Farm they said. It’ll be fun they said. And we had visions of picking our own tomatoes for sauce and walking in the early morning dew to milk the cow, her milk flowing warm and foaming into the steel bucket. And by the rhythm of the milk hitting the pale, we say our morning prayers. It’s the Divine Office in the chapel of the barn. We dream of rich dark soil, teeming with life and worms that grows potatoes that are so purple, doves cry. And oats and rye that blow in the breeze and rustle, creating their own music.
For every one of these romantic and lovely ideas, there is a day like yesterday. A day wholly unromantic.
And my son. Just a boy by some people’s estimation, but more of a man than most men I know. He loves his animals. Though he knows we grow them for food and the service of the family, he names every one, because everything deserves a name. Every animal is treated with the dignity it deserves. He respects the chickeness of the chicken, the cow-ness of the cow. Then that love gets put to the test.
There’s nothing romantic about the weasel that got into the turkeys and the carnage left in its wake. I won’t describe it because you don’t need those images. Thankfully it was not a total loss; suffice it to say some of the turkeys did not make it. As my son held a bird in his hands, still very much alive, although so badly injured–we looked at each other and knew what had to be done. It was the first time I have ever heard my son swear.
I said I would do it. Our friend who is a vet said she would do it. My son, taking a deep breath, said he would do it.
This beautiful consent to embrace the messy and unromantic side of life and death. He approached the problem with compassion and love and strength and character. He was not cavalier about what had to be done, as if he relished the job. Neither was he weak or irresolute. He was strong and compassionate. It was the picture of manhood–exactly what our world needs so desperately.
He took the ax in hand and did what he had to do. I hugged him afterwards. Even though I said I would do it, I was grateful that he did, not just because it relieved my burden of having to do it, but because it revealed his heart to me.
At its core farming is a delicate dance between life and death. And a farmer takes on an enormous responsibility to see that that balance is respected and maintained. It’s a job not everyone wants these days. I once heard a speaker boast that he could never kill an animal, even though he loved his steak. He’d leave that job to someone else. And I thought that was no measure of a man. To enjoy the fruits of death, but to never participate in it. Farming demands a level of integrity and authenticity that is in short supply in our world. My son has this integrity and authenticity in spades.
“The average person is still under the aberrant delusion that food should be somebody else’s responsibility until I’m ready to eat it.” (Joel Salatin)
This is why I know that whatever he chooses to do in life–butcher, baker, candlestick maker–he will succeed. Because he knows what life is about. And he knows what responsibility looks like. And he knows he is up to the challenge.
“Everybody has a vocation to some form of life work. But, behind that and deeper than that, everybody has a vocation to be a person, to be fully and deeply a human being, to be Christ-like. And the second thing is more important than the first.” (Brennan Manning)