My friends Gary and Julie Holmes, who run Shangrila Guest Ranch in southern Virginia, just sent me this photo of their one-year-old daughter, Melody, merrily astride one of the trail horses. The contrast of the tiny tot on the giant draft horse made me laugh out loud. If you look closely, you’ll see Gary (or, more accurately, a bit of Gary’s leg) standing on the other side of Rosie. You can be sure he’s holding on to Melody with all he’s got.
After I was done laughing, I began to parse the photo, which speaks to me at a level far deeper than sight gag. For me, this image represents a boldness and delight in life that all of us might aspire to. It came to me at a time when I’m feeling less than bold: I see the gap between my skills as a fledgling counselor and where I wish to be; I wonder if I truly have the ability to help Mystic recover from his seemingly bottomless trauma. My doubts, whether about working with horses or humans, boil down to the same thing: Am I enough?
When I look at this photo, I see a little girl who knows she’s enough. She embodies fearlessness, joy, and power. She’s independent yet supported by her father’s steadying hand. Other people support her too: the person just out of frame who is holding Rosie’s reins, the photographer capturing her moment of mastery. She grips the horn, providing her own stability and security. As she grows up, she’ll look at this picture and be reminded of her own strength and willingness to take risks.
This enchanting picture reminds me of all the supports I have—family, friends, professors, fellow horse lovers—and, most of all, my parents, who are always standing on the other side of the horse for me. It reminds me of the joys of risk-taking and independence. And it reminds me of one of my father’s favorite poems, “Song of Myself,” by the 19th-century poet Walt Whitman—a stunning paean to the power of self-transcendence. Melody, you’re an inspiration.