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Getting to the Other Side 

The chickens cross the road for lots of reasons.

It was unusually warm for late May. As I stole time in the garden on a Sunday morning, I could nearly feel the seeds taking root beneath the soil. There was already a row of mesclun, a cool weather crop, showing itself to life above ground. There would be two rows of popcorn this season, for one had not been enough last year. Perhaps it would be a good year…for the garden, at least.

My dear friend, someone who has taught me much about this life, lost her father unexpectedly last week. The sultry wave of lilac perfume that greeted me at intervals in the spring breeze held me at a state which was somewhere between a dream and intense, conscious concentration as I heard my friend describe her father’s accomplishments, the way he took care of his family, and how deeply he will be missed. As I held on to her words, I thought of my own father. Both fathers were given the name, “Don”; both fathers had two daughters and one son; both fathers had served our country; and both fathers had taken their families on memorable pilgrimages to Wall Drug. The commonalities that bring us together, however tiny or seemingly insignificant, give meaning to our journeys, no matter how long or how far. I am not sure if my Dad likes the smell of lilacs, but I think he would.

Fried Chicken was my first hen to go “broody”, with such a strong instinct to nurture that she would spend hours, and then entire days and nights, in one of the nest boxes. She seemed a bit confused…as was I…about the task at hand. Several times I went to the coop to gather eggs, only to find Fried sitting in a different nest box, atop different eggs. With chicken anxiety in high gear, I became vigilant about moving the hen to her still-warm eggs or moving the eggs to her new station, whichever seemed more reasonable on a given day. I brought her yogurt and scratch and barely allowed myself to dream about what could happen in the weeks to come.

Sometimes I wonder what Ethan would be like if his days were not spent in a spell of anger, if he was not overwhelmed by forces much greater than a nine-year-old boy. I do know, a little bit, because I have seen the other side. I have seen the charming little fellow alight with joy as he describes a NASCAR race or attempts a skateboard move. I have seen him invite his baby brother to sit by his side as he played a game; I know there is another side. He knows just what he needs to do. Then something goes wrong: someone says the wrong word, or the demons inside rise to the surface.

My shoulder had been burned earlier that weekend from the unexpectedly strong sun, so the pain was sharp. He drove his nails into my flesh, drawing blood this time. We tried so hard. Testimony, letters, a rally, and even a lawsuit was not enough. It is beyond my understanding how a young child could have been prescribed twenty-four different medications yet be prohibited from being allowed a trial of medical cannabis. One day, my dear boy, we will make it to the other side, and you will know what it is like to be free from the wrath of your own mind.

The chickens have missions. Each day, after some eggs have been collected and the chores of the morning are done, I open the door to the run so the flock can explore. With Wendell, our rooster, at the lead, they race, chicken-style, across the gravel drive, past the Fairy rose, through my sage, parsley, and mint, directly to the cat food bowl. If it wasn’t already empty, it soon would be.

Maybe I did not have enough faith. I did not expect that, on the twenty-first day, when I would check Fried Chicken and her eggs just as I had each day before, that my eyes would meet those of a tiny bundle of gray feathers. Fried had hatched an egg!

I had promised my friend that if a chicken came from one of the eggs, I would name the baby after her. Little Kitty May is a wonder; she, too, explores the farm alongside Fried and the rest of the flock.

There was a loud, unsettling squawk. One of the barn cats had discovered Kitty May. Wendell was on his way, flapping his majestic feathers in terrifying fashion and making his way, followed by the rest of the flock, to defend his own, and to scare the cat from ever trying such a thing again.

We need people to take care of us, to help us to the other side. What if we’re not strong enough to make it there alone? Where, even, are we going? What if we work so hard, and our fight is just done before we were ready for it to end? I think that is better than never having fought at all. And maybe the strong people, the ones that work hard to make sure we are okay, need a little help crossing their own roads.

If our work isn’t done, there must be a time again for us to keep going. From the freshness of new life, through our trials and failings across many roads, in the shadows of our last breaths, we must know that there is much left. In pursuit of our missions, with our flocks at our sides, the time will come.

I see my friend stoically carry on, across her days, along her road, which surely must be different than the one she had envisioned.

We live through one another, those that have meant something to us along the way. Whether we are headed to Wall Drug, to a rally in support of medical cannabis for autism, or to the cat food bowl, our missions are important. The day may come when we find what we are seeking, or maybe we will realize that what we truly need is not what we had been looking for after all. I’m pretty sure that’s a lesson from my dad.

I was taken by surprise this morning as Kitty May, too, ran across the road to the cat food bowl. The sun is shining brightly from above, and it should be a good day in the garden.

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