GIFT OF A LIFETIME
It’s well into spring. Aspen leaves quiver in a mild breeze, their gentle rustle an accompaniment to the songs of birds that flit from branch to branch.
An eleven-year-old girl sits bareback astride a red pony with a thick, fluffy white mane. They’d been riding for a couple of hours, the heat of the sun causing a slight sweat on the pony’s sides which makes it easier to grip with bare legs. Relaxed and confident, she handles the pony with ease. A light breeze lifts long dark hair that falls to her waist, accentuating large, sky blue eyes. Shorts, a sleeveless top, and bare feet.
The girl stops to survey the scene. A few bees buzz in lazy circles but stay near the flowers that sunny day. She gazes at an azure sky, inhales the scent of rich loam that nurtures millions of spring flowers. A scattering of orange tiger lilies, her grandmother’s favourite, nod in the breeze. Bluebells peak from between long stems of grass, played upon by shifting shadows.
The trail leads within a tunnel of branches that arch overhead, a natural cathedral in which Nature celebrates the return of life. Wrought by thousands of wagon wheels, time and vegetation has softened the trail to gentle curves that meander through the countryside; a dissolving reminder of history.
She walks her pony from the hot sun into the shaded trail, watches the dance of flickering sunshine, catches glimpses of red-breasted robins singing with the joy of spring, maybe even to their human visitor. Other colours flash through the trees; a bluebird, a pair of red-winged blackbirds, and a rare yellow canary.
Her pony’s footfalls are soft on the damp earth. An ineffable, undefined shift makes her want to soak in the scene, to carve a memory. She comes to a halt, absorbing it all.
Her pony turns his head to look at her, waiting for instructions to move on. She squeezes his sides with gentle pressure and they move further into the living cathedral. As it arches above, quietude permeates her body and soul, each step intensifying the sensations until a gentle resonance flows through her. Deep into the living tunnel she rides, every sense alert, absorbing the enveloping joy and green-tinted living light.
She stops and turns to face the way they’ve come, settles to examine the experience.
It’s as though Time has gathered to that one place. Her life stretches ahead, an uncharted mystery as the trail upon which she rides fades into the past.
For some reason, thoughts of a far future brush against her awareness along with a powerful impulse to record the experience. It’s to be stored deep inside in a safe place until a distant time. She examines her senses one at a time, recording each before proceeding to the next as she luxuriates in the joyous surrounding life.
When she’s absorbed all she can, she rides slowly along the rustling trail into the sunlight where she turns to look back, sits in silence. Again, she experiences the heat of the sun on her head and shoulders, feels the slight sting of salty sweat against the inside of her thighs.
It occurs to her that someday she won’t be able to ride on a sunny afternoon just to explore. Someday she’d grow up, have to move away, and most likely be stuck in a city, jammed into an office high above nature; the ground beneath her feet made of concrete instead of grass; the sounds made by people and cars, the scents those of exhaust and sewer gas drifting from grates.
Time stretches far, far into the future.
A flood of compassion pours through her. The person she’d become is ineffable but real. She has an idea. She’d give that future self a gift that would transcend time – a memory. An experience that would never fade. A sanctuary to which she could always return.
Once more she rides into the living cathedral, absorbing everything, forming a permanent memory. She could sense the woman’s arms around her, hear whispers of gratitude. Then she rides away, the soft footfalls of her pony blending with bird-song and rustling leaves.
It’s raining today. Droplets trickle down a wall made of glass as grey clouds hide the sun. A high-rise is going up next door. Going to be twenty-four stories. The builders have reached floor eight. Office noises come from cubicles behind. Computers bleep and printers chug as they spit out volumes of paper, mostly copies of other volumes of paper.
I watch vehicles negotiate the construction zone from my seventeenth-story vantage. A monstrous mound is visible to the north-west – the city dump. I wonder what poisons the land gulls are ingesting as they swarm over it. A new sports arena is being constructed and I foresee future stress as thousands of cars trying to get into downtown meet the thousands trying to get out.
A reflection stares at me from what looks like outside. My hair is short, white with dark streaks. Clear blue eyes watch the city below.
A precious fifty-year old memory pushes into my awareness. It’s a warm spring day, the pony beneath me strong and eager, enjoying the ride as much as I am. Birdsong fills the air, sunshine warms my shoulders, the pony’s hide warm beneath my legs.
The gift I’d given myself all those years ago is still as fresh as that spring day. I smell the earth, feel the light breeze lift my hair, the sensation of well-oiled leather with which I control my mount. He turns his head to look back at me, waiting for a signal to move on.
It’s an odd juxtaposition. I’m that young girl, and I’m the sixty-year-old woman staring down at concrete canyons and the glass walls of a neighbouring office tower. The work here is important to many people. At least we think it is. Taxes are deposited into federal coffers where people count it, set aside a portion for the purposes of governing the country then divide the remainder amongst provinces and territories where it’s further distributed to communities – a far cry from communing with nature.
People go where they need to in order to make a living but I feel my patience wither. The whisper of the past is soft but persistent, powerful with its reminder. My commitment to that young rider expands daily and, as I watch a giant crane haul materials to the top of the growing tower, I feel her insistent call for loyalty to the dream – a wake-up call from long ago.
The long, convoluted journey must end in order to comply with the whisper from my younger self – the reminder not to remain lost forever in the world of bills, money, computers and offices, none of which is important. A call to stop feeding the monstrous living thing that gulps Time like a starving predator.
She reminds me I have something to say. As a child I saw the invisible, sensed things; wandered mysterious paths others did not perceive. Even today, the enigmatic stalks.
The alarm has become insistent – not to be ignored. She has fulfilled her promise to me.
I scan the grey cityscape once more, walk to my computer, and start a letter. It is short – the beginning of the end.
A month later, I walk from the building for the final time. My loyalty to my young self is stronger than the temptation of security and sameness. Without doubts, I return to who I am, armed with knowledge and experience collected over a lifetime.
It is time to do my work.
I see the girl smile as a sunbeam refracts through a tear that trickles down her cheek. I thank her as we meld into one another.
We are one.