Michael's Monthly Column "Throwing My Loop"


     What an excellent question, and lest we forget - the title of an unforgettable song sung by many, but by none better than the legendary Baldemar Huerta born in San Benito, Texas in 1937.  The title of the song states the clear and simple question we wrestle with for most of our days. Why are we here and what will we do with our time?
     For twenty-five years I taught in the university and least once a week, some well-meaning student knocked on my door seeking the answer to that question. And we - you and me - shaped the way they our sons and daughters tried to solve the riddle of the puzzle.  Just like we do with our horses, we make them what they are.  The conversation always went something like this…
     “Uh, sir, do you have a moment?  I would like to talk with you about my career goals.”
     “Let me guess,” I would say.  “You want a good job that pays a lot of money.”
     “Hey, that’s good.  How did you know that?”
     “Hmpfh!” I would snort.
     “What’s wrong with that?” they would ask sensing my irritation.  “Isn’t that the American Dream?”
     “Well, I suppose it is.  At least, that’s the version we’ve led you to believe.  The reason I’m a bit impatient is that you have chosen a poor method to find your life’s work.  The “how can I get a good job method” is doomed to failure.  Let me ask you just a few questions and unfortunately, that method will fail to provide a single response from you.  Here we go.  You say you want a good job that pays a lot of money, so let me begin by asking you, “What is a good job?  What job would be a good one?”
     At this point, the student would furrow his brow, think for a time and say  something like, “Well, uh…gee.  I don’t know.  A good job would be one that pays a lot of money I guess.”
     “And what would you consider a lot of money?”
     More serious thinking, more furrowed brow, and finally, “Hmmm, that’s a tough one.  I don’t know what a lot of money is, so I guess I would say a good job is one that paid enough money.  You know, not a lot, but enough.”
     “And where do you want to have this good job?  Where do you want to live?”
     This always turned out to be a real stumper, and the student would think for some time.  Finally, with a kind of squirm, he or she might answer, “Gee, I don’t know.  That all depends on where I can get a good job that pays the most money!”
     Can you see how lost this poor soul is?  This young person is simply going around in circles.  And I’m afraid it’s our fault…
     My parents drilled something into me, and I told my own children the same thing.  And your parents told you the same thing, and your own heard the same words.  Here’s the message we received, and the one we sent…
     “Go to school, work hard, make good grades, and get a good job that pays a lot of money.”  The Four Commandments we might call them.  “(1.) Get an education, (2.) work hard, (3.) make good grades, and (4.) everything in life is predicated on  obtaining the best employment position possible!” 
     Is it just me or is there something a little off here?
     Don’t get me wrong, I certainly believe in education, and I definitely believe in applying oneself in the classroom, and hard work is the key whether you are roping, chasing barrels, ridin’ reining horses, hitting a golf ball, selling insurance, cell phones or underwear.  It’s just that last part that bothers me – about how one’s annual salary has become our holy grail.
     Recently, I entered a place of business I frequent, and the woman behind the counter was absolutely the happiest human being on the planet.
     “What’s the good news?” I asked.
     “Oh, Michael,” she beamed.  “I’m so happy.  Last night, my daughter and son-in – law came over to our house with some daffy plan about horses and starting a therapeutic riding school.  They sat at our kitchen table and told my husband and me they were thinking about quitting their jobs, and all about how miserable they were in their current positions. How they loved horses and helping kids, and that they wanted our blessing…”
     “Well, that’s wonderful…” I began.
     “NO! No it’s not wonderful,” she said in a loud voice.  “My husband and I sat them down and told them in no uncertain terms that they had health insurance and a retirement plan!  I said to my daughter, “Listen to me young lady, if you can just hang on for twenty-five more years, you can retire and then you can have a good life! And that’s why I’m so happy.”
     “You are?” I said.
     “Well, of course I am,” she said.  “Both my daughter and son-in-law said if that was the way we felt, they would not go against our wishes.  So they plan to keep their jobs, and forget this nonsense.  They’re just young,” she said shaking her head and smiling.  “I’ve just been thanking the angels all day.”
     Driving home in my truck later, I started thinking about something.  A picture formed in my mind of angels leaning over the balcony railing in Heaven yelling down to me, “We had nothing to do with all that!” I also started thinking that had we been at the bedside of that woman when she gave birth to her baby girl some twenty-five years ago, and you and I had said, “There will be a day when you hold this child above your head and throw her into the Retirement God Pit,” she would have said, “I would never do such a thing to my child,” now wouldn’t she.
     On that drive home, I also thought about the great Earl Nightingale and a little short tale he spun once.  It was called “The Greatest Irony.”  In the story, Nightingale tells of how most people seek the thing called ‘security.’ 
     “They struggle all their lives to save enough,” he begins, “to obtain the almighty two-week pay check, to climb the corporate ladder seeking this thing called ‘safety’ in life.”  And he contrasts those people with another sort who never seek ‘safety,’ but rather those who pursue their bliss.  “These people play the violin, or act, or sing, or make others laugh,” (or run therapeutic riding schools for children perhaps?) and do what gives them joy.  Then these special people find a way to get someone to pay them for doing what they love, and what they were born to do never seeking ‘safety,’ but rather joy in living.” And Nightingale points out that there is a great irony between the two…
     “The first group often find themselves downsized at forty-five or fifty years of age or suffer a divorce or terrible illness and lose the thing they coveted all their lives,” he says.  “And the second group who lived their lives doing the thing they loved are often rewarded with the thing they never sought – the thing called “security.”
     Which method is the correct way to live?  I’ve done both, and option two is so much better.  I’m not advocating lying around on the beach drinking beer, but rather searching your soul for a more spiritual purpose that always holds so much more meaning than sacrificing your life for a safety net that won’t even catch you when you fall. 
     And I know that Baldemar Huerta agrees with me.  Instead of looking for that safety net, he sang his music for us.  He sang Wasted Days and Wasted Nights, and he sang Before The Next Tear Drop Falls, and Since I Met You Baby, and so many more, including What Am I Living For?  I think Baldemar found the right answer to the question we all ask.  And every day when I rope, his music cascades from the barn out over my arena, and I’m convinced my horses enjoy him as well.  Baldemar Huerta - better known to you and me as the one and only Freddy Fender.

Michael's latest release, Reflections Of A Cowboy, is currently available in audio book form. The two volume set consists of articles, essays and excerpts from radio performances about good people and good horses in the life of an Oklahoma cowboy. Approximately 8 hours in length. Reflections Of A Cowboy in printed form is scheduled for release in the summer of 2005. Order from Michael's website.

Michael heading for the great Sonny Gould

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