Life Lessons from the World’s Naughtiest Goat

Pluck.  Spirit. Gumption.  The will to press on and shake your fist at the Universe and have the audacity – to laugh.  I’ve come to believe that laughter is the ultimate sedition.  Who are we to laugh in the understanding of the world’s capacity for cruelty, for suffering and for pain?

In the wake of the tragedy in the historic Charleston church yesterday, I’m struggling with the immense sadness that looms above America at this moment. Our own sadness started earlier this week at the ranch. We lost our darling goat Chocolate. For eleven years, she touched lives with her naughty antics ranging from jumping on the hoods of cars, to pulling the leg hairs of men brave enough to wear shorts around her. She ripped wiring off of trucks, ate the lunches of hundreds of children, she wrestled and burped and head butted her way into countless photos and into our hearts. She was so wonderfully, unapologetically alive for every visitor to Square Peg Ranch. It’s hard to embrace the knowledge she will never be here again to make us giggle.

You can’t compare the two losses of course. Nine human lives taken with rapacious violence as opposed to the somewhat peaceful passing of a pet who lived a joyous and long life. But loss is loss and helping our families work through death doesn’t always leave time or space for staff to process their own feelings.

It’s healthy to grieve. Death and suffering give us a perspective from which to think about what is important and what is superfluous. Facing the suffering of others and being helpless to change it is part of what makes us human. It opens our hearts and connects us to both the suffering and the joy of our humanity.

But it’s easy to get stuck in the rut of sadness. It’s tempting to perseverate on the immense capacity for cruelty we see through the news. It’s a slippery slope to delve into the meaninglessness of the loss of what was alive just moments ago – is lost forever.

I came across a meme the other day that said “Expectations are just disappointments in training.” I laughed. Because Pathos and Irony are the truest forms of humor. And in the next moment, I came across a badly produced music video of singing and dancing and I unexpectedly found myself in tears.

I’ve got a million things on my plate – scores of families reaching out and needing and deserving our help.  Bills that must be paid, meetings attended, chores completed. I can feel the weight of my to-do list pressing on my chest and shoulders, shaking me awake and demanding an earlier start, a longer work day, a more focused effort. And yet, I sat myself down to write and grieve and honor the part of me that needs a quiet moment to sort out not just the “how” of running a space of love and acceptance, but to remember the “why.” What I really wanted to do, was to figure out “why” the music video made me cry.

Then I remembered something I’d read years ago and I’ll share part of it with you now if I may. It’s a snippet from William Faulkner’s Nobel speech in 1949.

“ I decline to accept the end of man. It is easy enough to say that man is immortal because he will endure: that when the last ding-dong of doom has clanged and faded from the last worthless rock hanging tideless in the last red and dying evening, that even then there will still be one more sound: that of his puny inexhaustible voice, still talking. I refuse to accept this. I believe that man will not merely endure: he will prevail. He is immortal, not because he alone among creatures has an inexhaustible voice, but because he has a soul, a spirit capable of compassion and sacrifice and endurance. The poet’s, the writer’s, duty is to write about these things. It is his privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past. The poet’s voice need not merely be the record of man, it can be one of the props, the pillars to help him endure and prevail.”   

As we process the tragedy of the Charleston massacre yesterday, let us honor the dead by truly living. Let us show our humanity by writing the poems, singing the songs, dancing the dances and let us show our immortal spirit by being brave enough – to be silly enough to laugh.

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