There could hardly be a more horrifying way to die: when young Sean O’Brien waded into the Nueces River on horseback, he disrupted a nest of water moccasins, and found himself surrounded by a swarm of big, brown, worm-like snakes.
By the time his companions were able to pull Sean from the water, his body was covered in numerous fang marks, and he soon expired along the banks of the river.
In this episode from the novel Lonesome Dove, a grave is shortly dug, a hasty burial service is held, and the men prepare to keep their cattle drive moving. But Sean’s fellow cowboys, especially his brother Allen, find it difficult to grapple with this sudden and unexpected death.
Weak with shock, Allen is the last to mount his horse, and as the men ride off, he keeps looking back at his brother’s grave. “It seems very quick just to ride off and leave the boy,” he says with dismay. “He was the babe of our family.”
“If we was in town we’d have a fine funeral,” the cowboy sage Augustus McCrae replies. “But we ain’t in town. There’s nothing you can do but kick your horse.”
Gus may seem cold, but he’s simply a realist.
Whether we’re faced with literal death or more everyday setbacks and losses, we ought to mourn/commemorate/figure out where we may have messed up.
But there’s a point where nothing else can be done; no amount of paralyzing grief, rear-view regret, or circular rumination is going to bring back the deceased, enable you to redo the blown job interview, give you another shot with your ex. You gotta saddle up and ride on, pardner.
Life can only be lived forwards.
Feet in the stirrups. Hands on the reins. Eyes towards the horizon.
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