November 1st 2015 was a day that the barn changed. It’s not a worse place to be or a better, it’s just different. That day we lost our dear student/peer/vaulting coach/fellow horse lover Marley Heim to a car accident at the too young age of 16. Marley is just one of dozens of teens and children that ride at our barn. Each of these riders makes the community complete. Each one brings something different to our little group…our self contained little world. To have one of those dear children ripped away from our community was never going to do anything else but change it. It cannot be helped.
Life moves on and things march forward. There are horses to ride and chores to do, but the effect of this event has changed the behaviors of most as we all grieve for the loss of Marley. Some are detached and more reserved than they were before. Others have become more affectionate…needing others. Their hugs are different now: longer and lingering. Grasping for comfort and hope in their friends. Others proceed on with their work, but the smile is gone from their eyes. And still others push on smiling and laughing, trying to make the best out of what has happened. No way is the right way.
Her death is impossible to understand. It’s mind blowing. Most teenagers think themselves invincible (I remember being one not all that long ago), rushing to live a life they have decades left to do it all in. They want it now, they don’t want to wait another 2, 5 or 20 years. They want the excitement and the freedom, but they don’t always consider the trouble that might come. They don’t always understand the repercussions of their decisions.
When a young person dies, a lot dies with them. Their future is gone, erased. All learning stops. Progress stops. Hope stops. There is no more dreaming of what Marley would be as an adult (and as an instructor and mentor of sorts, I often have hopes and dreams for these girls and boys and their lives). She might have been the girl that saved the world. She might have just been a teacher that changed her students’ worlds. She might have been a mother, but we will never see her children blessed with her same infections smile.
Marley will never have another hug. She will never be greeted by a happy nicker. She will never enjoy a perfect canter. She will never perfect that one new vaulting move. She will never have another sunset trail ride. She will never again be bucked off. She has shed her last tear and felt her last pain. There is no more future for Marley. Her life has been lived.
Marley’s future may be gone, but she doesn’t have to be. For some she will be in the sunrise, a warm summer breeze, or a beautiful flowering rose. For others she will be there when they ride, when they are laughing and having fun and enjoying the life they are blessed to have. For others, Marley will be there in some other way. For each of us, a piece of Marley will always be carried around inside us. The joy and love of life that she had we should all embrace and hold dear. We will have to live the life she didn’t get to have. Her spirit will come along with us to experience all the love, triumphs, pain and challenges in our lives. Marley will get to live many lives now, not just one.
Understanding that the future isn’t guaranteed is something we all need to remember (and hope to not be reminded of in such a brutal way again). Sometimes it is hard to remember to be thankful and to truly experience everything. When something becomes your everyday life, it’s hard to remember to take a moment to breathe in that smell when you walk into the barn, to feel that nuzzle of a horse saying good morning and enjoy the touch of their warm, soft nose, to be grateful for all of the try that your horse is giving you.
We need to welcome every hug, every hello, and every opportunity. We need smile when we fail, when things are falling apart, and when things hurt because we are still blessed enough to experience pain. We need to accept every challenge with vigor and enthusiasm as it might be our last. We need to feel joy at every canter, no matter how imperfect. We need to admire every sunrise, sunset and storm.
Tomorrow isn’t guaranteed for any of us, and we need to remember to celebrate each day as if it is our last. Marley lived like that. She was full of a desire to experience life as full as it could be. She lived like a wildfire, consuming everything in her path with enthusiasm. Now she is gone, leaving us to carry her flame into the future.