C’mon Bermuda! Move on up to the gate, now!
The farmer, his wrinkled visage aged well beyond his years, gave the old cow a gentle slap on the flank and she immediately acquiesced, edging forward six inches to allow the slats to close around her muscular neck. The sweet-natured Holstein knew she would find food in the trough on the other side of the wooden stall anyway, so she didn’t mind expending the effort of shifting a few inches.
While Bermuda (named for the black coloration that extended down just below the knees on her front legs) settled in for a snack, the gnarled hands of the middle-aged farmer deftly pulled down the cups which would attach to her milk-filled udder and manipulated them into place.
The phhhht-phhhht-phhhht of the gentle vacuum started and then it was on to the next donor.
Uncle JoJo had run this farm for more years than he wanted to talk about, having learned the trade from his father before him. As he ran the milker and moved the gentle cows through the barn, his son worked the cows who were awaiting their turn.
Outside the barn, the beasts weren’t quite as docile.
Hey, Cutter! Get back there!
Jody, with his long, curly shock of hair flying about his sweaty face, wasn’t exactly docile either. His job was to keep the cows in the yard, awaiting their turn in the barn. They had been happy enough to make their way to the yard from the fields, but patience wasn’t their best attribute.
I noticed though, that the animals seemed to know where they should be, and were, for the most part, happy to stay in a fairly well-defined line. All of them, that is, except Cutter, named for obvious reasons.
She kept moving from her place and shoving in between other cows, who didn’t take kindly to the intrusion.
“What’s going on?” I asked Jody.
The big-boned, good-natured fellow laughed.
“These ladies all know their place. Except for Cutter. She’ll learn—someday.”
The thought hit me instantly.
“What? They stand in the same order all the time?”
He chuckled again. “Of course they do. Everyday as we call them in from the field, no matter where they are when we call, you can see them getting into line as they come. By the time they get to the barn door, they’re in the same order as they’ve always been. Young Cutter there—she’s new to the herd and just hasn’t found her place in line yet. Like I said, she’ll learn.”
That was nearly forty years ago.
I thought of Uncle JoJo’s cows again recently, though. I was on my way to Los Angeles when the memory hit me. Sitting in an airport in Houston, I watched in amazement as the dumb animals lined up outside the barn door to await the farmer’s invitation into the familiar building.
No. That’s not what I meant to say!
What I intended to say was that I watched sixty human beings as they followed the instructions of a disembodied voice.
Please line up in the order of the number on your boarding pass. Numbers one through thirty on the right, and thirty-one through sixty on the left. Five people between poles, please.
The human cattle dutifully lined up, finding their places as they approached the numbered poles. Once they were in place, they waited quietly for further instructions. Yes, there was a Cutter or two in the crowd, but they soon learned where their place was and dutifully stood there.
When the plane was ready, the voice once again gave the instruction for each group to move forward. They did so with such obeisance that I couldn’t get the image of the old cows out of my head.
It was all very funny until my flight was called and the voice without a body started giving instruction to the new herd, of which I was a part. I almost laughed again as I considered what the reaction would be if one of the attendants had appeared with an electric cattle prod to keep the cutters in line.
Months have passed and I’ve had a little time to consider the implication of that mental picture.
The cattle entering that barn all those years ago had a reward in mind. They were going to be fed. The inconvenience of waiting and of being hooked up to the vacuum line was of no consequence to them.
They got what they wanted and were content.
I, along with the other humans who awaited the flight, also had a goal in mind. Besides arriving at our destination, we wanted to save money and were willing to give up a little freedom to keep the price of our ticket down.
There are airlines which do not herd their passengers through the loading process, but allow them to board as they come and to sit in an assigned seat. I was willing to give up that luxury for the reward of saving a few hard-earned dollars.
I’m still debating if the reward justifies the humiliation.
My assumption is that the next time I travel, I’ll save the money again. Some habits are just hard to break.
The sad thing is that I see parallels all about me.
Folks hold paper numbers in their hands as they sit in the Driver’s License Bureau, awaiting the time when the rude person behind the desk will call that number.
When we go out to eat at many restaurants, we are given buzzers which vibrate and flash, indicating our turn to sit and masticate has finally arrived.
At amusement parks, we actually go through the same sort of chute system used by sale barns to guide the livestock to auction.
Well, a lot of us live that way.
As time goes by, I’m starting to take notice of a few folks who refuse to live by the herd rules.
Back in that airport, as I watched the people line up for the flight before mine, I noticed a blue-jean clad fellow sitting off to the side with a Stetson hat on the seat beside him. He had a smile on his face as he stretched out, arms behind his head and legs pushed out as far in front of him as they would go, his shiny cowboy boots pointing into the air.
The noisy, grumpy people stood waiting, then filed through their sequences of sixties, one at a time, as he relaxed there.
After the line had disappeared down the jet-way and the hubbub had died down, he stood up, set the cowboy hat atop his head and strode leisurely to the gate.
In my imagination, I can hear the Texas drawl as he replies, in answer to the obvious questions.
Well shore, I had a number. But there wasn’t no reason to stand there waitin’ when a body could be sittin’. Didn’t figger ya’ll would be leavin’ without me anyhow.
I’m not sure that’s how he would have talked, but I’m pretty sure that cowboy knew a herd when he saw one.
He wasn’t part of any herd.
We’re not intended to run with a herd.
We are, each and every one of us, designed as individuals.
Our Creator made me and He made you to be peculiar—unique.
King David assures us that all of the days ordained for us were written in His book before even one of them dawned. (Psalm 139:16)
I’m confident we weren’t made to be part of the herd. And, knowing that, it may be time to break out of the corral we’ve allowed ourselves to be put into.
Maybe Cutter had the right idea after all.
And, I’m not sure I know how to break out of the mold, but I do like the way the cowboy thinks.
Now, if I could just find my Stetson.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
(Psalm 139:13-14 ~ NASB)
Good judgment comes from experience and a lot of that comes from bad judgment.
© Paul Phillips. He’s Taken Leave. 2016. All Rights Reserved.