Tuesday, December 6, 2016

The Shepherd

Mathew preferred using the more biblical term shepherd.  After all, he labored his flock through pastoral pastures and meandering meadows.  His parishioners, of course, were sheep and not people.  But after years of leading them, he could discern subtle differences.  The slope of a forehead, the stutter of a step, the variation in bleat.  So much so that he had a distinct name for every animal in his flock of thousands.

Mathew preferred isolation.  From humans that is.  But he was far from alone.  He spent his days in constant motion among the animals, and nights still, under the moonlight beside them.  In this way he past many youthful decades.  A quiet, tranquil life, but not one lacking turmoil.

For Mathew grew to love these animals.  And in so doing, he was forced to master a much broader skill set than just moving to to fro.  Sheep got sick, got stuck, or became prey.  So he devoured books on parasitology, mastered the art of disentanglement, and learned to scan the horizon with the eyes of the hunter.

And death came.  From time to time.  Despite his best intentions.  The fox was too wily or the dehydration too severe. Panic could also be an issue.  Mathew knew profoundly that the axiom scared to death could take on a more literal meaning.

At first these deaths were of little concern.  Natural.  Mathew, however, found that as his love for the animals grew, the impact became more sobering.  He worried incessantly about plausible dangers.  He scanned the horizon for predators, he sniffed the air for hazard.  His anxiety grew each time he passed the great cliffs at the Northern most border of the pasture lands.

The cliffs were steep, unforgiving, and unavoidable.  There was no other way to advance through the Northern rim of the territory, and move such a large group of animals to the South.  Mathew approached this part of the journey carefully.  He talked to the sheep.  Cooing quietly as if the steadiness of his voice could paralyze the musculature of thousands of legs.

He had seen it happen.  Once. Twice. Ten times.  A poor ram would take off in the wrong direction.  If Mathew wasn't fast enough, he could lose a hundred head as they followed to their doom.  He almost always lost one.  If he was on his game, he could mitigate the death spiral by stopping the rest from their morbid march.

As the years passed, he felt these losses more profoundly.  Mathew remembered the distinctive faces, the names.  His fear would bubble to the surface days before reaching the horrid place.  Although he couldn't identify it, what he dreaded most was the guilt.

Mathew had blood on his hands.  If he had only been better.  Faster.  He might be able to prevent such catastrophe.  He wandered many lonely evenings with feelings of regret dancing through his psyche and laying waste to his previously held joy.

It ended, one night, on the eve of his fiftieth birthday.  Mathew dreamt that herd was running towards the cliffs. Since they were lambs.  A straight, genetic, preordained path.  He yelled and screamed but all he produced was bleating.

So he ran with them.  Moving some out of the way.  Stopping others in their tracks.  Saving those that he could, and mourning those that were lost.

He woke up from his dream certain that he could no longer hold himself responsible for nature.

We are born and we die.

If we are lucky, we help others make the journey more smoothly. We turn them from the most imminent, and palliate the most severe.

This knowledge gave Mathew comfort.

He could once again love being the shepherd.

1 comment:

opwfredericks said...

This is beautiful, Jordan. Have you considered penning a novel?

O.P.W. Fredericks