There is sunshine and wind and the snow is melting. I go down to the horses and meet my posse. These two sisters and their mum are my bubble; they are the one household I am allowed to see. We meet outside every day and social distance like crazy things, but they are human and they are real and they are full of life and laughter and that makes all the difference, even six feet away. I always say the red mare has saved my sanity, but these three people do it too.
The mum has gone off on a mercy mission, and so it’s just me and the girls. Often, when I go to the field I’m in a bit of a hurry because I’ve got to run back to my desk and get to work. There is always so much work and so little time. But today I think: sod it. I’m going to luxuriate in this human contact, because we are all social animals and we need our herds just as horses do.
So we three give ourselves the gift of time, and we play. I love teaching through play: I teach the girls by making everything a game; we all teach the horses by inventiveness and creativity. ‘Tell your Freya a story,’ I say to Kayleigh, the older and more serious of the two young ones. ‘Invite her into your story.’ The children are amazingly good at this. They once fixed a bridling issue with our tentative little Connemara mare by pretending they were mermaids and fish. It worked a treat. I never heard such laughter, and Clova has bridled herself ever since that glorious day.
Cara, the younger, more antic sister, works on getting our sweet Florence used to the saddle. They have a terrific tale going on at one end of the shed, whilst Kayleigh weaves her own fable at the other. In the middle, I stand with the red mare and add to our own myth and legend. (She is mythical, and legendary, so she does’t get anything as ordinary as a straight story.)
For a moment, I stop and listen. I hear murmuring and laugher and small exclamations, as the girls make up their epics. It is like the sound of birdsong. For a moment, everything in the entire world is all right.
We do a thing with our horses. We really, really see them. We listen to them. We hunt down their slightest signs, so we can tell where they are that day. Are they a little jangled up, because they didn’t get enough sleep? Are they looking for danger, or happy in their skin? What do they need from us?
I talk about that a little this morning, and I think: that’s just what humans need too. I think all of us need to be seen. Truly, deeply seen, and acknowledged, and honoured, so that we know we exist. That’s why I love working with horses, because those great, mysterious, sentient creatures remind me of the most important principles of all life, not just equine life.
I come back to my desk and take a quick peek at Twitter. (I do this every so often just to check that the world has not ended. I look at the trending topics, and as long as there’s a footballer I’ve never heard of or a reality television star whose name means nothing to me, then I know that the dear old planet will keep on turning.) It turns out to be one of those named days, the ones that some mysterious committee makes up – Random Acts of Kindness Day.
I think of kindness, and how it can sound like a rather bland thing. The cool people are out there being satirical or radical or revolutionary. Nobody ever got a headline or a television show for being kind. (I sometimes think they get those things for being shouty or deliberately contrary or cruelly ironic.)
But I think kindness is a staunch, sturdy thing. It’s a tough thing. It’s much easier to be mean or cross, especially at the moment, when all our amygdalas have been hijacked and our adrenal glands are buggered. Kindness takes will, and care, and thought. It involves a lot of other demanding stuff like forgiveness and empathy and not taking everything personally. (That’s something the red mare taught me well: not everything is about me. This maddens me sometimes, because my ego, which is all dressed up in a feather boa and a tremendous hat, is perfectly convinced that everything absolutely is about me, and it loathes being contradicted.)
Kindness is hard work. It means thinking before you speak; it means remembering that not everyone is put on earth to do and say what you want them to do and say; it means not doing the easy thing.
I’m thinking of this at the moment because a random bloke on Twitter said something mildly disobliging yesterday and I was feeling a bit raw and grumpy at the time and I so, so wanted to take him out behind the bike shed and show him who was boss. And I had to stop myself, because who knows what has happened to him? Maybe his dog just died or he’s lost his job or he always wanted to be an astronaut and he’s finally had to face the fact that he is never, ever going to space. He will never slip the surly bonds. Perhaps he was tweeting out of crushing disappointment, as he watched his dreams turn to dust.
If I were a really, really good person, I would have sent him true words of kindness, but I didn’t quite have that in me. And I didn’t know how to phrase it without sounding mildly patronising. But I did leave him alone. He’s got enough on his plate without a cross woman telling him he was rude.
I think of all the forms that kindness takes. Sometimes it is being patient. Sometimes it is offering words of encouragement. Sometimes it is just being there, listening. It’s letting another person be their true self. It’s deciding not to criticise. It’s saying yes instead of no.
I’ll probably never quite get there, to the dizzy Everest summit of kindness. (There are, I think, some people who seem to have the quality in their bones, and they just do it without thinking. I love those people.) But I think it’s a good life’s work. It’s a fine ambition. It is something to aspire to, and we all need something to aspire to just now.