Thursday, July 23, 2009
My wife called in transit to tell me about the impending crisis I would face when they arrived.
Feeding the other three children and getting the oldest son to his ballgame on time prevented me from joining them at the sale. I waited in the garage when they finally got home. The subdued sniffling of my nearly eleven year old daughter interrupted the eerie silence as she slowly sauntered in through the side door.
I played dumb, but she wasn’t buying it.
I began with my perfunctory, “What’s wrong, sweetheart," knowing all along that she was fully aware of my wife’s forewarning. The floodgates opened. Her sniffles turned to full- fledged sobs as she buried her head into my chest and held on tight to my waist.
“I loved Jack. He wasn’t just an ordinary steer. He was special,” she said. “Why can’t we keep him as a pet?”
This love affair with Jack was short in the making. Just a few months earlier her Grandfather (and our neighbor) presented our daughter with a proposition. He would purchase Jack and his larger brother Big Mac as a 4-H project for Mary. She would feed and care for the steers during the winter and show and sell them in the market animal show in early May. Proceeds from the sale would then be used to reimburse him for his expense and any profits deposited in her college fund. Her mother and I were a bit hesitant knowing the work we would likely all face during the long, cold winter. My animal loving daughter, however, couldn’t resist.
It never occurred to me then what we would now face. My prior experience with steers was quite limited preferring instead to relegate my bovine interaction to the knife and fork stages at a few, well-chosen steak houses and our own dinner plates. I was ill-prepared for this cow conundrum now beset her.
I began my speech about the circle of life and Jack’s ultimate purpose to provide sustenance for those higher on the reasoning and dietary chains. I argued that by nurturing Jack and caring for him he would now take “care” of others. I was quite impressed with my pontifications.
The more I talked the more she cried. After all, hours of feeding Jack, walking around with him and caressing his carcass generated her authentic affection. No amount of Daddy logic would change the way she felt about her prized livestock destined for a close encounter with a speeding bullet. I abruptly ended my soliloquy and we went inside to face a long night of sadness together.
Solomon said there was a time and season for everything. For Mary and Jack, there was a time to be together and a time to be separated. Now was the separated part and it wasn’t easy. It’s a lesson, however, that will serve her well in the years to come. People, situations, and even relationships with animals change. Few things last forever. I hope she will always understand that. I hope she stays sweet like her Mother. I hope her fear of being hurt won’t keep her heart from becoming too hard. I hope she won’t be too afraid to be vulnerable again.
Most of all, I hope she always remembers that it truly is better to have loved and lost than to never have loved at all.