the guy who likes going downhill fast on a bicycle.” And he was also the guy who chose to learn to play the bagpipes in his fifties—after never having played any musical instrument to speak of. Yep, not one for the easy route…)
The more I think about it, the more this concept sinks in for me. And yet we are taught that being “nice,” being “easy to get along with,” is the right thing. Being “difficult” is the wrong thing. I still remember a friend telling me that my mother had once said to her (talking about me), “My oldest daughter can be difficult, but she has a very loving heart.” The friend thought I would be touched by the “loving heart” part, but what I heard was the “difficult” part. Once again branded, as I have been my whole life—as “difficult.”
Yep, if you speak the truth, you are difficult. If you don’t go along with the crowd, you are difficult. If you stand up for what you think or feel, you are difficult. If you don’t knuckle under when pushed on, you are difficult. If you defy authority when authority tries to bully you, you are difficult. If you follow your dreams when others find this inconvenient, you are difficult. So yes, I am difficult. But maybe that’s not so bad?
When it comes to horses, I have known my share of difficult personalities. Perhaps the best horse I ever rode (Flanigan), was rejected by his previous owner for being difficult. (In fact this owner tried to starve the horse into submission and almost killed him—reducing him to skin and bones.) Flanigan was cinchy and he would buck. He also wasn’t friendly and would pin his ears at you and scowl ferociously. But if you handled him appropriately, he would do anything you asked, and he was an immensely strong, competent horse that could perform in amazing ways. I was able to do many things in my life that I can’t imagine I ever would have done without this particular horse (compete effectively at team roping, cross the Sierras numerous times over some very rough passes…etc). I loved Flanigan. But he was undeniably difficult in many ways. A strong, honest, opinionated personality—with a heart of gold. Maybe that’s not such a bad thing?
I was sitting in my barn one evening pondering my many faults and being sad for all the times I was/am difficult for those that I love. My little yellow horse walked up to the fence and nickered at me. And then, suddenly, for a brief moment, I really got it.
Because Sunny is the personification of difficult. Those who have read this blog for a while may remember my numerous posts about the way this horse wants and needs to test his owner/rider/handler. Sunny will periodically try to evade being caught, offer to kick, offer to nip when cinched, try to step on your foot when being saddled, try to evade being wormed or fly sprayed, refuse to load in the trailer, try to balk when he’d prefer not to go a certain way, crow hop when he’s feeling resistant…etc. Sunny doesn’t do any of these things in a very determined way—if you are firm with him he knocks off the cross grained behavior very quickly. But he always needs to try it occasionally—it’s just part of who he is. The thing is that I don’t mind it at all.
I’m quite willing to conflict with Sunny when he asks for it, and set him straight on who is the boss in our relationship. I’ll wallop him any time he needs/demands it. But I’m not angry with him. I like him. His ornery ways just make him interesting. And it is this very same tough-minded attitude that makes him such a steady, confident, reliable trail horse—and it is for this reliable-ness that I love him.
Because I do love Sunny. I love him because he’s come through for me over and over again—every time it counts. He’s kept me intact and helped me keep my son safe in all kinds of situations that could have gone the wrong way. I trusted him and my trust was not misplaced. I love him for what he’s given me and I will take care of him for the rest of his life out of love.
Would I have loved him more if he was easier and sweeter? I don’t think so. It is his tough mindedness that gave him the ability to be so confident and reliable. And it is his funny, ornery personality that makes him so interesting. I love him the way he is—his cranky ways don’t bother me. And in the moment when this truly sunk into my mind, I understood that maybe Andy felt that way about me.
Because for all my cross grained ways I am reliable as Sunny is reliable. I came through for my husband and son in every way that I knew how—I was and am completely devoted to them. Maybe being difficult is not just a negative? Sunny’s ornery, opinionated ways are honest and open—he’s not afraid to show who he is and how he feels. I like that about him. I like his strength of mind. Whatever frustration he’s caused me, he’s been entirely worth it.
Sunny and Flanigan were and are two very strong individuals—and it is that very strength that caused me to love them. Just as it was the huge strength of character in my husband that drew me to him. Strong beings aren’t often easy. And maybe love is partly about feeling free to express who you are--even when it is difficult for others--and trusting that you will still be loved. As I say to my son, "Nothing worth doing is ever easy." Perhaps I should add, "Love isn't about what's easy, either."
This has been true (for me) not only concerning personalities and relationships, but also events, activities, disciplines…you name it. Finishing my first novel wasn’t easy. It took persisting in the face of much undermining by “well meaning” friends and family members. Getting published by a major publisher wasn’t easy. It took years, lots of struggle, and many dark moments. Learning to train horses and compete effectively at cutting and team roping wasn’t easy. Ditto the years, struggle and dark moments. Creating a garden in these dry California hills complete with veggies, greenhouse, rambling roses, fruit trees, swimming pond…etc—yep, took years of struggle and constant effort. Not easy at all. But all those things were entirely worth it.
So I guess my take home message is that maybe we should look past what is easy. In horses, and people and life pursuits. Instead of looking for what’s easy, maybe we should look for what’s worth suffering for. Any takers?
I'm so happy to hear you're difficult. I love difficult people and horses. I've had a few difficult horses myself, who had gotten themselves in trouble with other people and faced bleak futures. I could never understand people who gave up on them, because, like you said, once we came to an understanding they were wonderful. One of my dearest friends ever was also one of the most difficult people I've ever known, and also one of the bests hands with a horse that I've ever known. She died a couple of years ago, largely because she smoked and ignored her health and symptoms and I still talk to her and tell her how angry I am that she did that.
Bob Marley had a lot of insightful messages worth pondering at length; like you have Laura. <3
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