Animals don’t come here to die. They do, die here, but that’s not why they came. Some come abandoned, some discarded, some abused. Some just outgrew their owners’ interests or abilities. Some were simply unfortunate enough to outlive loving caretakers. Somehow those seem the saddest, the most lost. None, though, came to die. But they do, because we all do.
Llamas are big. Even the tallest farm crew here have to look up to properly greet them.
They are big, and they are majestic. Forget everything you’ve heard, about the biting
and the kicking and the spitting. They are majestic. Imbued with grace and calm. They
are well mannered, elegant. Slow in their movement, they are, somehow, despite their size, genteel. And even when threatened, they do not spit. They projectile vomit. All over the perceived threat. Much more effective.
When we take an animal in, we are taking on much more than the expense of feed and
care. We are accepting responsibility for a life. The writer Antoine de Saint-Exupery
said it best through the character of his little prince. “You become responsible, forever, for what you have tamed.” Feed is a part of that. Care a bigger part. But far bigger than both of these is the responsibility to honor the gift that is life itself. A noble responsibility, that.
The llama, standing tall and regal days before, lay on hay covered ground, not
prostrate, but on her side, immobilized, looking up, looking out. She would not stand again. But even there, like that, she was, still, majestic. The suggestion that an animal is not conscious of death would be laughable were it not grotesquely profane. Even the most stoic farm crew knelt to say goodbye.
In “no death, no fear”, the Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh writes that it is possible to help others to die peacefully. The saints among us who work in hospice know this to be true. But the late poet Mary Oliver knew another condition of life to be equally true.
“We would do anything to keep them with us, to keep them young. The one gift we
Her eyes never closed. They don’t, close. We know this because we have, for a long
time now, accepted the responsibility for what has been tamed, through to the end. We have, for a long time now, seen our reflections in eyes that no longer look up, or out. Animals don’t come here, to Nye Hill, to die. But they do, because we all do.