Over the holidays, I came across "Black Beauty," a book by Anna Sewell. My grandparents gave it to me on Nov. 23, 1955. I only know that because it is written on the inside of the front cover. I assume they brought it to me when we gathered for Thanksgiving. Originally published in 1877, it is one of the best-selling books of all time.
I kept the book through moves from Colorado to California and six moves in Oregon. The cover is nearly warn off, suggesting that it was long a favored read.
It has been sitting in my living room, inviting my granddaughter to experience the life of Beauty who narrates the book.
This week I picked it up and read it again. I was surprised.
I didn’t remember much of the story and was amazed that it was written in Beauty’s own words, his autobiography, The story begins in his early years with owners that loved him and treated him well.
But, life changes.
Some chapters were filled with sadness and longing when this or that owner treated him or his companions rudely, or were harsh in using them, or did not provide needed nutrition because of ignorance or greed.
Mostly, it was a primer for how to live, how to treat others, how to do a job with pride and enjoyment, and how to do our best.
From the time Beauty was born, his mother told him stories about his grandparents.
“His grandfather had a great name, winning the cup two years at the Newmarket races and his grandmother had the sweetest temper.” She told him that she hoped he would grow up gentle and good, and would never learn bad ways. “Do your work with a will, lift your feet up well when you trot, and never bite or kick even in play.”
Beauty does not live the dream life. He comes through hardship and mistreatment with a greater appreciation of those who cared for him and met his needs. He never forgot his mother’s words. He was kind, hard working, compassionate, and affectionate.
He learned to spot those who would mistreat their horses for greed or selfishness or just for the sake of having power over another being. He could recognize those who treated their animals well and those who genuinely loved their animal friends as if they were family.
Perhaps, the story is a parable about how to treat all the beings with whom we share our fragile planet.
Or, perhaps, is about something even bigger. Perhaps ... it is about finding compassion and love within ourselves. With hearts filled with love we might, just might, be able to save our world, making it a peaceful place for all creatures.