Fifteen years ago I wrote a fan letter to Jay Neugeboren after reading his extraordinary memoir, Imagining Robert, about his brother’s mental illness and their deeply intertwined lives. He wrote back, we met, and I gained a lifelong friend, mentor, and role model.
Last week Jay came to Greensboro to speak at several events sponsored by the Mental Health Association in Greensboro, where I work. He read from Imagining Robert and his latest novel, The American Sun & Wind Moving Picture Company. He spoke to a broad range of people, from mental health professionals to individuals with psychiatric conditions. He touched the hearts and minds of all.
Jay had just one request during his visit: He wanted to meet Mystic. The letter below is Jay’s account of that historic encounter.
I miss you.
It’s a gorgeous fall day here in New York City—the air crisp and clear, the pale blue sky flecked with misty clouds—but nowhere near as gorgeous as it was a week ago when you and I met, and when you let me ride you. Did you know this was the first time in my life that I rode a horse? I hope so, because although I had a wonderful few days in Greensboro, and met many good and fascinating people, for this kid from Brooklyn meeting you was the high point of my stay.
On my first morning in Greensboro, Mary Seymour, your proud owner—and my dear friend—introduced us. The day was stunning, and Flintrock Farm, where you live, sparkled in the morning light. We walked past stables, looked out on grazing horses, and Mary found you where she knew she would, hanging out with friends. She introduced us, and I was—love at first sight?—enchanted.
You were strong, proud, gentle, and, when you gazed at me sideways there was a look in your eye that I can only describe as wise and knowing. Mary put you through your paces with her stick and her voice. You were mildly contrary at first, but soon responded eagerly to her prompts. And you were playful! Then Mary rode you, and when you went from a walk and trot to a canter—oh my, what a wonder you were, your silver mane and tail flying in the wind!
And then came Mary’s question: Would you like to ride him? The answer had been there from the first moment we met, and I mounted you, held a fistful of your mane in my left hand, and was amazed to be up there. Mary led me around the ring, then into the world beyond, and what surprised me was that the movement was not at all an up-and-down camel-like motion, but a gentle almost diagonal movement—a bit to the left, a bit to the right. Mary pulled on the reins so that you turned in small circles, this way and that, and I was astonished at how solid you felt under me, how comfortable I felt on you, and—most of all—how high up I felt.
I remembered riding on my father’s shoulders when I was a boy, and I remembered the crystal clear views I had had the day before, from the airplane, as it headed south along the Eastern coast line—but the view I had riding on you was best of all. I felt tall in body and in spirit.
For the next three days—while meeting people at the Greensboro Public Library, Mental Health Association in Greensboro, Women’s Hospital Education Center, Interactive Resource Center (where I also met the extraordinary Liz Seymour, founder and director of the IRC, and Mary’s sister), FaithAction International House (where I met the vibrant Abigail Seymour, immigration assistant and Mary’s sister), and Temple Emanuel—I thought of you, as I did on my flight home, and as I do now. My purpose in visiting Greensboro was to talk to people about mental illness and mental health—about sources of recovery from the emotional troubles many of us experience on our journey through this life.
The talks went exceptionally well, I thought, but what went best of all were the ways in which meeting you, and riding you, enhanced not only my own mental health, but a state of being that went far beyond what those two words can conjure up, for they enhanced my very joy in being alive, and being able, in the middle of my eighth decade on this earth, to have a new experience that made my heart glad.