Hidden Treasure and a Buckskin Dun

I have a friend. I met him in a prison in Texas while preparing for a face-to-face meeting with the son of the man he murdered. But it was not the details in the mediation that stood out in this particular meeting with the old man. He told me many stories of his life, but the following story struck a chord in my heart. It was profound to hear the wisdom from this former death-row inmate and see how his insight beautifully highlights the need and power of reconciliation.

Thomas was a boy who lived in a small dusty town in South Texas. He was a typical boy with dreams in his heart and energy in his boots. His greatest dream was to buy a horse and learn to rope calves. He worked several summers at odd jobs like mowing lawns and sacking groceries at the local supermarket until he had enough money to start living his dream.

With a puffed-out chest, cash in his pocket and a grin stretching across his face the boy headed to the monthly horse auction. He tried to walk steady, looking mature, but there was just no containing the occasional skip that interrupted his stride. He was going to buy his horse. He saw the exquisite, though clearly green, what he called a buckskin dun. That sunny morning, seeing that raw animal kicking against its handler, he knew he had to have her. Being fresh and young there was never a doubt he could train this scrappy mare. And at the end of the day, with $300 less in his pocket, the boy headed home with his buckskin dun. Well, actually, he learned later she was a just a dun, but he always liked calling her his “buckskin dun.”

He worked with his horse every day. He was gentle but demanding. After weeks of work, the boy was ready to saddle the dun and try to rope the mangled wooden calf he had built from scrap two-by-fours and an old cow skull. He stood next to the buckskin dun and whispered into her flicking ear. He could see in her eyes that she wanted to please him. And indeed, she did.

But as time went on, the boy began to wander from his dreams and his dun. Drinking and trouble came all too easy and lead him into dangerous choices. Everything stopped on the day he killed a man. His days in that small town ended when he left to serve out his life in prison. Eventually, his family sold the dun back to the horse trader. But the horse was different. No matter how hard the man tried, the buckskin dun never worked for him like he had for his boy. Eventually, they turned the horse out to pasture where she died under a twisted tree in the back corner. Farmhands on that ranch said you could see a loneliness in the eyes of the dun.

The boy, now man, was like his horse eating his crow of loneliness daily. He longed for times before his dark choices. He would have died the same lonely death of his horse had it not been for a glimmer of hope he found one night in a cement room at the end of a cold corridor on death row. The night he met his Savior and knew he had found life.

The old man finished his story and looked at me. With glistening eyes he whispered, “They say there are more buried treasures in cemeteries than anywhere else.” His heart ached knowing that the buckskin dun’s talent and ability turned to dust under that tree. And he knew his time would come as well. But he was committed to live with the purpose of giving away as many of the treasures his life had given him, even in the harsh world of a Texas prison.

And he did just that with the son of the man he murdered. He gave him the only treasures he had to give; his regret, his sorrow, his remorse. The son had not expected the thin-skinned man with missing teeth and gentle words. He had expected the monster from his nightmares as a boy without his father. But instead the son and the man sat two feet apart sharing deep sorrow. In the wrinkled face of humanity, the son found the gift of forgiveness.

I left that meeting in wonder. The metal gate with razor wire shut behind me as I left my friend in his cement home. That clanging stirred me to think, who needs my gift of remorse? Who needs my gift of sorrow? Who must I seek to confess and be reconciled? And whom must I forgive? There was work to be done and no better time to start than now.

What about you? Are you taking hidden treasures to the dust like the buckskin dun?

“I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, that you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, Am the God of Israel.”  Isaiah 45:3

by Cheryl Miller