They called the colt Unbridled Song.
His father’s name was Unbridled, his mother’s Trolley Song. The colt loved to run, with an energy and spirit that stretched into an endless melody of wind and pounding hooves and the freedom of the open track. They hoped he would become a champion.
As a two and three year old, Unbridled Song won many of the races in his age class division. Those with a keen eye for thoroughbreds – and even those without – looked down at the racetrack at the spunky colt and said, “Now that one is going to be one to watch…”
The spring season of his third year brought with it hopes for the Kentucky Derby. The Derby is the race for three year olds, perhaps even the race of a thoroughbred’s whole career. In Mandysland Farm, excitement was high. Their colt, Unbridled Song, was registered to start in the Derby. They had a good crack at it.
A few weeks before the Derby, Unbridled Song won a prestigious race. In doing so, he also cracked his left hoof. The injury would heal, but the colt would need to wear a cast-like bar shoe to protect the leg while it healed. The question was on everyone’s minds. Would the gray colt compete in the Derby, or would he be scratched?
James Ryerson, the colt’s trainer, decided to go ahead with the Derby plans. Despite his injury, Unbridled Song was the favorite to win.
The crowd cheered as the tall gray colt came to the post on Derby Day. This was one to watch…
And they were off!
Barely two minutes later, it was all over. Unbridled Song had started strong but had soon weakened, finishing a disappointing fifth.
A picture in the news showed James Ryerson standing at the colt’s head, a friendly arm draped over his long neck. “He had a hard race there,” the reporters quoted him as saying, “and he did the best he could. He ran the best race that he could have run with that leg. Look at this boot he’s wearing. It’s like wearing combat boots. Can you imagine running a marathon wearing combat boots? He did the best race he could, and we’re proud of him.”
The reporter questioned the trainer as to his decision to take the colt to the post in this condition.
“Yeah, we could’ve pulled him out of it,” Ryerson responded affably. “We could’ve kept him in the pasture til it was totally healed. But, you know… the Derby is the Derby. Yeah, we could’ve kept him in the barn, but… what would we have been saving him for…?”
I have a medical condition that makes it hard for me to get up and do things. Sometimes it’s hard to get out of bed, or even to wake up at all. The weakness and the darkness and the apathy… they take their toll on the mind as well… sometimes I don’t even want to have the strength.
Rosh Hashanah is hard. Yom Kippur is hard. It’s hard to stand in shul all day. It’s hard to daven all day. And you know what? I don’t even want to. I feel those days coming with a kind of dread… the thought of feeling sick, exhausted, and miserable… I will not have any satisfaction at all from davening. It’s not something I can do.
And yet, whenever I think of that long, cold, early morning walk to shul, I think of Unbridled Song.
We could keep him in the barn… but what would we be keeping him for…?
I could stay in bed and conserve my strength, but what would I be conserving it for?
I could sleep late and save my energy… but what would I be saving it for?
Sometimes I tell myself that this is it, this is the time to throw myself into tefilla and beg for mercy. But sometimes I’m beyond that. There are times when I don’t care about mercy and tefilla, and all I care about is my aching body and tired mind. But then I say…
Shulamis, this is it.
These days… they are it.
What else can you say when Almighty God, King of the universe, descends to visit us in our humble earthly dwellings? “Call Him when He is close.”. He is close, right here, right now. Do I even have the choice, the option, to ignore? The mighty awe of these days screams through the blast of the shofar. Forget forgiveness. Forget judgment. Forget mercy.
Your King is here, your God is here… You must appear, you must acknowledge, you must tremble! Wake up, see life as it is, for what it is – see past the physical constraints that blind me in my drudging existence. See the world for what it is – a narrow path that leads to our Father in Heaven – and all the words of Torah that lie there waiting for us to hear and know and soak into our souls. Hear it, if it is only for this one day, and this next day, and this Holy day a week later… even if it they are the only days of your life you can hear it.
He is close…. I must, I must feel it, I must live it; it is too powerful to allow the option of shutting it out.
And so I will get up on Rosh Hashanah. I cry thinking about it. But I will do it. I will take every pain medication I have, even if it causes me to be weak later. I will push myself to be strong, to push every cell of my being into the knowledge of that day. It will feel strange, and difficult; I might feel tempted to ‘zone out’ and retreat to my usual oblivion.
But I will push. I will try.
What else would I be saving it for…?
Today my King descends. Today I must put aside everything else, everything else, and focus on the battlefront inside my soul.
I’m putting on my combat boots.
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