Not long after I finished writing yesterday, I boarded the plane for Birmingham and sat down next to a big guy from Moody, Alabama, which is not far from Irondale, where my in-laws live. He was ready to talk. Usually, I sit down and fall asleep when I get on a plane, but this time I was awake, so I listened and asked questions.
He told me he was returning home from a trip to Salt Lake City where he had been teaching. He was about six foot three, maybe sixty, with salt and pepper hair and a mostly grey moustache and goatee. I had the sense that he usually wore a cowboy hat, though he was not wearing one on the plane. He had an affable, Slim Pickens sort of manner, all of which left me wondering what kind of classes he taught. So I asked him.
“Proportional horseshoeing,” he answered.
I still had no idea, so I asked some more questions. He was happy to answer. After a lifetime of shoeing horses in Alabama, he developed a way of looking at the horse more holistically and then shoeing the horse appropriately.
“I look at horses to see what they’re built for,” he said. “You can learn a lot by looking. I look at you and I know you can cook ‘cause you told me, and I know you could play lineman for the Green Bay Packers. But you ain’t gonna play center for the Detroit Pistons. You could be a lineman. You’re a large man.”
I got the point.
“I stand on one side of a horse and take a perfect mental picture and then go around to the other side and notice what muscles are out of place. God made horses to turn left and right and go forward and backward. When they can’t do those things, something is out of line. I look at the horse and find out what needs to be corrected.”
“And then you can fix it by the way you shoe the horse?”
“That’s right. It’s like putting on orthopedic shoes. I may put a pad in between the hoof and the shoe, or something like that. I’ve got horses people thought were through that are back at work and going strong just because I taught the people how to shoe them properly. It’s worked out pretty good for me,” he continued. “I’ve been self-employed all my life and this has turned into a pretty good retirement plan; people pay good money for me to come teach ‘em.”
My mind jumped to metaphor like a well-shoed horse in a steeplechase.
“What strikes me, “ I said, “is how often life changes for us when we pay attention to the small stuff and take time to notice what’s out of line in our lives, or have someone else point it out.”
We spent the rest of the flight talking about what kind of eyes we needed to see our lives the way he looked at his horses. Just a half hour before, I’d been sitting on the floor in the airport watching people walk, lemming-like, to baggage claim and now I was sitting nest to a guy who paid attention for a living – and changed lives because of the way he looked at things. All this from a farrier (my word for the day).
As I sat down to write today, an old nursery rhyme rose to the top of my memory:
For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.
The explanation that followed on the web site where I found the poem said:
A clever set of lyrics encouraging a child to apply logic to the consequences of their
actions. Perhaps used to gently chastise a child and explain the possible events that might follow a thoughtless act.
The horse sense I found in my conversation on the plane and the rhyme together leads me to think about the possible events that might follow a thoughtful act. The man next to me was making a living helping people see their animals in a life-giving way, rather than discussing how to cut their losses. The biggest consequence to thoughtlessness is we give up too easily. The more we are acculturated to expect planned obsolescence, the more intentional we must become in looking for ways help each other last.
When they brought the adulterous woman to Jesus, he saw her not as an exception, but an example of humanity worth saving.
When he saw Zaccheus in the tree, he saw more than a crook; he saw a philanthropist.
When he saw the blind man, he didn’t see someone who was being punished by God, but someone through whom the love of God could shine.
I want to learn how to see the world – to see the people around me – with those kind of eyes. For now, I’ll say thanks for the farrier: he made flying fun again.