Saturday, December 16, 2006

The First Rocking Horse

I recently heard my daughter, Danielle, tell someone that our Christmas decor had no apparent theme--that there was no order, rhyme or reason to the ornaments on our tree or the various Christmas knick-knacks around our house.
I beg to differ.
We have a rocking horse theme, of course.
The majority of our ornaments are rocking horses, and they figure predominantly in my yuletide decorating scheme.
A few I've purchased myself; but most are gifts from people who love us and know the story of the very first rocking horse I was given . . .

After Jonah died, I had trouble sleeping. I'd find myself wide-awake in the wee hours, missing my son, my mind desperately trying to hold onto the fading memories.
One night as I lay there, praying to succumb to the numbness of sleep, I thought I heard something. The noise was very faint, yet familiar and reassuring . . . almost like the squeaky springs on Jonah's Wonder Horse, which still stood by his empty bed in the room next door.
I sat up in bed, straining to hear. I couldn't tell if I was hearing with my ears--or if it was all in my head. Still the creaking persisted, so I got up and quietly let myself out of our room and stood in the hall, not sure I wanted to go into Jonah's room. In the light that shone through his bedroom window, I could see that beloved horse suspended in mid-trot, waiting faithfully for it's master to return. There was no rider and the sound had ceased, so I crept back into my bed and thanked God for the reminder that my son was not so far away.

(I had listened to the sound of Jonah riding his Wonder Horse nearly every night for the last year of his life. Jonah was autistic and the repetitive rocking motion seemed to greatly soothe him. After we'd tucked him into bed and crawled under our own covers, we'd hear him climb up on his faithful steed and the ride would begin. It usually didn't take long for the frantic squeak of the springs to come to a stand still. Once Jonah had rocked away the cares of his day, he would slide off his horse and crawl back into bed. Although a few times he didn't make it all the way, and I found him asleep underneath the horse!)

That wasn't the last time that I "heard" the rocking horse creaking in the night. One night, I tried to imagine my four-year-old riding upon some heavenly steed across a celestial range. The image was still in my head when I woke up the next morning, and the following poem emerged by the end of the day:

In a dark and dusty corner,
His rocking horse still waits
Loyal to its master, unknowing of his fate.
But sometimes in the still of night
I wake, and strain to hear
The old familiar rythyms of them rocking,
Faint, yet clear.

Ride on, Tiny Cowboy
Or do Heaven's horses fly?
The stars are your campfire
Your range is the sky.
Rounding up the angels
Until that final dawn . . .
Ride on, Tiny Cowboy, ride on.

Your sister wears your boot now,
Your hat hangs by the door
Yet Jonah, you're still with us--
It's just different from before
And if that wise, old rocking horse
Could speak, he would agree
For I've heard their secret midnight rides
Across Eternity.

Chorus . . .

Anyway, back to the rocking horse theme . . .

I told my best friend about my midnight imaginings and she listened without comment. The following week, Ann came over and brought me a carefully wrapped Christmas present.
"Shawn I saw this and had to buy it for you," she said, a bit nervously. "But if it brings you pain, you can throw it away and I'll never bring it up again."
Intrigued, I opened the small box. Inside lay a small ornament--a little boy astride his rocking horse. For a moment I couldn't speak and just clutched it to my heart.
"Ann, I love it," I was finally able to say. She hugged me, looking greatly relieved, and we shared some precious memories of my son for the next few moments.
So that is how my rocking horse collection began. Twenty-two years later, I'm still receiving rocking horse ornaments from thoughtful friends--people who have never met our son but have heard our story.