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Irons in the fire: Happiness for someone else’s horse

Paul Marchant Published on 12 November 2015

My brother-in-law, Jason, is a Kansas State track and field alumnus and a native of the Boise Valley, and as such is a devoted fan of not only his alma mater but also of the Boise State Broncos.

My athletic allegiances lie elsewhere and, particularly because I have University of Idaho ties, I simply cannot find it in my heart to find any joy in the success of the Boise State football team over the past decade or so.

My sister is of the same mind as I am, which is occasionally a source of minor contention in her marriage. Much to their credit, my sister and brother-in-law seem to have a very happy and well-adjusted family life, mostly due to Jason’s easygoing nature and in spite of Karen’s irrationally stubborn Marchant genetics.

Bronco Logo

Jason can’t seem to understand why we, as Idahoans, can’t find even the slightest amount of happiness in the success of what may be our state’s most famous and successful product since J. R. Simplot taught McDonald’s how to make french fries.

I really hate it when he makes his argument – because I don’t have a valid rebuttal. His logic honestly makes much more sense than my absolute refusal to clamber up on the BSU Bronco bandwagon.

These weekly autumn discussions have given me cause to reflect on other aspects of my life. Could it be that I’m not as evolved and mature as I thought I was? Self-appraisal isn’t always a pleasant undertaking. It’s sometimes not an attractive reflection looking back at me from the mirror of time and experience.

I remember well the Christmas just before my 13th birthday. Mr. Claus had left me a new single-shot 16-gauge shotgun. I loved it. I’d now be more than just the guy who carried the birds for my dad on our pheasant and sage hen hunts.

My jolly Christmas mood turned sour a few minutes after I took my scattergun from its case. Standing out behind the house, tied to the rail by the tack shed, was a pretty little dark buckskin mare.

How, you might ask, could such a thing, standing there in all her equine innocence, not evoke Christmas joy? The answer is simple. Yet now, decades later, it seems to make no sense at all. The buckskin mare was for my twin sister.

It wasn’t that I thought the horse should be for me. We had enough horses for me to ride, and I usually got my pick. But still, why should she get a horse all her own? I, in my mind at least, worked more than she did. She didn’t deserve this. What’s the deal here? It just wasn’t right.

I know – it’s a shameful admission. As I look back on it now, with the benefit of force-fed wisdom and experience, I can’t wrap my brain around my petty selfishness. Yet sometimes I find myself copping the same attitude as that immature, self-centered almost-teenager I once was.

Instead of being happy for a friend or acquaintance that may have found some occupational success or money, I’ll occasionally find myself feeling a twang of jealousy. That makes less sense than my disdain for Boise State and its wretched blue field.

Thankfully, I’ve learned how to get over myself. Life is much nicer since I’ve learned to truly be happy for other people. As cliché as it may sound, I now get a lot more joy from giving than I do from getting.

As my kids were growing up, it used to drive them crazy on Christmas mornings when I wouldn’t bother to open my own presents until well after everyone else had opened their gifts.

To their credit, their frustration was borne out of the fact that they already appreciated the joy of giving at an early age, and they got as much happiness from seeing someone else receive something as they did from their own gifts.

Several years ago, we were going through a rough stretch, financially speaking. I came in the house from feeding well after dark one night, a couple of weeks before Christmas. As I walked into the kitchen, my wife handed me a manila envelope that she’d found in the mailbox, with a simple “Merry Christmas” greeting written on the back.

Inside the envelope was nearly $400 in cash. We weren’t destitute. We had a house, food, clothes and plenty of supportive family around us. Yet, someone – to this day, I don’t know whom – cared enough to, without recognition of any sort, selflessly reach out to someone they felt was in need.

I remember standing alone in the corner of the kitchen, unable to even utter a word. As embarrassing as it is to admit, I could only stand there alone and cry, overwhelmed by someone’s anonymous generosity.

I’m not saying you need to go around dispensing cash, or that you should even congratulate a Buckeye, a Jayhawk or a Dukie on a good game or season. But I’ve tried it both ways, and life is much more pleasant when you’re happy – even if it’s for someone else.  FG