The introspective humdrum life of an eccentric hexagenarian.

Visit my other blogs: "Elderberry Bike Rides of Delaware
," organized bicycle rides for families, senior citizens, and anyone interested in getting back into biking; and "Cloister Voices," the collected thoughts of modern and ancient hermits, eccentrics, solitaires, wanderers, mystics, and others who inhabit the monastery within.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

When Donkeys Fly

photo by Connie Girard (*)

I know a donkey named Nellie who once demonstrated the intention of movement so artfully that it would have made you weep with joy. Nellie lived on the farm of a retired veterinarian who owned many championship thoroughbreds and kept Nellie as a "lawn ornament" who was required to do nothing for her keep but be a donkey. She had never been ridden or trained or even asked to walk across a paved road and therefore spent a lifetime flatly refusing to walk on pavement or gravel. With hundreds of acres of pasture, it was rarely an issue.

It's a haughty group of horse people that live in this area. Too much money, too much fox hunting, too much too much. Too haughty to even lower their eyes to mock the substandard confirmation lines of an aging donkey and an aging eccentric woman who came to the stables to visit a donkey.

You'd think a donkey so seemingly starved for personal attention would fawn and beg and bray and heehaw for the carrots, apples, and peppermints I brought. Not Nellie, proud Nellie so busy with living her donkeyness.

I have spent hours in the pasture reading, writing, napping, feeding Nellie all manner of delicacies from the farmers' market, brushing her, petting her, flipping her lovely ears like radar antennas. When I would laugh, she would bray. What gusto there is in a donkey bray! The whole body takes part and infectiously requires some kind of response from the universe.

Nellie moved very slowly and not before a great deal of deliberation went into the decision of whether to move, where to move, and why to move. This was fine with me. I'd hold a carrot in one hand while I read and eventually Nellie would find her way to it.

At the time, I was reading about Chi. All very interesting but I wondered where does chi reside when one isn't moving and in what form. When a dozen thoroughbreds thundered down upon us with flying hooves and tossing manes to steal the fruit and vegetable booty, it was easy to witness the life force coursing through their bodies. They are bred without a rheostat. They are either on or off and bred to run so swiftly that it takes the breath away to witness it and fires our carnal hedonistic desires to saddle up and ride that sense of abandonment so carefully choreographed as an almost out of control flight from gravity.

Yet it was a donkey never ridden that was chosen to bear a messiah into Jerusalem and it was an old testament donkey, not a man, not a thoroughbred, who saw an angel blocking the road and refused to move even when beaten, the same donkey who spoke to Balaam of his folly.

So lie down in green pastures with me and contemplate the chosen nature of a homely aging donkey and try to catch a glimpse of subtle chi as one slender burro leg raised itself off the ground and slowly came down again before another foot started to move and then the next foot and the next and then a pause of movement that was no longer an empty category or the mere absence of movement but a gathering of intention, a wisp of desire that existed with its own sense of purpose and humor.

As a myopic human who can't see angels in the middle of the road, I was not shown this feat of feet with just one step or two but dozens and dozen of graceful steps until I could match my breath to the slow cadence and realize that my own breath existed with its own consciousness, sense of purpose, compassion, and even humor. It made me laugh and dance with a donkey, and the donkey kept time and brayed.


(*) As a responsible blogger, I contacted the artist who took the photo of a donkey that I wanted to use in my blog. I have no pictures of Nellie as they were all lost in a house fire that took all my possession, computers, cameras, photos, and the memories of 56 years. A blessing in a way, a clean sweep, and the promise of starting all over again.

I politely asked Connie for permission for a "one-time use" and was rewarded with finding a new friend, who like me, underderstands the transcendence of love, compassion, and sharing the journey back to Pardes. Please visit her website at She also rewarded me with the promise of sending me a print of "Nellie" as a gift! Glory Be.

Riverfront Market

This area of Wilmington, Delaware used to be an eyesore of abandoned buildings serving as crack houses. A billion dollars later it's now a tourist attraction and a magnet for the lunchtime business crowd from the banking community.

I'm surprised how reticent people are when someone passes by with a camera. It's not vanity as much as a worry that their privacy is being invaded. However, I pose no threat since I appear to be someone's dusty-rose aging Aunt and certainly not a reporter or an artsy-fartsy student trying to capture the gritty or flagrant or "real" side of life.

In the late 70's when I first got a long telephoto lens, I found that you could capture people in their private moments of reverie without their knowledge. The power of it was intoxicating until I happened to focus the lens on a young Amish girl in Lancaster caught unaware and sweeping the concrete free of leaves that lead to the barn .

She paused for a moment to brush away a wisp of her auburn hair that had escaped from her bonnet and you could see her expression shift away from "idle hands are the devil's workshop" to some thought that made her cobalt blue eyes sparkle. The wind was swirling the leaves up around her and it would have been an award-winning shot.

But I did not click the shutter. It was a rude invasion of privacy and it would have been a "sin" to steal her private moment for my own.

After that I never took another shot without permission from the "model" or without sharing the photo for their approval.

I found this captivating young man in his stillness amid the adrenalin-charged business executives who hurried by and demanded "no mayonnaise" on their club sandwiches and "Evian water please, not Deer Park water."

After taking the photo of the young man, I walked up to him and showed him the view screen. "I took your portrait. Hope you don't mind. You are very handsome and I love the peaceful stillness you bring to the market." He nodded in quiet approval.

"Wow, get a load of that Tomato!"

After I had a conversation with the vegetables at the produce stand, I gathered my club sandwich to go ("EXTRA mayonnaise please") and headed to the door to leave but heard a voice behind me. It was the same young man now behind the counter of his small news stand unlocking the cash register to begin business again. "Miss," he said to me. "You are a lovely day."

Perhaps he really meant to say, "You have a lovely day." But something tells me he meant exactly what he said.

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