England’s first gift

When I was small, there was one book in my collection that I loved best of all: “The Little White Horse,” by Elizabeth Goudge. It tells the story of a girl who loses her London family and moves to the English countryside, where she restores balance to her community and heals a longstanding rift between relatives, in addition to, of course, defeating evil. Suffice it to say, I found her most inspirational. And against the backdrop of all her victories, adventures and thrilling close shaves, a little white horse who is sometimes there and sometimes not stands watch over human upheaval from the silvery shadows of the wood.

I am in England now, as an adult, in one of real life’s beautiful adventures. This morning, as I rose from sleep to wander the lofty spaces of the country manor that has become my temporary home, I found myself in a drawing room with floor-to-ceiling windows, looking out on the morning mist.

If you have never seen the English countryside, trust me when I say that there is something about adding your eyes to the countless many who have gazed on England’s trees and fields and valleys, land that has been lived on and loved for thousands of years. As the sun began to rise and burn off the mist, I watched gently rolling pastures and split-rail fences come into view. And there, away off at the edge of the fields and the wood, stood a single little white horse.

In that moment, it was as if the magic of my childhood superimposed itself quite viscerally on the reality of my present. In a foreign country, in a period of post-graduate doubt and ambiguity, even amidst the general fog of jet lag and early morning, I felt completely at home.

I have no words of wisdom or groundbreaking insights. I only know that today I was reminded of something I had forgotten for a very long time: that the dreams we have as children, the books that shine like sunlight on the seeds of our infant imaginations—these are still lovely and still important.

Many dreams do not come to be. Other dreams, once realized, shape themselves around the fact of our collective mess, our imperfect reality. But there are perfect moments, and memories of perfect dreams. They run out of light and fade back into evening, hoof beats pounding the Earth, just out of reach, a fleet of little white horses.

“…The raised hoof, the proud poised head, the flowing mane,
The supreme moment of stillness before the flight,
The moment of farewell, of wordless pleading
For remembrance of things lost to earthly sight…
Then the half-turn under the trees, a motion
Fluid as the movement of light on water . . .
Stay, oh stay in the forest, little white horse! . . .
He is lost and gone and now I do not know
If it was a little white horse that I saw,
Or only a moonbeam astray in the silver night.”

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