Previously published in the Hughson Chronicle-Denair Dispatch
We have chickens at our house. Down in numbers from our first purchase, the two remaining are a sight for sore eyes. One is a tiny, mixed breed. The other, named Cobalt, is large, dark gray hen, often mistaken for a rooster, who generously lays double-yoke eggs a few times a week. Despite Cobalt being a full two inches taller than her, Audrey (named for the slight figure of Audrey Hepburn) is the alpha female.
There are ten new chicks on the farm, properly called pullets. I looked on as Audrey herded Cobalt away from the little ones during this, their first day of free-range freedom.
She is the Mama Bear. She is the Mother Hen. With the potential danger getting too near, she set her sights, she protected those in her charge.
But they are not her chicks.
How very much like life it is. For one’s children, we pour ourselves out for their well-being and livelihood. Beyond that, I seem to find others mysteriously in my charge. The boy my husband brings to babysit after work, the young woman I have mentored since she was a pre-teen, the widow who begins to divulge her mental illness during a news interview.
How did Audrey get into this situation of fostering those chicks? She was brooding and, my husband worried that she would not “snap out of it.” He read a brooding hen can sometimes starve herself by refused to move from her nest. Following a recommendation, he put her in with the group of chicks.
The ones she helps now, helped her, and possibly saved her.
Animals have the power to grow and move, and the instinct to survive.
How much more powerful a role will these relationships play for those of us with the ability to think, to reason, to choose?
I think, perhaps, relationships are the key to everything. Therapeutic techniques, like interpersonal therapy, support that idea focusing on improving issues in relationships rather than focusing just on the mental illness.
How many relationships are born out of rescue? Two lives come together unexpectedly or rediscover each other. As one helps the other, they begin to journey together, generally for a season, sometimes for a lifetime.
Gratitude binds one to the other. Love binds the other to the one.
A time comes to reciprocate that love.
The relationship deepens.
A mother anticipates the needs of her offspring. She knows their personalities, knows how they react to certain vegetables and how to motivate them to clean their room (with a little help). She can anticipate those environments that will give them trouble (too big of a crowd) and redirect as needed.
With our ability to choose, unlike the chicken, we can choose well or choose poorly. Few and far between are the saintly individuals who could look at their life and say, “I always chose to give of myself. I’ve never made a selfish decision.”
Are our eyes open for those chicks in our life in need of protecting, of support, of guidance?
If we did spot them, could we leave our own perch and help them out?
I worry with the way of the world we do not ever hear their cry.
It may mean a loss of time on our part, a loss of energy, a redirecting of projects. I may have to dedicate some more effort in memory, strain my schedule, or face my own past trauma. It may mean revealing my heart and the wounds suffered. It may mean sharing that story, again and again, feeling the labor pains once more.
But that revelation could lead to our own healing.
In a small community, we see the same people again and again. Their presence reminds us of their need, that reminder calls us to keep our eyes and hearts open, even if means herding chickens bigger than ourselves.