A Haiku for Big Paul
His shell rests in peace
Beneath the disrupted soil
But his spirit soars
I looked at out toward the pasture at first light to find that all color had been replaced by the sun’s golden glory painted on a canvas of rolling fog. Nature was welcoming the day with spectacular enthusiasm.
Then my eyes fell on a dark, slightly mounded patch of earth out near a small evergreen tree. One of our horses was standing near the spot, sniffing the clumps of dirt, then grazing nearby. Did she know? Could she tell that her fallen friend was buried there?
I suspect yes. Since the moment Big Paul stretched out on the ground and his beautiful heart gave one last beat, it has been interesting to watch the reaction of the other animals. When Paul went down, the entire herd, five horses, one mule, one miniature horse, one standard donkey, five miniature donkeys, and one sheep, stayed nearby, on watch at a seemingly respectful distance.
Paul died next to the opening in the fence that allows the animals to pass from our smaller pasture out into our big pasture. Paul’s body was not blocking the path, but not one of the horses or donkeys was willing to pass through the gate. Each came, in turn, to sniff Paul, to understand that he had made his transition. And then they all returned to the small pasture to munch on hay and bask in the early morning sun.
It was comforting to me to watch them slowly approach him, to see how they very carefully, but without caution or fear, stretched their necks forward to inhale Paul’s scent. Stepping all around him, but not disturbing him, they learned what they needed to know, seemingly paid their respects, perhaps said their farewells, and then moved forward.
Each animal moved forward. It was simple, it was respectful, and their acceptance of this change in their herd was beautiful. While none of the horses lingered directly with Paul’s body, they also seemed reluctant to move away from him. It wasn’t until Jim moved Paul out to the spot in the pasture where he would be buried that the horses left the small pasture and returned to their normal routines.
It occurred to me that animals may know something we do not. I have come to believe it is their gift to see a natural death as a gentle friend, rather than a great unknown. Perhaps they have a more pure, unbiased understanding of what comes next than their human counterparts do.
I know it is customary to bless the departed with the words “rest in peace.” I appreciate the sentiment, and I am grateful for those who so sincerely wish peace in a time of grief. But I have never felt comfortable with the idea that when we die, it means eternal rest. It does not fit the story that plays in my mind about what I hope comes to pass in the ever-after. If I have learned anything from living on our farm and watching animals in this moment of ultimate grace, then I think it’s time for a new saying.
So I say romp in peace, Paulie. Race in peace. Buck, roll, leap, and play in peace, big guy. This is how I will picture you. That place in the pasture where the earth is broken only covers your body, the shell that housed your incredible spirit. But I know you’re not there.
On this golden morning, I know you are finally free to do as you please. And while everything in my world still feels a bit broken, that’s not on you…it’s all about me. I will miss you. I will miss standing at your side and feeling so tiny next to your massive frame. I will miss the warmth of your neck when I reached up to wrap my arms around it. I will miss your deep, rumbling greeting at the pasture gate.
Right now I am sad for me, sad for my loss, but I’ll get better. I will learn from your herd-mates and I will move forward. I will step into this perfect day with a mortar mixed of memories and gratitude carefully bonding the cracks in my heart.
And maybe someday, if I am very lucky, my ever-after will include that ride you and I had always planned. That, my giant friend, would be Heaven.