Tuesday, June 03, 2014

An Open Heart and the Will to Live (Revised)

The following is a piece I wrote a few years ago. I revised it for a project....there was a piece of the story that was really important for me to remember that was missing from the first version, so I've edited it to add that piece of the story.

An Open Heart and the Will to Live

We operate with a simple rule on the farm: If a sick animal shows us she wants to live, we will do everything we can to help her get well. The rule was at the forefront of my mind the day Lily was born. A lamb born to a ewe that was too young to be bred, Lily came into the world without all she needed to survive the first few hours of life on her own.

When she was born, she didn't take the usual first steps within minutes of birth. It is critical that a lamb stand up soon so that she can get the necessary nutrition from her mother. I waited for Lily to stand until it was obvious she was too weak. I carried her to a protected area in our barn and coaxed her mom there with some clean hay. The air was warm with the first hints of spring, but a cool breeze from the north made it clear it would be cold that night.
I prepared a bottle and brought it out to the barn where she lay. The smell of sweet, fresh hay permeated the air. I took a deep breath and reached for Lily, placing her limp, weak body on my lap. I put the nipple to her lips, holding her chin up to give her support while she ate. Her mom watched cautiously from the corner of the barn, a growing look of concern taking over her face. She took a few steps toward us and watched curiously. Then she approached my side and took position next to Lily's back side. She reached forward and licked Lily's back, just as she would do if Lily was nursing from her, an action that helps stimulate a young lamb to suck. Lily started sucking vigorously and within a few short minutes, emptied the bottle. I knew then that she had a strong will to live.
It's hard to describe that moment, to capture all that I was thinking and feeling in those few, short minutes of cooperating with the two of them to help that lamb have her best shot at life. I was new to farming, and was dealing with my first newborn without my partner Lisa's help. I wasn't at all sure I was up to the task, but Lily's mom called me to the task. In that moment, I was ordained, chosen by a ewe to be shepherd to her struggling newborn. It left me breathless, humbled.
I took Lily in the house as night fell and the temperatures dropped. I held her to my chest while I talked to Lisa on the phone. It had been a hard winter at the farm. We had lost some animals and my heart had been broken more than once. Lisa knew immediately what I needed as I described the situation. I had the basics down, all the necessary care to help keep her alive. But I was tentative and scared. Lisa affirmed all that I was doing, but quickly zeroed in on what was lacking. “You have to open your heart to her. She’s going to break it. You have no control over that. It may be tonight. It may be tomorrow. It may be ten years from now, but she will break it, so accept that and let her in.”

I nuzzled Lily against my chest, and let her rest in my arms. I prayed for my heart to open. Tears fell as she nibbled on my chin. I felt a deep connection to her. I struggled with fear that she would die. I knew the odds. If a lamb doesn’t get up on her own in the first few hours of life, she isn’t likely to live. I felt an impending sense of doom, a deep dread fueled by memories of losing animals in a blizzard on Christmas Eve. I wanted her to live but I was afraid to ask for it, afraid to believe that it would happen.

I let her sleep near me. Every few hours, she stirred and I fixed a bottle. For nearly 48 hours, I fed her and stood her up. I talked to her and sang to her. I watched her struggle to get up on her own. Time after time, she’d almost make it, only to collapse with a thud. Until, finally, almost two days after she was born, she got up. Her shaky legs barely able to pull her up, she stood and in seconds began to walk around the room. She walked circles around me while I danced and laughed. I felt the wall that I had so carefully erected around my heart come crashing down. Salvation came to both of us. With an open heart and the will to live, joy returned and lifted us to the sky.

by Rumi

There is no salvation for the soul
But to fall in Love.
It has to creep and crawl
Among the Lovers first.
Only Lovers can escape
From these two worlds.
This was written in creation.
Only from the Heart
Can you reach the sky.
The rose of Glory
Can only be raised in the Heart.