What a Shepherd Can Teach Us About Some of the Gentlest Beings on Earth
In my world, it seems somehow both fitting and auspicious that my first post of a whole new year features sheep.
Yup. Sheep. Those cuddly, doe-eyed, consummate extroverts who were there for us hundreds (or perhaps thousands) of years before we had polyester or almond milk, let alone meat packing plants.
In fact, I’m kind of horrified it has taken until my 46th year of life to really appreciate these kind, generous and trusting beings who give…everything…receiving at most a bit of hay feed and lambing assistance where needed.
That just boggles my mind.
If someone came up to me and said, “Hey, I’d like to cut your hair off and make a shirt, and drain out all your milk to drink (if I had any milk to drain, that is) and make the rest of you into steaks – is that cool?”
Well, shoot. They make serial killer movies to explain the appropriate response to those kinds of requests.
But sheep say yes. Time and time and time again, we take and they let us. They even come when we call them, and let us choose where they will live and who they will make lambs with and what they will eat and drink and how long they will live.
This whole journey of discovery started with a rather random-feeling chain reaction (you can read more about that in this blog post). I had gotten to enjoy watching animal-centric documentaries, and a new one popped up in my video feed.
It was called “Addicted to Sheep.” An hour and a half later, the documentary had done its work well. I didn’t understand a single thing the UK farming family said, but I also didn’t care – something deep and primeval within me saw those sheep and just said “yes.”
I began reading about sheep, and then a few weeks ago I happened across a book called “The Shepherd’s Life” by James Rebanks. It didn’t take me long to realize I was probably the only one who hadn’t heard of this remarkable modern-day shepherd and his uber-famous sheep.
I also didn’t realize shepherds have to wake up so early. There isn’t enough coffee in the world to wake me up, let alone make me useful, at 4:30am.
But I understood perfectly what it means to be “hefted” (generationally attached) to a piece of land. I feel that way about Cape Cod, and Rebanks and his sheep feel that way about England’s famous Lake District.
And I instantly comprehended how, when you love somebody (human or non-human), you get up at 4:30am or whatever hour they need you to get up to make sure they are alive, warm, fed, healthy and whatever else they need you to make sure of.
Truly, the workload of the shepherd – and especially the shepherd with a family, young kids and a second (or even third) job – is immense. Rebanks explains how most working farms today aren’t profit-based enterprises.
Nope, for profit you typically need a second or third or even fourth job. Your work your own farm for love, and because you are hefted to it and you just can’t help yourself.
You know you wouldn’t be happy anywhere else, doing anything else, and that is just how you popped out. And even better, you wouldn’t change that for anything.
I totally get this. For more than a decade, I was constantly juggling two or three or even four jobs at a time while I worked on “my own thing” on the side.
My own thing was songwriting and then writing-writing, interspersed with speaking to teens and young adults about recovery matters, mentoring some of them and running an international non-profit (which it truly was).
Some people – like for example my worried parents – were quite keen to see me focus. Settle. Earn. Evolve.
But while I wasn’t settling or earning, per se, I was focusing and evolving on a daily, even hourly, basis. I was learning what I love, what I feel passionate about, what I have to offer, what I want to offer, and where I am perfectly placed to offer it.
Even more importantly, I was learning about the type of human being I aspire to be. And I was gathering around me mentoring beings of all species to keep me striving in that direction and offer their love and support (and often a helping hand back up again) when I faltered.
So I get James Rebanks and why he calls himself “the luckiest man in the world.” I get why his 80,000+ Twitter followers and 13,000 Instagram followers (@herdyshepherd1 if you’d like to follow along with me) are keen to keep up with his daily adventures.
The world we live in today takes many of us so far from our shared roots we can easily forget we even have any roots. Beings like Rebanks, his sheep, his family, his sheepdogs and his precious land re-root us, ground us, center us in a culture that seems deliberately intent on robbing us of trust in where we are headed, where we’ve come from and who accompanies us along the way.
But that is just one path. Herdyshepherd1 and his trusty sheep offer us another path, and it is one that feels so authentic and honorable and familiar that we can’t help ourselves.
We just have to take it, just to see where it may lead.
Today’s Takeaway: I won’t lie – I’m never going to be a shepherd. If I get very, very lucky, I might have a fluffy hircine or ovine sidekick or two later in this life, albeit purely for the joy of their company and not for their many useful parts. But oh how grateful I feel to those of us who keep the rest of us connected to the increasingly fragile land beneath our feet! Do you have a particular fondness or even a hefting you can’t explain to a certain area in the world, or certain species, or a certain way of life or profession? I’d love to hear about it!
Cutts, S. (2017). What a Shepherd Can Teach Us About Some of the Gentlest Beings on Earth. Psych Central. Retrieved on April 21, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/mentoring-recovery/2018/01/learning-about-shepherding/