My favorite hen died yesterday. She was by far the most social, the most curious of the flock. If I was outside, say digging a hole, she’d run up and in impeccable chicken talk ask, “Whatcha doin’?” I would reply in California English, “I am diggin’ a hole.” And, then she’d say something like, “Ok, I’ll just hang around you so I can get some easy-gettin’ worms.” I would say, “Ok, but get your head out this hole or you’ll be sorry.”
She got sick a few days ago and started walking strangely around the chicken run and soon she couldn’t walk much at all. Not having gotten very far in Chicken School, I was slow to narrow down a diagnosis to osteoporosis which was due to a calcium deficiency, or so the book said. I drove down to the local drugstore and bought an eye dropper and some Tums with the plan of crushing up the Tums for the calcium carbonate. When I got home though, she had passed on…to what or where I don’t know. I actually got tears in my eyes and dug a final hole for her. I guess it is the worms who are happy now. I certainly am not.
I started raisng the chickens two and a half years ago because I love watching them be chickens. I love watching them run to get fed. I love watching them brag about laying an egg, every single time they lay an egg. I love watching them wander the yard constantly hunting and pecking…like the way I type! In short, watching chickens brings a sense of peace to me. They bring a sense of order. They calm me down. It is part Zen. My breathing slows down. The tightness in my shoulders starts to loosen up. All seems right in my world as I watch the chickens be chickens. There is order and that feels good.
Yet, one thing I have learned in my sixties is that life is really anything but orderly. It is chaotic, disorderly. Now I don’t claim to know diddly squat about the Laws of Thermodynamics, but I think the 2nd Law basically says, “Whenever order increases, disorder increases somewhere else.” It is a physical fact of life. Things happen in a day that you have no idea will happen when you wake up in the morning, enjoying that first sip of coffee. – or in the afternoon if you happen to be a Las Vegas entertainer. You think you’re healthy one minute and the next minute you get a serious health diagnosis. You think you have a few extra coins in your pocket and then the most expensive appliance you own craps out on you. You think you’re safe, and within minutes you might be running from an out of control wildfire. Don’t even get me started on earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, flash floods, tsunamis, and the flu viruses. Hell, some people actually do get hit by lightning. The other day, while out by the chicken coop admiring the orderliness of the chicken life (before Laverne got sick), a small, but very dense, tree branch came down from high above at the speed of gravity and it just missed landing on my head. No warning, no sound, just me going, “What the hell?” and then realizing that thing could have killed me. Then last night, not knowing the electric current had been connected to the 4 strands of electric fence that surrounds my chicken run – it hadn’t been plugged in for a couple of months- I firmly grabbed a wire in each hand, at the same time, and got a jolt up to my elbows. My teeth felt funny afterwards. Disorder.
What do we do about all this disorder? Well, we create manicured lawns and very well maintained public parks for a couple of things. We obsess about Plan B’s, C’s, and D’s. We strategize. We analyze. We immunize. We clean house, especially the corners and the junk drawers. We focus on self-improvement. Jigsaw puzzles are pure disorder when they come out of the box and we rescue them from the chaos usually while other parts of our lives are getting more disorderly, but that is exactly what the 2nd Thermodynamic Law predicted would happen. Disorder is a real headline-maker. I live on the edge of a very steep canyon with thick vegetation. Yes, a wildfire is waiting to happen and when it does someone will describe it as “All Hell broke loose.” Where I am employed, concrete paths spring up like the intricate patterns of freshly spun spider webs whenever a dirt path gets created informally by students walking from Point A to Point B. Students like the shortest route, but the disorder created is intolerable. A new concrete path is the go-to solution.
Another thing happens with all this disorder in our lives. Someone comes along with a message of hope for us. They have a solution. It is usually a fairly simple one, often a slogan goes with it, and we fall for it… every single time. We promote the problem solvers to a position of leadership, often on a national stage. It doesn’t matter the political party affiliation. These people come from everywhere. These promises of order also may come with terrible consequences. People can die because of them. “Things are chaotic. Let me help put order back in your life. I have the answers,” says the temporary hero. They are like the travelling medicine shows of the American West that promised Hamlin’s Wizard Oil will solve your issues with constipation and liver cancer too. The world is full of current examples of ‘Wizard Oil’ solutions to the the uncomfortable chaos in our lives. In fact, lately it feels like we just run back and forth to the competing travelling medicine shows as we search for answers.
I have spent a lot of time over the past few years trying to understand what I believe and why I believe it. I have been in search of an authentic, personal faith. I lean heavily towards Christianity because that was the tradition I am most familiar with – not necessarily always comfortable with though. But, it still it works for me, if I discard some of the dogma. I am very suspicious now of religious traditions that attempt to provide a remedy for the chaos in our lives by following a certain set of strict rules. “Believe this and everything will fall into place.” I don’t believe in that anymore. I am, however, still a Believer.
I believe that it is not in avoiding the disorder that we find peace. Perhaps that is exactly where we find anxiety. The trick, which is counter intuitive, is to acknowledge the disorder of life. Fact is, we pretty much wouldn’t want it any other way. The orderly life is not a very interesting life. For me, the story of the Garden of Eden seems to be about humanity’s exit from the orderly to the disorderly. We indirectly chose to leave the garden through our rejection of the spiritual version of the Robert Rules of Order. And, yes, all Hell did break loose after that moment. Maybe a better approach is to try dancing with the chaos. I think mountain climbers do it all the time along with many other risk takers. Artists do it. Creative teachers do it. Snowboarders do it. I even think, somehow, someway, my favorite chicken did it too. These dancers are usually younger in age. Us older folks, we think it is too risky to dance with chaos. We know what might happen. And, the risks are very real. Yet, when I think about every older person I know who seemed young at heart, they all appeared to be the ones who didn’t avoid the chaos of life. They had learned to dance with chaos, even at times with their deepest grief.
What does all this have to do with my chicken’s eulogy? Uh,…I don’t know. Maybe there is some important message here about disorder and chaos – or maybe it is just another travelling medicine show passing through town. All I know is I miss that damn chicken that is buried here at my feet in the flower garden. I think the rest of us chickens in the barnyard could learn from her and she deserved some words to be spoken over her grave.
Thank you for coming to this service and the family asks you to join them now in a meal of fried chicken and potato salad.