My Uncle Sonny was the real deal, the epitome of a southern cowboy. Late in his teens, he left to ride the rodeo circuit and only returned home after he’d broken both legs. Folks said he could tame any horse he met, a real horse whisperer. He was the gentlest, kindest man I knew as a child. I’m sure the horses could sense it, too.
Mother always said my grandfather PaPa had no use for horses. He said they ate tons of food and didn’t pull their weight on the farm. He was terribly disappointed when Sonny left the farm for such foolishness.
One summer, while I was visiting Nennie and PaPa at their farm, Sonny was out working with some of his horses he boarded there. I was barely a teenager and, frankly, afraid of horses. I wandered down to the corral where Sonny was working.
“Uncle Sonny,” I said, “Do you think you could teach me to ride? I’m afraid of horses but I’d like to learn.”
“Well that’s a problem,” Uncle Sonny said, “Horses can smell fear and they’ll take you for a ride for sure. You can’t show your fear. I’ll hoist you up into the saddle and walk you around the corral. That’s all we’ll do the first time. All you have to do is sit easy in the saddle and relax,” he assured me as he held the stirrup steady for my left foot, while I mounted and swung my right leg over. Steadying myself in the saddle, I pushed my right foot into the stirrup. The sides of the horse were huge. As Old Sox snorted, I wondered why I had thought this was such a good idea.
Sonny was good to his word. He held Old Sox steady and cooed softly to her as he led us around the corral.
“How’re you feeling? Ready to take the reins?” Sonny said after what seemed like forever. I didn’t want to say yes but I did. I wanted to please Uncle Sonny and I hoped if I did, I wouldn’t be so afraid near horses in the future.
My uncle stayed close by in the corral. I was sure Old Sox could smell my perspiration and hear me breathing hard. She started walking faster, either because she was bored or she sensed my fear. In a firm voice, Sonny assured me I was doing fine and reminded me he was right there with me. Old Sox began to trot even faster. A wave of fear washed over me about the time we came close enough to the fence that my right leg scraped up against it. Old Sox must have felt me loose in the saddle and started to go faster. I don’t know if I decided to get off while the horse was moving or if I lost my balance and fell off, but whatever the reason, I fell still holding onto the reins.
Petrified and sure I was a goner, I heard Uncle Sonny yell, “Let go of the rope or you’re going to get dragged through the shit! Let go. Let go of the rope!”
I did. Nothing was hurt but my pride.
Years later, when I turned fifty, I decided to take riding lessons at a stable in the Chicago area. One afternoon, while I was riding in the arena, the trainer told me to take the horse to a trot. A group of riders returning from the trails in the Forest Preserves filed into the bleachers to watch my lesson. As they got settled, my horse began to trot faster. Just as I fell off my horse someone yelled out, “Tyra, what’s your secret to riding?” I stood up, brushed myself off, and yelled back, “On is good. Off is bad!”
I was sure, Uncle Sonny would have been proud of how I fell.
Throughout my life, I’ve heard Uncle Sonny’s voice in my head when I found myself determined to accomplish a goal or realizing I was so sure of my approach that I had not clearly considered others input. I’d hear Uncle Sonny, “Tyra, if you don’t let go of the rope, you’re going to get dragged through the shit!”
I learned that same lesson when I got sober in 1981. The support group literature had a prayer and a slogan, “Let go and let God.”
I’m amazed at how many important lessons come around in different forms during our lives. We are taught those same life lessons over and over again.
“Let go or you’re going to get dragged through the shit!” Uncle Sonny said.
Sobriety groups also enforce, “Let go and let God.”
This truth has been invaluable to me throughout the years. I got better at letting go of disappointments and hurts rather than dragging them around with me. The older I get, the better I get at letting go. As I got better at letting go, I got better at listening to others’ point of view. That’s made it easier for me to forgive others, as well as myself. As I have gotten more confident letting go and letting God, I’ve avoided being dragged through shit multiple times.
Uncle Sonny would be proud.