The war against the carriage horses in New York has faltered, for now, it is far from over. Everywhere, the animals are under siege, they are trying to take them away from us, they are persecuting us for loving and working with them. We see in the long and brutal campaign to ban the horses that money does not innoculate anyone against ignorance and cruelty, and that people who say they love animals can be inexcusably abusive to people.
The mayor of New York has not retracted his vow to banish the horses, or his claim that the people who ride with them are immoral, nor have the real estate developers stopped drooling and plotting over their stables. The people in the carriage trade continue to live in fear and persecution, the horses remain in peril from the people who would destroy them to save them.
A compassionate and progressive city could easily find a way to keep them safe and healthy in New York – that would be a minor achieivement compared to the building of Central Park – but the so-called progressives there have not yet figured out that preserving the horses and the environment in the city's fabled park, it's soul, is, in fact, the most progressive thing they could possibly do.
Despite staggering odds, the horses triumphed, they triggered a great social awakening across the country: we see the need a new kind of animal rights movement, one that keeps animals among us and treats animals and people with love, respect and dignity.
One of the great ironies of this unnecessary controversy is that few places need the big horses more than New York City, a crowded, overwhelming, distracted, expensive and grinding universe. Nobody needs them more than the beleaguered residents of New York. The horses have a spiritual message of inner peace to deliver – the Native Peoples have known it for centuries – that is spreading from this conflict and so many others like it all across the country.
Speaking for myself, I know I cannot maintain a peaceful and meaningful spiritual life without coming to peace with myself. Spirituality is not, in fact, a gift that the outside world can bestow on me. In his writings, Pope Francis says an adequate understanding of spirituality consists of thinking through what we mean by peace, which is much more than the absence of war. Inner peace, he says, is closely tied to the ecology of the world around us, to the animals that share the earth with us. It is reflected in a life in balance together with a capacity for wonder and compassion that takes us to a deeper consciousness and understanding of life, of nature, of animals.
Can New Yorkers live in balance with their ecology if the last domesticated animals in their city are taken a way to slaughterhouses and rescue farms, replaced with enormous expensive cars, and never again seen by the millions of adults and children who live there?
"Nature is filled with words of love," Francis writes, "but how can we listen to them amid constant noise, interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances?"
And what place, I wonder, is more affected by constant noise and nerve-wracking distractions than New York City? Our biggest stage has many lessons for us to learn.
Two months ago, Ariel Fitzi, a New York carriage driver, great animal lover, mystic, and friend to the poor, the disabled and the homeless, took Maria and I on a magical midnight ride through Central Park. It was a profoundly spiritual experience, there, alone in the park, the spiritual message of the horses, of the animals, could be heard and felt in a clear and powerful way. I felt close to the ecology of the world, I had a great sense of inner peace, a sense of balance of life that is possible for me. The horses caressed us with their calm and dignity. How is it that so many people are blind and deaf to them? Perhaps it is because we have lost faith with Mother Earth, broken our bond with the animals.
There, in the achingly beautiful park of the night, without the crowds and noise and hawkers and literal and political distractions of the great city, I felt closer than ever to a spiritual life, to the beauty of Mother Earth, to the need for me to help her heal and recover from our deprivations. And from my own.
We are so quick to judge and accuse others, to batter and criticize and resent, we are so slow to take responsibility for what we have done to the animals. We have destroyed their natural world and left them no refuge but to live and work with us. And here, in a place that so desperately needs them, the rich and the powerful spend millions of dollars to drive them away and replace them with more cars and condominiums. Here, in a place where hard-working people, often from other places, have found a way to keep the horses safe and loved and healthy, and to earn a living from working with them, we vilify and harass them and seek to take their freedom and property away.
That, in a microcosm, is what is killing our world, our own spirituality, our own sense of peace. We have lost touch with the animals, we have lost touch with the earth.
This is what the horses and the dogs and the ponies and the elephants can teach us, have taught us, if we stop taking them away. We are talking about an attitude of the heart, a way of approaching life with a sense of awakening and attentiveness, a way of being fully present to someone without looking over their shoulders, or at our smart phones, or to the news, or to our bills and alarms, which accepts each moment as a gift to be lived to the fullest.
In the park, riding with Ariel, watching the shadows dance across the empty paths and roads, over the gardens and walkways, I remembered the message of Jesus Christ, his beliefs forgotten and exploited by hollow and angry men and women. He urged us to contemplate the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, and the horses in the field, and the animals in the forests. To not forget them.
So I see we must not forget the horses, or be deaf to their message. The beautiful horses in the park are present in the moment, there for everyone and everything, disinterested in the greed and fear and technology of the modern world, in the anxiety and worry that makes us superficial, aggressive and compulsive consumers of things we don't need and buyers of things we and Mother Earth cannot afford.
You can see and feel this for yourself. The horses are there, standing by the carriages every day, not just in New York, but almost everywhere.
They can take us to that healing and magical place. They have taken me there.