(Thank you to Lucas Nease for submitting this entry as a guest blogger!)
I once met a man who was riding from Buffalo to Santa Fe. I had run out of gas on a road in the plains of eastern Colorado. It was just before sunset and I was walking back up the road to where I had last seen a gas station sign. I saw him camped in the field with his horse staked nearby.
He looked older than he was, and you could see in his eyes that he had the wisdom of many years beyond even what he looked. He was dressed simply, didn’t have much with him besides the horse and supplies, and he had grey whiskers and rough skin. I went over to say hello and we began to chat. He had a spark in his eye that showed joy and I asked him how he came to make this trip by horseback and how he came to possess this wisdom and joy. He told me that the reason for both was the same. He had learned a secret that changed how he saw life. I sat and shared his fire with him while he told me his story. He said that there is one thing that I needed to know about this life; one secret to making every day worth living. He discovered that secret and as we sat watching the stars begin to twinkle in the sky, he shared with me the thing that changed his life.
He said that he once had a wonderful home, a beautiful wife and a great career. However, as all things do, this golden age of his life eventually came to a close. His company was cheating, unbeknownst to him and they got caught. He was labeled an accomplice and banned from ever working in his field again. His wife, accustomed to the life he was able to provide, went to find that life elsewhere when he was unable to provide it for her any longer. The home was foreclosed on and he turned to the fathomless depths of the bottle for comfort. His life was ruined. He had nowhere else to go and all his money was gone. He ended up as a homeless man, pan handling for his survival. After a particularly unfruitful summer day, he found himself sitting by a street corner alone staring at the brown withered grass. In the middle of the grass there was a single blue flower gently trembling in the breeze. It sat in defiance against the harsh terrain around it, a triumphant point of color in a terrible wasteland of dead grass. In that moment he hated that flower. It stood as a testament to the success of the few among the desolation of the many. He went over and tore the flower from the ground and tossed it into the street. He then picked a direction and started walking, carrying all his worldly possessions on his back. He soon found himself in a wide open field with only a farmhouse nearby. It was getting late and he needed a place to stay. He headed in the direction of the house figuring he would just sleep in the barn or under an overhang. As he walked into the barn, he was inundated by the musky smell of horse hide and the sounds of whinnying. Out of the corner came a voice.
He didn’t know what to do or say. In the corner was a man who looked at him from under a cowboy hat with wise smiling eyes. The man didn’t seem afraid or ill at ease. He asked him if he could stay in the barn just for the night and tried to explain his situation, but he knew that it would just come out as an excuse, so he just told the old cowboy that he was down on his luck. The old man said “I know. I can see that plain as day. Of course you can stay here. But not in the barn, you can stay inside.” When he asked the man why he wasn’t worried or angry, he just sighed and said that he could see and appreciate the beauty in that moment. The man went inside with the old cowboy and they talked about life: the joys, the pains, jokes, stories, loves and hates. The next morning, the man woke up and the cowboy wasn’t in the house. He went out to the barn and found the old man tending to the horses. Instinctively, he walked over and the old cowboy began telling him what to do to help. For three weeks, the man stayed on the farm and helped out wherever he could. He learned quite a bit about how to care for the horses and take care of the old farm house. He never forgot what the man said about being able to appreciate the beauty of the moment. However, every time he asked the old man about it, he just looked at him knowingly and said, “one day, you will see for yourself.”
After three weeks, the man woke up one morning and the farm house was empty, the barn was empty except for one horse and the old cowboy was nowhere to be found. In the barn, where the man had first come in, he found a knap sack. On it was a note.
“My friend, today is the day I told you about. I have left this horse for you as a token of my appreciation for all your hard work. Her name is Prudence and she has never been old enough to leave this farm. Every living creature needs to see the world. Take her out for me and show her some things. I just don’t have any more long journeys in me. If you are looking for a direction, I hear Santa Fe is beautiful in the fall. This pack should have enough supplies to get you most of the way there. Just remember to appreciate the beauty in the moment.”
Attached to the note was a dried blue flower. It was the very flower that he had torn from the ground three weeks prior. Though it was dead, dried and fragile, it took on a new beauty and strength in its survival and deeper colors. It was at this point that he understood what the old cowboy had meant by appreciating the beauty in the moment. He saw the beauty in the flower as it stood living among the withered grass, just like the beauty and joy in his life before. Then his whole life had been uprooted, just like the flower was torn from the ground and tossed aside. However, that was not the end. The flower dried up and changed into something brittle and tough, just like he had. Yet here it sat with a different type of beauty, but beauty none the less. He saw everything around him, from the rusting nails and cracking wood to the youth and vigor of mare in the stall and realized that everything had a beauty to it. The bright sun shining in the morning sky, the stars twinkling in the night, the captivating form of a beautiful woman, the wrinkled warmth of a grandma’s hug, the victory of success in life and the defining pain of losing it all. He knew in that moment he had been wrong about life all along. It wasn’t the things in life that made it beautiful. It was the beauty in life that made it worth living. He had a deep desire to understand more of what this old cowboy had shown him. So he put the bag on his shoulders, saddled the horse and began his ride.
After his story he was quiet for a moment looking out into the distance. “I owe that man everything,” he said. Then he turned and looked at me with his deep knowing eyes. “You see, I finally found the secret. The world isn’t something to analyze and tear apart with knowledge. The world and life itself is the greatest piece of art ever created. You can look at a painting with a full understanding of each chemical that makes up the paint, but that doesn’t help you appreciate it any more. It is only when you see the beauty in each stroke, each color, and each line that you truly appreciate it. And this life is new and unique every day. We get to see the art created anew every day. Every moment has its beauty and everything has its joy. So once I saw the beauty in each moment, it made me want to wake up each morning and see each new day. That has made life, in the best of times and worst, worth living.”
Nothing more was said between us. Nothing else needed to be said. I stayed by the fire sitting next to the stranger a little longer, then picked up my gas can and walked the rest of the way to the station. When I walked back to fill up my car, the man was gone. The only thing left to indicate that he had ever been there were some ashes and a dried blue flower. However, I can never forget the story that he told me about the old cowboy, the trip across the country on horseback and the lesson that changed him, and changed me forever. Appreciate the beauty in each moment, no matter what the moment holds because it is a living breathing part of this incredible art work and you will find plenty of reasons to wake up every morning and embrace the day.
Guest Blog Post
Written by: Lucas Nease
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