Most all children have some sort of desire to own a pet as they are growing up. In the case of my children, all of them have been begging for various pets over the years.
Their desire for a pet, I believe, comes from a healthy place: they desire for love and affection; a physical creature they can hold and cuddle, pet and hug. They have a desire to care for a living creature, to feed and play, to teach and train. They desire to have a friend, a companion that will never leave them for someone else, a connection with a living thing that they can depend on. Having a pet teaches them responsibility, discipline, and compassion.
But, having a pet will also teach a child (and adults) another valuable lesson in life. That lesson is the truth of our mortality. For children and adults, myself included, we usually think and experience life as a sort of condition that will never end. We seldom stop to consider our limited time here on earth. In fact, I dislike thinking about my limitations, particularly my eventual limitation to continue to sustain my own life. Instead, I enjoy focusing my attention on increase. I distract myself from limitation by learning more, building more, earning more, traveling more, interacting more, and connecting more. And all these activities of increase are a good and proper pursuit. But, to get back to my point, a valuable truth that every pet will eventually force us to reflect on is that of mortality. This week, our family was reminded of that truth.
Three weeks ago we purchased six chickens.
They came to us in a box and after we brought the box to our house and opened it up, all the chickens immediately jumped out and did what chickens do. They pecked, scratched, clucked, and explored their new home with curiosity. Each member of our family gravitated to one of the chickens and we each individually claimed one as our own and gave it a name. French Pigeon, Hatshepsut, Determined, Butternut and Tomato. But one chicken was unlike the rest. One chicken, after several minutes of the other five chickens traversing their new territory, still remained in the box (see picture above). “That is my chicken,” Eva yelled with gleeful excitement. “I will name her Bombabay.” Eventually we tipped the box on it’s side and slowly, the odd chicken came out. Upon inspection, we noticed that the chicken had a few feathers missing, and that she had obviously gotten stuck on the bottom of the pile of chickens during transport. Though she seemed to have had a rough ride with her other fellow chickens, we had hope, especially Eva, that she would become an excellent pet chicken.
But as the days moved along, we noticed that Bombabay continued to act differently than a “normal” chicken would. Instead of staying in close proximity to the other five chickens as they scratched the ground together, looking for grass and bugs to eat, she tended to stay by herself. She seemed healthy, but appeared to be a very anti- social chicken. When the kids would throw out feed, the chickens would all come running, except Bombabay. She would slowly and cautiously meander to the feeding spot and, with extreme care, would attempt to eat a piece or two of the feed lying in the grass. Her fellow chickens were frantically trying to gobble every morsel of food they could possibly find, pushing, shoving, and pecking each other, inconsiderable of others around. Bombabay was obviously uninterested in the competitive rivalry and instead, choosing to move on, once again, alone.
She was our special chicken. Though she was different, she was loved, especially by Eva. She seemed disinterested in living like the other chickens, who were self-absorbed in their desire to do whatever it took to get more than the other chickens. She chose not to participate in the “rat race” of chicken life, but instead submitted herself to the bottom of the pecking order (literally). She always got less and never fought back. Lonely and desolate, we eventually separated her from the rest so she could eat without being abused.
Then, three days ago (Thursday), Bombabay took an unexpected turn for the worse. She appeared ill, her once red crown on her head drooped down and had only a faint pink color. She moved even more slowly then before and we became concerned for her. Calling a friend who has years of experience raising chickens, she recommended us feeding her raw garlic, as a way to help her to heal.
But it was too late. Instead of getting better, she got worse. By Saturday morning (yesterday), she was lethargic and the appearance of life within her seemed dim. Lydia held her, stroking her brown-tan feathers and speaking words of love and affection to her. But even the power of a young girl’s love is no match for the truth of death that will befall us all. In her arms, Bombabay passed away.
We had no idea that we would be having a funeral for our pet-friend that day. It was outside of our plans. It had not even been a speculation the day before that this was within the realm of possibilities. Bombabay reminds us all that, from time to time, it is healthy, and necessary, for us to reflect on the sacred and precious nature of life. To more fully appreciate our limited days here on earth and to not get overly consumed by focusing only on ourselves but rather on what is the most important in life.
As our family gathered around our now deceased pet bird, we prayed and cried and said our last words of peace to her. Then, as all city-slicker farmers do (I imagine), we dug a hole in the ground and built an ornate grave worthy only for a chicken as special as her.
We took turns placing flowers on her grave and thinking thoughts of love and grief about our too-shortly lived relationship with our feathered friend.
Today is a new day and even as I write this I look out the window and watch our four children free ranging our other five chickens and playing with the neighbors soft white puppies. Life continues all around us, even if, at time, it forces us to pause and reflect on truths that we all must wrestle with.
Bombabay, we loved you.