marvel and dispair.

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This morning I sat on a bale of hay and quietly watched the horses for over an hour. I wore Carl’s jacket over my own and so, despite cold temps, I was warm. While the horses gratefully ate their sweet feed and then started in on the hay I had put out for them, the dogs (Louie, Ella and Henry), moved together in a perfect triangle, noses touching, sniffing the ground and happily gnawing on frozen horse turds.

I thought about how, when these horses, Colorado and Dakota, came into my life, it was made divinely very clear to me that they would teach me about love.They would teach me how to love and be loved. Before Carl, I had never experienced a *truly* healthy relationship with a man. After getting divorced, I was single for nearly three years. Then one day, while standing in the kitchen, I looked out the window and, in my mind’s eye, got a flash of what true and good and healthy love looked like. I don’t know where it came from, but the vision stuck with me as clear as precious crystal. In truth, I didn’t think I was the kind of woman that could have that sort of relationship. Such are the limiting lies we sometimes tell ourselves. But during this time, every day, I was outside with the horses watching their movements, their give and take, their love, their care, their soft compromises for each other. They moved through the woods and the pasture, always with one eye and an ear watching out for the other. They moved as one entity, even with occasional distance between them. Their tenderness for one another was remarkable.

I observed and learned and spent an entire year untangling burrs from their manes and tails. My relationship with them grew deeper. I lost much of my jumpiness and got more comfortable in their presence.In the process, this endless untangling slowly built a bridge to a better relationship with myself, too. In learning to trust the horses, I learned how to once again trust myself. I found a solid and dependable place within myself that I had never before known. From this place, my friendship with Carl grew into deep love and mutual respect. I began to realize that he was the good man I had gotten a glimpse of that morning I looked out the window so long ago.

Carl and I talked about the horses every day. He loved them and was as interested in them as me. They became “our” horses. I loved sharing them with him. We made space for them in the possibility of every plan we made together. He knew how much they meant to me and would have done anything to make sure they would remain in my life, no matter what. I began to dream of moving deeper into a life with horses. Carl was, through and through, a part of that dream.

If it weren’t for the horses, I would not have ever stayed in Bemidji for as long as I did. I would have returned to Minneapolis full-time or maybe even moved somewhere else entirely. Had I done that, it is quite possible that our paths would have missed each other. I have always thought, since the beginning, that it was these horses that created the meeting ground for Carl and I to come into each other’s lives. God and the angels that surround us knew all along.

And so this morning I sat and watched Colorado and Dakota, reveling at how much alike they are to Carl and me. Plump, warm tears rolled down my face. I whispered Colorado’s name and he looked up at me with the sweetest, gentlest eyes. Like Carl would do. Carl cared so selflessly for me. And I for him. I remembered talking with Carl over the phone about how Dakota panics when Colorado is out of her sight. He said, “Just like you panic when I’m gone for too long.” His words were so true. Carl had an easier time with the miles that often separated us. I sat on that hay bale watching the horses and wondered: why am I the one who got left behind? I am the one who gets scared. I’m the one who has a harder time being left alone. And yet…I would never wish for him to be the one to be left behind. I love him too much. Never, never, never would I want to see him this sad, this lost, this scared.

Last night I dreamed that Carl and I went to find a wedding band. We were at Ken K. Thompson Jewelry where Dean, a very dear and old family friend, stood behind the jewelry counter helping us create our very own design. Dean was so thoughtful and caring. These weren’t the usual circumstances. Even in the dream, Carl was with me, but in the spirit realm. Somehow, Dean was aware of this. We decided on a simple band. On the inside was an inscription in delicate cursive lettering, “Until we meet again.” The outside had a single tiny star-shaped diamond, a reminder that Carl would always be my north star.

With the daylight, I wonder how I will ever find my way out from under this dark cloud. This morning’s gift, despite everything, is relief from yesterday’s horrible anxiety. Upon waking, the dogs were excessively snuggly. Kissing, kissing, kissing me until I could barely breathe. More love, it was a good way start to the day. While outside, I brushed a few burrs from the horses manes. I made coffee and put it in Carl’s thermos to keep it warm. I marveled at the amount of tears that flow from my eyes.

I marvel and despair over everything, a dependable and oscillating pattern that, if I can just find a way to allow myself to surrender to it, will lead me somewhere wholly true and good. These horses, as always, remain my teachers. In powerful ways, they continue to instruct me in love and trust, of the deepest kind.

Yesterday, while going through cards and stacks of mail, I came across the memorial program from Carl’s funeral. His sisters chose a bible verse that was included beneath a photo of him. It reads…

“Peace I leave with you,
My peace I give to you;
not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your heart be troubled,
neither let it be afraid.”
~John 14

Everyone keeps telling me how strong they think I am. I am not.
But, because Carl would want that for me, I try.
I try.
I try.

I love you, Carl Bratlien. Until we meet again…
I love you.

{originally published Dec 18, 2014}

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