Horses Please Stay Out


Horses can’t read! Or perhaps they simply refuse to follow directions.

At the north end of Brant Lake a dirt road leads to the barns of Point O’Pines riding stables. On a normal day, beyond a canopy of maple trees, horses frolic in the fields, waiting to be ridden by campers. Ponies, palominos, colts, geldings and mutts, or whatever you call a horse with mixed identity, gambol and feast on acres of hay.

However, on one field a sign, attached to a wooden fence, declares “Horses Please Stay Out,”but directly behind the sign horses graze as if to mock the admonition. Why? Why is there such disrespect in a world already rampant with incivility?

Perhaps the answer lies in an early memory dating back to my student days at the seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. A distinguished professor and I would take afternoon walks and along the route pass a beautifully manicured red clay tennis court. The professor loved to play tennis but a sign attached to the wire fence enclosing the court proclaimed in no uncertain words, “Members Only No Visitors Permitted,” so the esteemed professor, with sadness in his voice, would lament, “If only I could play on this court. If only. But the sign states,’ Members Only No Visitors Permitted.’” Day after day my professor would pause, longingly examine the court and then repeat those words, “Members Only No Visitors Permitted” followed by, “If only. If only.”

But one day it came to pass, (a perfect phrase for a professor who taught Bible), that I was strolling alone and passing the court I spied a diminutive man with wisps of gray hair and a handlebar mustache playing tennis. Who was that man? My professor!

I was amazed since the professor was also a pacifist and here he was violating the sign, an adversary to the law and hitting a tennis ball with vengeance.

“Professor!” I called. “Professor! How can you play tennis when the sign reads ‘Members Only No Visitors Permitted.’ You certainly are not a member. Please, explain.”

My revered professor flashed a broad smile: “Simple, Dan, Simple. For days I have misread the sign, since punctuation is missing. With proper punctuation, which, of course, I added, the sign should read ‘Members Only? No! Visitors Permitted!’ And that’s why I’m here. It’s all in the punctuation.” And with that, the professor aced his opponent.

Remembering this story from student days, I finally understood the sign, “Horses Please Keep Out.”

The sign was not intended for horses, nor is it a reflection on horses ability to read. (Athough I have doubts that they can.) The problem lies with the sign maker whose instructions, painted on a wooden board, were intended for people and, with proper punctuation, should read, “Horses! Please Keep Out!” Or, “Horses. Please Keep Out.”

Punctuation. Tiny little marks. A “.” A” ,” An “!”. Punctuation changes the perception of the world.

Moral: Seemingly insignificant marks can be extremely important. Therefore, be careful with your periods, commas, exclamation marks and, for that matter, pay close attention to the miniscule events that make up a day. Always insert meaningful moments—they can greatly influence the way you live.


Brant Lake

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