When my world gets heavy, when I struggle to make sense of things, when it feels as though the Earth has lost its orbit, I try to find something I can control in a world out of control, something that makes me happy, makes me feel safe. When I was younger, I would throw my leg over my best friend’s bare back and we would gallop.
Nassau loved to gallop. He was a bit like riding a rocket, and I felt alive and free, as if he had super powers and at any moment, the two of us would lift off the ground and take flight, my fists in his mane, my legs clinging just slightly to his sides. I can only gallop on Nassau at night now, when sleep won’t come, my eyes closed, feeling his soft nose against my cheek, his breath warm, feeling the ripple along his back as his front feet come off the ground just slightly, ready to race. Riding Nassau in my dreams is almost, though not quite, as freeing, as restorative as the real thing; a breathless joy. He was my best friend for twenty-five years.
Another favourite thing that comforts me, that brings me back to safety, is washing my bed sheets and hanging them to dry on the clothesline, in the sunshine, the breeze blowing away the moisture and leaving the smell of heaven in its place, woven into the threads. As I snap the sheets into place, allow them to float down and settle on the bed, I am reminded of my mother who made my bed with me in it, on occasion, the top sheet suspended in flight above me, descending like wings of butterflies against my face, and in those moments, everything was perfect.
I remember as a kid being both terrified by and loving The Wizard of Oz, as if it represented the best and worst in the world. For a long time, I was more scared than anything. The witch and her frightening voice would haunt me at night, the flying monkeys threatening to snatch me up out of my bed. We had the sheet music for Somewhere over the Rainbow, which we played regularly on the piano, my sister and me. What struck me as odd then, and I suppose still does, are the lyrics. Judy Garland did not sing the opening verse to the song in the film. Her opening line was somewhere over the rainbow. I’m sure we can all hear it in our mind; a beautiful song, the message encouraging and hopeful. But the opening verse has an even stronger message for me.
When all the world is a hopeless jumble, and the raindrops tumble all around. Heaven opens a magic lane. When all the clouds darken up the skyway, there’s a rainbow highway to be found. Leading from your window pane. To a place behind the sun. Just a step beyond the rain. . .
Yip Harburg wrote the song’s lyrics for the 1939 film, a creation that won him the Academy Award for Best Original Song and would become Judy Garland’s signature song. Eighty-one years later, the magic of the lyrics and the familiar melody takes me. . . somewhere over the rainbow. And maybe, just maybe, Nassau and I will gallop there tonight.