"What's the worst thing that happened this week?" I asked my son

Frodo : I can't do this, Sam.

Sam : I know.
It's all wrong
By rights we shouldn't even be here.
But we are.
It's like in the great stories Mr. Frodo.
The ones that really mattered.
Full of darkness and danger they were,
and sometimes you didn't want to know the end.
Because how could the end be happy.
How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad happened.
But in the end, it's only a passing thing, this shadow.
Even darkness must pass.
A new day will come.
And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer.
Those were the stories that stayed with you.
That meant something.
Even if you were too small to understand why.
But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand.
I know now.
Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back only they didn’t.
Because they were holding on to something.

Frodo : What are we holding on to, Sam?

Sam : That there’s some good in this world, Mr. Frodo. And it’s worth fighting for.

The Two Towers - J.R.R. Tolkien

image.jpg

So I have to fess up a little bit.  I posted on Instagram and Facebook a video of the above day old chicks a few day prior.  Well the truth is every chick you see and about 60 more are all dead.  With this weeks really bad news cycle I didn't have the heart to follow up on our post. The farm can be a cruel reality that typically could give 2 flying figs about my sense of fairness for the world.  80 chicks were killed and packed into a nest by a rat in the span of about 3 hours time.  Here is my front porch rocking chair account of how this farm disaster unfolded.  My usual routine when I come home at 2:30 am from my shift in the Emergency Room is to make rounds at the farm to ensure that things are mostly in order for the rest of the night.  I very much rely on all of my senses especially when it is dark.  The smell of smoke and the missing livestock guardian dogs were enough to get a tired farmer/ er nurse to investigate further.   Mag light and a quick boot change and I was off to the most vulnerable place on the farm, the brooder house.   Inside were 175 newborn chicks split into two groups.   One of the groups was completely missing, as if someone was pranking me.  The other group not 5 feet away was completely intact and added to the puzzled, fatigued middle of the night haze now running through my head.  I nosed around the high grass that is near the brooder house shining my flashlight back and forth looking for signs of chickens or the alien spacecraft that could have possible abducted them.  What could possibly go wrong stumbling around in the dark on a warm July Texas night right?   I abandoned my search rescuing only 4 that I found in a nearby PVC pipe, but the mystery of just what happened to those chicks ate at me.  Now sweaty and pissed off I made it to the house just shy of four A.M.  "What could have possibly happened to those chicks?" I asked myself over and over.   After much postulation I was certain they had made a jailbreak from the brooder house and our third shift employees had their fill of fresh baby chicken.   Those damn dogs!  There are a few recurring themes in my life and jumping to conclusions seem to go hand in hand with making rash decisions.  Both trademark Farmer Geoff moves.   Fast forward 2 hot July days later and I was in a hurried rush to get chores done between church and an ER shift.  Despite some pretty wicked hay fever the stench of something dead made my eyes water.   Lo and behold a disgusting pile of mangled dead chickens crammed into a rats nest underneath the remnants of last seasons hay bales.  I'm sure my wife is making a gagging sound and yucky face even as she reads this, and rightfully so.  Nothing like a rotting carcass on a hot day to make you feel all nostalgic about farming right? 

image.jpg

At church this morning the pastor stood in front of us and hesitated for a minute and uttered the phrase "This has been a hard week hasn't it?"   The whole place breathed a long sigh with a collective slump shouldered "yeah it has " kinda feeling sweeping the auditorium.   He struggled to utter words that were helpful but honest about this week's events.  Even though we need to talk about this week's police shootings and return fire in Dallas, I'm sure you are growing fatigued, as am I,  of being surrounded with bad news.  So much hate and violence and all the while hashing it out with flashy graphics, breaking news sets to a thematic sound track cranks my anxiety level to 11.  There are dozens of families this week who are living a kinda hurt that I can't possibly sympathize with and even as I write this I feel guilty for just wanting to stop talking about it.   Hidden in the shadow this kind of behavior and hatred breed fear to our nation and we are way better than that.  Dragging it kicking and screaming into to light of day is the only hope to lick this nonsense.   I'm proud of our pastor for not sweeping it under the rug but rather did his best to make sense of chaos.  It would have been so much easier just to do what I shamefully wanted him to do and ignore it and just put life back the way it was two weeks ago.  As the band began to play I leaned over to Seamus and asked him "What was bad that happened this week?"   I had assumed that this never ending coverage and analysis had seeped down into his world.   He looked at me puzzled so I rephrased " What bad thing happened this week that Pastor is talking about?"   Knowing Seamus I should have seen it coming, but he said plainly "The chicks died".  

Slack jawed I gave him a crazy dad look that must have lasted too long because he began to look around the room without moving his head.  It was an awkward response to his honest reply but for the life of me couldn't believe that he didn't know what was going on.   Totally distracted from the service I drifted off into one of those TV dream sequences replaying his week in my head.  Like a ton of bricks it hit me that he was way more in tuned than I had given credit for.  This kid spent the worst week in recent months to be an American in the pool, at friends houses, watching Andy Griffith, playing with his dogs, flying rubber band rockets and packing for summer camp.  Unlike the rest of us, Seamus was never told to be sad, angry or afraid this week and even though he is only 10 his perspective was needed in my big daddy heart.  His reply brought me quickly back to earth and off of the planet that only plays the news reel.             

image.jpg

Before I wax poetic any further, thanks for hanging in with me thus far.   Not the sexiest of subjects I know but this is where a community is formed and bonds are made and I don't take it for granted that we are here together.  What do dead chicks, Samwise Gamgee ,  a 10 year old boy and shooting each other have to do with anything that a farmer would have thoughts about?     Well one of the ways that farms remain community assets is that we have a way of recording time and telling stories in a much more deliberate way.   Nothing happens on a farm and to farm families that are not intricately connected to a long told story.  There exist no quick changes and her memory is longer than even I can remember.   She is constantly telling a narrative about seasons and suns, life and death, wealth and poverty all at the same time.  The death of 80 chicks is horrible but only to me and the chicks.  To the rats, insect and soil their death is nourishing and good.  Her story is intricate even if it is utilitarian.  We have lost deeply this week and we should grieve as hard as we can while insisting that there is good in this world worth fighting for.  But instead of letting cable TV tell me how to feel, maybe we can think about different things on purpose.  Let's set our minds on things that are pure, lovely, noble, true, honorable and admirable like Seamus did. Now for all the conviction I can muster listen to me on this.  All those things have to be told in your story at the same time.  Weave a bigger narrative that envelops your heart and mind with all the blessings that this life can give us, including the opportunity to be vulnerable in the face of tragedy.  Don't let the story of you be so short sighted that negativity kills your joy.  I dare you to act differently after reading this.

image.jpg