I had a great childhood. It wasn’t perfect, but my family was not dysfunctional in the typical sense and my parents adored me and my sister. We were taught to love ourselves and respect ourselves and had been given many opportunities to help us become productive, compassionate and successful adults. When I was 9 years old I was finally able to join the popular 4-H group that my sister had belonged to for a couple of years. Once a year we took our horse to the 4-H fair to participate in the horse shows to see how much our practice at riding had taught us. I had been working with a pony for a long time and couldn’t wait to see if I could do better than my peers. “Am I good enough to do well at this huge event? Will mom and dad be proud of me?” It was a big deal…I was so nervous and excited that I hardly slept at all when we first arrived for the week-long event. I was growing up and had “barn duties” like the older kids had last year…this was MY time!
I remember this one particular event at the fair so vividly; one reason is because I had never been so nervous before this. I was in a show with kids who were much bigger and older than I was, and I was the only one on a pony…I felt so small when I entered the show ring. My head was spinning with all the “right” things I needed to do. Keep my heels down. Chin up. Smile. Hands steady and low. Don’t look down! Smile. Are my heels down enough? The show ring was so much larger than what I was used to…what if the pony freaked out from all the noise from the carnival? I followed the instructions that came over the speakers and gave the proper commands. I tried hard not to notice how well everyone else was doing. Their horses’ legs were longer so everyone was passing me because they were going so much faster. What if that’s a bad thing? What if the judges can’t even see me?
After doing the typical “walk, trot, lope” commands for several minutes one way and then several minutes in the other direction, the judges started calling numbers that were on the backs of the riders and bringing them into the center of the ring. This is it. Number after number was called out, but mine wasn’t. My heart began to pound louder and faster. Don’t they bring the best people in first? I couldn’t help but think that I must have really screwed up…I must not be good enough. Every rider but me and one other girl was lined up in the order that they had been called in to the center…then my number was finally called. At least I’m not the very last…
After I joined the group and the last rider was beside me, the judges started speaking to the riders at the opposite end of the line. I heard things like, “You did well, but next time you might want to try to look like you are having more fun.” And “Your horse seemed like he didn’t want to be here, but I was glad to see you kept trying to control him.” Oh God! How many things are they going to point out that I did wrong?” I tried to fight them back, but tears started to well up in my eyes. My mom must be mortified right now.
Finally a judge came up to me while I sat eye-level to him because of the pony’s height. He smiled and told me that I did a good job. He asked me the name of part of the horse’ body…and I froze with confusion. No one else was asked questions…uh oh. I quickly remembered something my mom told me just as I was entering the ring. “Jennifer, if a judge asks you a question and you don’t know the answer, say, “I’m sorry, Sir, I don’t know the answer to that question.” But I knew the answer, so I gave it. He smiled big. He asked me a question about a part of the saddle. Oh no! I don’t know! Before panic took over completely, I heard my mom’s voice in my head and I smiled, while shaking, and said, “I’m sorry sir, I don’t know the answer to that question.” He smiled again, nodded and said, “Okay.” He moved on to the girl next to me and proceeded to ask her a couple of questions. I couldn’t help but hear what was being said and then I noticed that after the last question the girl did not respond at all. Say something! I thought to myself, but she didn’t. The judge continued, “Do you know the answer?” And the girl shook her head no.
In the very next moment, the judge stepped back and told the other judges to have me and the other girl switch places. I thought that I missed something because I was now last! Tears rolled down my cheeks, but I kept my chin high and my heels down just like I was supposed to. Mom will help me see what I did wrong when I get out of this ring!
Now it was time for the announcements of who placed in what order. The judge with the microphone started at the other end of the line and talked about the strengths and weaknesses of each rider before dismissing them from the ring and having them pick up the ribbon that was earned. There had to be 12 or 13 people before they would get to me. Hold steady. Breathe…
Finally it was my turn. I was the last one left. Tears took over but I tried to smile. “Before I go on to the placing of this rider, I feel the need to point out that the stem of the rose has become a bit too long for the vase…” Everyone in the audience started to laugh. He was referring to the obvious fact that I was becoming too tall to be riding the small pony. “With that being said, I would like to point out that the rider has shown exceptional control over the pony and I would like to congratulate her on an incredible job!” The audience went into a loud roar…but I could pick out my dad’s voice yelling “Good job Pooh-Bear!” and my mom’s cheer over the others. Did I win? Am I FIRST? Relief swept through me like a tidal wave as the judge continued to express his approval of my skills. Then I was handed a bright blue shiny ribbon and a gold and green trophy. The judges all congratulated me as I exited the ring to be greeted by my family and friends. I had never been so proud of myself!
Was I happy that day? Sure I was. I was excited and relieved and proud and hopeful. I thought that if I could accomplish such a huge thing, I could anything. But four years later my dad died from cancer and my entire life changed…and I never felt anything like I did that day at the fair again. No matter how many goals I achieve, no matter how many things I acquire or how many friends I have or how much I am told I am loved by my husband, I have never been able to get back the feeling that I had on that day. Something has always been missing. Sure, the obvious answer to what has been missing would be my father. But at 34 years old, I am not unlike most people in our world, because people experience loss all the time. And most people inevitably chase the memory of a feeling or an experience with hopes of recapturing it and reliving it. But I know that at that moment, at nine years old, I did not have anything to compare that experience to as it was happening or before it happened. I did not wake up one day, thinking,“If only I could be like I was before.” Because, truth being told, I had my entire life ahead of me. What I didn’t realize was that at that moment, I was creating a standard for myself. I didn’t realize that I would spend years working towards feeling like that again; like life was for my enjoyment.
I changed after my dad died, as did everything in my life. Loss and disappointment, heartache and regret can change who we are inside and more importantly, who we see ourselves as. I firmly believe, however, that we are constantly choosing who we are and what the world offers us; if only we can see the deepest part of our souls that remember living life without fear of anything and knowing that we deserve everything. I was very nervous in that show ring, but look at the outcome. It hadn’t occurred to me that I might not do well until I misunderstood the proceedings of the judges. Oops. I made a mistake and thought, with my limited experience and knowledge that the judges brought the best riders in to the center of the ring first. I cried, not only because I thought I did not do well, but because I thought I misjudged my potential. I felt like I was an exceptional rider…deep down I knew that I was (special), so it was only when I formed a misconception of the order of things did it occur to me that I might have been too generous with myself about my abilities. That misconception was brief…it did not have any time to manifest itself into my actual reality because it was not based on a sound perception of not being worthy. The perception that I was truly unworthy of love, including self-love, formed when my father lost his long battle with lung cancer, and my 13 year old impressionable mind formed the illusion that if I were worthy of love, he would have lived. This perception had a ton of energy behind it, I identified with it because I was young and consequently it has shown itself in my reality more often than I would like to recall.
But here I sit today, reconnecting to my true self, the part of me who knows only Truth. My soul has been waiting in the depths of my consciousness to see me smile again, feel confident, proud and excited to be alive…to feel and know that I am deserving of love no matter what has happened. Here I am on the brink of bringing my life to an about-face and as I stand beside that formerly scared, lonely and confused teenage girl who now holds her head up and says, “I did it!” We did it. Because without her, there would be no me.
Hypnotherapist, Channel, Personal Dev. Instructor