On donkeys, sheep, hay and the Christmas spirit
Jean · Dec. 17, 2006
There is something profoundly moving about working around animals at Christmas. The scent of the hay in the barn, the braying of the donkeys, the baaing of sheep, are reminiscent of the sounds and sights and smells that might have greeted the Baby Jesus over two thousand years ago.
I am not a religious person, and I identify with no single religion (though I am a spiritual person) but I do celebrate Christmas as a time of great joy and an honouring of an historical figure who lived his life in a way that respected the dignity of all.
This morning I was feeling a little melancholy realizing it will be the first time in my 56 years that I will be spending the night of Christmas Eve without another human in my home, the first Christmas morning in 56 years that I will not be awakening to overflowing stockings and paper explosions and excited family members, and one of the very few Christmases with fewer people at my dinner table than I can count on one hand. Traditions swept aside, I was left strangely anxious and feeling somewhat lost and un-Christmassy.
And so I went to SAINTS to work through my angst, and as I chopped dead boughs and wrapped Petunia in her new blanket and stroked Baby Jack's soft face and listened to the chatter of many workers, I thought about what SAINTS means to me.
SAINTS is the wonder of watching old crippled Bill pounce around like a puppy as he goes for another run to the lower meadow with the rest of the crew. SAINTS is the joy of seeing Jack bounce back from a three-day sleep with her mechanical dog routine and squeaky excited bark. SAINTS is the sadness remembering the ones who have passed, held safely in Carol's arms as their old souls are released from their wrecked earthly body. SAINTS is the laughter that wells up from deep inside as Swinger and Spritely greedily grab at the hay in the bales I carry to the barn. SAINTS is the pleasure I feel when I receive that persistent little tap on the arm from Toby, the cat who greets me from the counter as I stand chatting in the kitchen. SAINTS is the awe that fills my heart and my soul when I look around me at Carl and Petunia and Copper, at Moses and Pops and Harrison and Maple, and I wonder how anyone could have ever not wanted these incredible animals. SAINTS is the gratitude I feel when I look around me on a Sunday afternoon the week before Christmas and see a team of dedicated volunteers fixing the chicken run, clearing the fallen boughs from the meadow, mucking out the barn, playing with the dogs, cuddling the cats, greeting visitors and doing that unpleasant but never-ending task of scooping poop.
There is a reason why the animals figures so prominently in the Christmas story - the unconditional love, the sense of purpose, the courage to go on, the faith in tomorrow - the lessons that the person called Jesus taught in his lifetime - are modeled for us best by the animals around us, and from working with those animals we grow into the sort of people we were meant to be.
And there at SAINTS, on a crisp sunny December afternoon, I found the Christmas spirit. And best of all, it is there all year round.