Morning Thanks

Garrison Keillor once said we'd all be better off if we all started the day by giving thanks for just one thing. I'll try.

Friday, December 27, 2013

The Little Shepherd--a Christmas story for children

VI.  What Boaz knew

Once more little Jesse looked around, hoping the bandanna man would be around, at the same time wondering how long it might be before the men returned from town to tell him what great things they’d seen.

Then Boaz turned on a dime and charged him, came up the path at him as if he wanted to knock him off his feet. Instead, he stopped on a dime right in front of Jesse, face-to-face, as if to say that he’d had enough of foolishness. Then he turned around again and trotted off into the darkness just far enough to be seen, lifted his big head and bleated, loud and low and long.

“Don't be so pushy,” Jesse said, and started after him beneath the dark blanket of stars.

Not far either--just down the hill a bit and towards some rocks, but always in the moonlight and never in the shadowy darkness. Jesse stepped along carefully through the sharp grass and stones, wishing he were as nimble as Boaz. Ancient as he was, he was still a sheep. 

 The old ram’s shoulders rocked as he walked. It was clear he was anxious about it, as if Jesse was a burden he just had to carry.

The ewe lay on her side, almost motionless, in a dusty circle where she’d tried to create a bed; and she looked as if she were already dead. When he came up beside her, Jesse knelt down and put his hands on her stomach to be sure she was breathing. What had happened was clear. She had just now had a baby or maybe even two. He looked around to find the lambs, but there was only one, lying there in a puddle of blood and afterbirth, a baby who was, sadly, very dead.

Beneath his hands the ewe’s rib cage moved ever so slightly with her few faint breaths. He’d been around for dozens of births, dozens and dozens, but he’d never seen an ewe quite like this before because there was no terrible bleeding. The lamb had probably been born dead, but it didn’t look as if its mother had suffered. Still, it seemed as if she was dying.

“What must I do?” Jesse said to Boaz, but the old ram simply stared at him—and then at the mother. “I don’t know what to do,” he said. “She doesn’t seem to be in trouble—it’s almost as if she wants to die.'  He looked at the eye.  "Is that it? You just want to give up?" Every last breath from her seemed really like the very last.  "I don't know what to do? Good Lord,” he said, “—I don’t know what to do.”

He got down on his hands and knees and rubbed the mother’s head. He lay his arm around her and felt the slight heaves through her body when she grasped for breath. She wasn’t fighting, he thought. It was almost as if she simply didn’t want to breathe any longer.

He slipped his feet from under him so that his body would be close to hers. Boaz watched him closely as he laid himself there beside her.

“You’re doing it right,” a voice said, a voice he knew right away was the bandanna guy. “Don’t get up. Just stay right there—you’re doing the right thing.”

The man was behind him, but Jesse listened. After all, the guy had been so right before.

“Just stay there—you hear me?” the man said.

He could feel the man's presence behind him, heard his feet come up close, felt him kneel down.

“I don’t know what to do,” Jesse told him. “Her baby is dead—you see her there?”

“Let me take care of that,” the voice said.

“Must have died when she was born, but there’s nothing here that makes it look like it was an terrible delivery—not even much blood.” He held himself close to the ewe. "I don't get it--I don't understand."

“Listen to me,” the man said. “You’re doing the right thing. Stay right there. What that mother needs is you beside her—you hear me? That’s what she needs.”

“What can I do?” Jesse said.

He waited for an answer, waited forever, that ewe's breath coming slower and slower and slower.

“You can bring her peace.”

“I don’t want her to die,” Jesse said. “I want her to live.”

“Whether she lives or dies, you’re doing it right,” the man said. “I’ll take care of everything else, hear me? Just stay with her now, just stay put—all night even.”

“She’s only a sheep," Jesse said.  "But I don't want her to die."

“Every living being needs love,” the man said. “I’ll get this little one out of here. That’ll help.” Jesse could hear him get back to his feet. “stay right there until morning because she needs you—whether she lives or dies, she needs you.”

Just on the other side of the mother, Boaz folded his feet beneath him as if to let Jesse know that hewould keep up the vigil

When he felt her ribs again, it seemed they were barely moving.

“Things are going to be just fine,” little Jesse told her, voice trembling. He’d talked to Boaz before, he told himself—why should he feel it so strange talking to this mom? She felt so weak, so powerless. “Everything is going to be fine,” he said again.

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