Sunday, July 25, 2010

The Herd

Its been a long time since I’ve sat down to write my thoughts. Perhaps that has been because there were just too many to organize. In the past few months, learning experiences have come and gone, some hitting me without me even knowing what is happening. But what I want to describe today is the thing that has been impacting me most lately, and is one of my favorite topics- The Herd.

Riley, Lucy, Bucky, Inny, Ceasar and Buddy, Zig and well.... Breezy. In no particular order. There- introductions made. But here its not about the individuals, their personalities, traits, or specializations. It’s about the whole group. I have been experiencing the value of this thing called a herd... or a flock, or a family. They are funny things. Never perfect, often in conflict. Many times they seem unfair. But they are always there. There is something about the group of individuals that you call yours, that is different from all other groups in the world. There is a level of comfort and familiarity, but also a level of friction which is necessary to cause us to grow.

You know that feeling that you get when you come home after a long day, prop your feet up on the couch, settling into that comfy divot? Then you talk to your family, whether it be about dinner or your day, or the latest drama. Maybe you get up to do some chores, maybe you say “screw it!” and just watch TV for the rest of the night. Its how I feel when I go out to our pasture. I work at a facility where there are horses. I use these horses in my work, and I have gotten to know and appreciate them pretty well. But they are not my herd. The days when I work with them and then come see my horses I recognize this huge difference. I come home and I feel HOME. I feel like I have been spending all day with mere “acquaintances”, but now I am with family. What is this idea of the herd? Of where we belong? How is it different than all the other places in the world? Recently I have seen such strong herd dynamics in the pasture, and strong “herd” dynamics in my life.

A few weeks ago, our dear friend Breezy left us. He had struggled..... I should say WE had struggled for two years to develop health for him after a debilitating illness. And the one thing that kept him going was the herd. His loyal friend Zig who rarely left his side and ALWAYS knew when something was wrong with him was a major player. And there was us, me and Jeanne (and the family and friends) who were always urging Breeze to eat, or get some exercise, to find purpose in life, because we needed him. Breeze was doing great, but he must have decided that his time was up, and he died out in the pasture that day. When the truck came to get him, the herd all lined up at the fence to watch, or to say their goodbyes, or something. They clearly knew that their herdmate Breezy was leaving them.

Over the next few days, the dynamics became very clear. We watched as Innocence helped Zig with the great grief that he had, and Ceasar brought him stability, and Bucky tried to keep his spirits up. I fit into that dynamic as well, doing all that I could for Zig while working out my own grief amongst the herd. In the weeks following, the herd has seemed much tighter. There used to be little “cliques” in the herd, but recently they have all been together. There doesn't seem to be much bickering, and I have noticed how they are all so aware of one another. They are aware of me too. I suppose that as this herd bond has been strengthened, their bond with me (another member of the herd) is strengthened as well.

I have seen this dynamic play out many times in different herds over the past few weeks. I have seen how my flock of chickens have gently accepted the new baby chicks and how their momma so religiously cares for them. I have seen a group of friends who lost a loved one devote weeks to coming together to mourn her, remember her, and care for one another. I have seen my own family jump in to care for my father in law who suddenly became ill.

These herds are not without their faults. The chickens perpetually bicker about food, and love to “remind” Momma Cass about her place in the pecking order when she gets too protective of her chicks. My friends have, in their grief, lost their cool at park rangers for cutting down trees. My family is likely never to overcome the complicated sibling rivalry that creeps into every aspect of family relationship. I have also seen herds recently in perpetual pain because of inability to communicate properly, misunderstandings, and personal issues. But perfect or not, our “herds” give us a sense of who we are, they give us our position from which we explore the world. They help us develop our boundaries and understand things about ourselves. They help us feel loved and safe.

This causes me to be grateful for my herd. We need to recognize the importance of all those individuals that we call a part of our herd. Whether they be family or friends, people or pets, there is a strong bond that ties us. While it may often take a stressful situation to bring out the best (or worst) in a group, it is good to try to enjoy those moments of comfort and solace that you have in your herd. Be grateful for who they are to you, and for who you are to them.