G is for Greatness (and recognising it)

[Part of the Pagan Blog Project]

I was reminded this morning of a day from my childhood.

I was nine, going on ten, and I was horse-crazy in the way that 9 year old girls often are. (Actually, I was obsessive in a way relatively few 9 year old girls are, because I tend to be full-bore about my interests. But you get the idea). I was having regular riding lessons, but this was well before we got my beloved Dorothy (that happened when I was 11)

It used to be that the United States Equestrian Team had a facility in Massachusetts, and one summer day, my mother took me and a friend up to watch the Rolex Talent Derby for young riders. And we watch and we watch, and have the conversations you do at that kind of thing, about who’s going to win. (This is show jumping, so the scores depend on who goes over the fences without knocking them down in the fastest time, and who can negotiate the complexities of the rearranged patterns of the jump-off rounds.)

Mom is pulling for a gorgeous black horse. And I keep looking at this other one, a beautiful dapple gray, with a very young rider (he was 21). And I keep saying “Mom, that one.” And she keeps going “Yes, dear.” Like you do with a 9 year old daughter, even if she’s horse-crazy. Maybe especially if she’s horse-crazy. (My mother was remarkably patient with the horses, in hindsight.)

And at the end of the day, guess who’s right. (The black came in second, I believe. There were two jump-off rounds.)

That horse and rider were Gem Twist and Greg Best. They went on to get a double silver at the Seoul Olympics, and a wide number of other major honours and glories. (And I got to meet Gem Twist a few years later: he was a very sweet horse indeed.) You can see a video of them, five years into their career together, over on YouTube if you want to admire their skill and partnership.

How do we learn to open our eyes to that kind of thing? 

That’s the question I want to ask here. How do we recognise greatness, how do we recognise goodness, how do we recognise unusual quality and skill and talent when it’s in front of us?

That’s complicated. Having some other examples clearly helps: it’s hard to know what ‘really good’ looks like if you’ve never seen people at the top of their skill set.

Here’s the thing about my story above, though: that’s the first time I’d seen that level of jumping in person. (I was 9.) And while I remember my parents going through contortions to set the VCR to record the 1984 Olympics in Los Angeles (the horsey parts, rather), that was extremely unusual. (And it’s not like equestrian sports get a lot of screen time anyway.)

So how did I know what I was seeing?

You can listen to what other people say. But here’s the thing: in that story above, Gem Twist and Greg Best were not the expected favourites: he was just starting his riding career, and Gem Twist was only 6, which is very young for that kind of competition. Everyone, from what I remember reading afterwards, was sort of “Well, they were expected to do reasonably well, but nothing stunning.”

And look how that turned out.

But clearly, I was seeing something, and seeing it early, because I clearly remember talking about them after the first round, and being *sure* about them in a way that defied logic.

Sometimes we call that intuition, but I think in this case, it’s something a little more complicated. I think it’s hearing the harmony between parts, recognising the smoothness and intersection. The beauty of the cosmos, distilled into a moment of time, all the pieces lining up just right.

We can learn to recognise that moment – learn to keep our eyes open for that moment – even if we don’t know all the details of how that moment might come to be.

What does this have to do with Paganism? Or learning about it?

I had a complicated religious experience while I was at Paganicon, and I am still not up for talking about it except with a few trusted friends. (It was the good kind of complicated religious experience, though!)

But I had it because I listened to that small still voice inside my head that said “Hey. Go to the Seshat devotional ritual.”

It was one of those moments where all the pieces lined up, and the patterns were clear, and there was light and sound and harmony and complexity and wonder, all at once.

A mixture of many things coming together.

It’s those experiences, those moments, that I keep looking for. In a lot of ways, both my religious life and my professional life are all about creating a space where those things are more likely to happen: those moments of “Yes, let’s do that thing” becoming possible, and real. And seeing where they take us, even if that’s unexpected.

They are moments that cannot be driven by logic or reason – or at least not purely by them, though logic and reason can tell us some ways to encourage them to happen. And they’re moments that we can hold ourselves open for, by looking at the world with wonder and curiousity, rather than assumptions that we already know all the important things.

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