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A Gift

So, it’s been awhile.

What’s that you say? It’s been almost four years?

Well. Huh.

A lot’s happened in the past four years. I’ve moved states (and jobs) three times. I gained about 80 lbs and then lost it again. I drove across the country and changed careers and paid off about $40,000 of debt and traveled to Nigeria and changed my hair to brown, to blonde, to red, to blonde again. I created another blog, built up an affiliate marketing business, then sold it. I got LASIK surgery and Invisalign. I quit social media (all of it). I taught myself WordPress and SEO and Kindle publishing and how to build iOS games. I got a job with the fastest-growing media company in history. I pretty much stopped writing entirely.

But here I am now.

 

 

A few months ago, I started a volunteer position at a farm that provides horse therapy for people with special needs. I chose this particular opportunity for three reasons:

  1. It’s an excuse to be off the computer, outside, and active for at least a few hours every week.
  2. I’m also working on breaking down my ego and if there is one activity that is pretty much ego-demolishing, it’s shoveling horse shit.
  3. I’m working on becoming more assertive and confident and these are two qualities you need when working with horses because they can basically read minds.

So that’s what I do a few hours a week: get outside, shovel horse shit, and try to not let the horses know I’m terrified.

The first month or two sucked, to be perfectly honest. I hated going. I would spend the whole week dreading my shift and making up excuses in my mind to justify not going. And then I would go anyway.

It’s hard physical labor, which let’s just say I am not used to and it’s all the things I’m terrible at (lifting heavy stuff, spatial reasoning, not having an ego, being around giant animals) and none of the things I’m good at (spreadsheets, analyzing act breaks in movies, gifs).

But then things started getting better. I actually got kind of, a little bit good at mucking stalls. I started training new volunteers. I learned how to do more chores around the farm. I stopped actively dreading my shift every week and started to almost look forward to it.

And then there was the day I wrestled with a donkey.

There are two barns at the farm: the main barn and a separate, open-air barn on the other side of the farm. Mucking the stalls in the open-air barn is nicer because you get more sunshine and fresh air, but it’s harder because of this donkey whose sole mission in life is to get into the stall while you’re trying to clean it so he can steal the horse’s hay. On multiple occasions I’ve had to enlist the help of a more seasoned volunteer to shoo him out of the stall. To avoid this nuisance, I usually pull my wheelbarrow inside the stall and lock the gate so the donkey can’t get in. This is kind of annoying to have to do.

For several weeks, for whatever reason, the donkey expressed no interest in me or my hay, so I eventually let my guard down and stopped locking the door, which is of course exactly when he made his move. I had my earbuds in, rocking out to Justin Bieber a really cool band you’ve probably never heard of, when I turned around and discovered the donkey was inside the stall gleefully munching on illicit hay. I looked around for someone to get him out but there was no one around – the nearest person was all the way back at the main barn, which is a healthy hike away.

“Hey,” I said in an unconvincingly authoritative voice. “That’s not your hay. You need to leave.”

Munch, munch, munch.

“No, I’m serious. Dude. Please, come on.”

Zero response from the donkey. I remembered that in the past when people coaxed him out of the stall it involved some degree of actual, physical pushing, but this scared me because donkeys will kick a motherf*cker. Like, they will literally kick you.

 

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So I nudged his shoulder. Gently.

Munch, munch, munch.

Not only did he not move but he actually planted his feet even more firmly as if to say ain’t no way I’m leaving this hay.

I looked around again. Still no one. I considered walking to the main barn to get help but how embarrassing would that be? Excuse me, could you pause what you’re doing and walk all the way across the farm to help me convince a donkey to stop eating hay? Yes, I am totally an adult.

Part of my reason for taking on this volunteer position in the first place was to get over my fear of large animals and learn to be assertive. I had asked the Universe for dragons to slay and the Universe was giving me one – in the form of the animal that is literally synonymous with the word “stubborn.”

Finally, in a fit of desperation I wrapped my arms around the donkey like a wrestler and threw my body weight against him and said “MOVE.” And… he actually moved. He threw his head back, clearly annoyed, and trotted out of the stall.

I don’t know when I’ve ever been so proud of myself.

Another lesson came the day I was asked to sweep the hay mow (the building where bales of hay are stored). It was storming outside and the building is open on the sides with just sheets of canvas tied down to block the rain. My task was to sweep up all the loose hay in this giant building, put it in a wagon, and take it to the cows down the road.

I was wet from the rain and grumpy and sore from hours of shoveling and raking and scrubbing and hauling and dumping and when I asked “is there anything else you’d like me to do,” the answer I was looking for was “nope, definitely not.” Instead I was assigned the most Sisyphean task I’d been given yet.

Wind whipped between the canvas “walls” of the mow, quickly redistributing any hay I’d managed to collect. The hay was also trapped under and between large wooden pallets, making it nearly impossible to reach. No matter how much hay I swept up, there was still more and more and more. It was cold. It was windy. My broom sucked. Meanwhile, the other employees and volunteers were huddled in the main barn, shielded from the rain and cheerfully discussing their lunch plans.

Why am I being punished? That’s what I kept thinking. Why am I being given this shit job while everyone else is having fun? Haven’t I done enough?

I pondered what I had done that was so awful that the Universe seemed to never think my ego work was done. Wasn’t shoveling manure for hours enough? Wasn’t it enough that no one knew my name or cared if I was there? Wasn’t it enough that I was wet and tired and sore? But of course it clearly wasn’t enough because if it was then I wouldn’t be grumbling to myself like this.

So I swept. And I swept. And I swept.

When I was done, the rain had stopped and everyone had gone to lunch. The sky was a deep silver and the trees were a vibrant, shimmering green. I wasn’t sure where these cows were but I was told they were down the road and that when I got there, I’d know I was in the right place. I dragged my wagon of hay down the country road, tired and sore and still grumbling about why I had to take this hay all the way down the road when I could have just dumped it with the manure to compost.

I finally came to a barbed wire fence that looked like it probably had cows somewhere behind it. Just wanting to be done with it, I hurled some hay over the fence. Suddenly I heard a noise behind me. I turned around.

There was a family of the most beautiful cows I’ve ever seen standing behind a fence on the other side of the street, staring at me expectantly.

 

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It suddenly occurred to me: these cows were waiting for me. This isn’t a Sisyphean task designed to break my spirit, it’s a job someone has to do because these cows look forward to eating this hay.

So I gave the cows the hay.

 

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The mom, the dad, the baby. They loved that freaking hay. And the sky was silver and the trees were glittering green and the whole world was quiet and peaceful and just for me and these happy, pretty cows.

And I realized that so often when I think I’m being punished, what I’m being given is a gift.

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Categories: my life in words