“If you can see your path laid out in front of you step by step, you know it’s not your path. Your own path you make with every step you take. That’s why it’s your path.”― Joseph Campbell
One warm summer evening when I was five years old, my father took me for a walk down a dusty Tallahassee road. At the nearby stable I saw my first horse and fell passionately in love. From that day on, I went to the stable as often as I could. It was bliss just to be near these magnificent animals—to see them, smell them, and if I was lucky, to touch them.
From then on, I had one goal in life: someday I would have a horse of my own. Each year as my birthday drew near I fantasized about the horse that would be standing outside my window when I awoke on my special day. I nursed this fantasy when we moved to a big city. It continued throughout elementary school, where everyone knew I was horse crazy. If I wasn’t drawing pictures of horses or writing stories about them, I was reading Walter Farley’s Black Stallion books from the school library.
The summer before sixth grade I wrote myself a letter to open when I was sixteen. In the envelope I included the best present I could think of to give my future self: a picture I had drawn titled “A Wild Stallion Sniffing the Air.” It showed a stallion standing high on a cliff overlooking his herd of mares far below.
My father died that winter and I began to lose my unrealistic dreams (Chink! go the bricks as they are added to my protective wall: “Playtime’s over; it’s time to grow up!”). I was also losing my utter confidence in myself (Chink! “Face it, kid; you’re a victim!) Occasionally, however, I got to be with horses, and the month I spent with my mother’s Michigan relatives who leased a black-and-white pinto for me made for the best summer I ever had.
By high school and college my love for horses took second place to boys. I married after graduation, got a job as a third grade teacher, and dreamed about having a child of my own. But the horses were still there, running around in the shadowy summer pastures of my mind, and I still dreamed of owning one someday. Five years later my dream came true when my husband bought me a white albino gelding with light blue eyes. But my dream was short-lived: I was pregnant within a few months and my cautious doctor warned me against riding. We sold Bamboo before my daughter was born.
It was the only thing to do. Motherhood is a full-time job. Isn’t it? When we grow up, we need to be reasonable and give up our unrealistic childhood dreams. Don’t we? Passion is a foolish and dangerous emotion. Isn’t it?
It can be enlightening to examine the symbols that prevail in our outer lives; sometimes they have an amazing correspondence to our psychological development. My youthful confidence and self-sufficiency were symbolized by my fixation on the black stallion, the epitome of powerful masculine energy, combined with dark, feminine, instinctive passion. Had I lived in another place and time, I might have continued to develop the capabilities of this powerful symbol, but, wildness and darkness were not quite acceptable in my world which preferred reason to passion and masculine to feminine.
As I grew older, my symbol acquired some balance and became a tamer, more reasonable, and less passionate (lighter-colored) black-and-white pinto. (Chink!) By the time I was a wife, mother and teacher and had accepted the restrictions placed on women, my symbol was a colorless gelding. Passion and dark femininity were lost and masculine light and reason overshadowed my horse energy, which had become dormant and impotent. (Chink! Chink!)
“We must be willing to let go of the life we planned so as to have the life that is waiting for us.” Joseph Campbell
My choice to be a teacher was guided by my needs for security and societal acceptance, not my real interests or skills. I didn’t even know what these might be. And although becoming a wife and mother were the right choices for me, I was not fulfilled in either capacity. Why? Because I was conforming to ill-fitting, societally transmitted renditions of these roles.
I lived on the surface of my life for several more years. I was a good sport, a good wife and mother, a mediocre tennis player, and an enthusiastic church- and party-goer, looking outside my Self for answers, approval, and temporary relief from my discomfort. Unaware of the wall that covered my true Self, a place where my passion for the black stallion was still alive and well, I assumed I was who and what I appeared to be. What I really was, was a woman following a path laid out for her by her forebears, a woman living her life for others.
Let go of the life I planned? Out of the question….much too dangerous to even think about, for in the first half of my life I was obsessed with building. Rebelling and tearing down weren’t even on my radar. Fortunately, the life that was waiting for me wouldn’t be denied.
The Wilbur Award is given by the Religion Communicators Council for excellence in communicating religious faith and values in the public arena and for encouraging understanding among faith groups on a national level.