“You will never be free until you free yourself from the prison of your own false thoughts.” Philip Arnold
“To identify with others is to see something of yourself in them and to see something of them in yourself-even if the only thing you identify with is the desire to be free from suffering.” Melanie Joy, Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs, and Wear Cows
When I was growing up my father was very fond of the phrase: Close the door, were you born in a barn? I felt this was rhetorical so I never answered, but I always wondered about the barn lifestyle.
It must be a great place to live I thought, because for one thing you apparently didn’t have to close the doors. But we lived in Levittown, Long Island in the 60’s and there were no barns anywhere to be found.
Later we moved further East to Setauket, and in the woods behind our house was a real barn, doors open and everything. The owner was said to be insane and shooting trespassers was not out of the question so I never had the nerve to see it up close.
Here in Lancaster, Pennsylvania there are almost as many barns as soccer moms who drive like Indy Car racers. And I still wonder what it would be like to live in one. I have a feeling it’s probably cold in the winter, hot in the summer, smelly and buggy.
Of course some people renovate old barns to perfection, complete with heat, air conditioning, windows and even doors that close and lock. But I think that most of the people who can afford that were born with a silver spoon in their mouth.
I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth. The north side of my town faced east, and the east was facing south. The simple things I see are all complicated, I look pretty young, but I’m just back-dated, yeah.
Back in march I wrote a piece called Coming Home, about how cows never come home because they never leave, and I talked about the brave ones that occasionally make a break for it just to see what’s out there.
This morning I saw one make the escape, only the second cow escape I’ve witnessed in the eleven years I’ve lived in Lancaster County. I watched with an almost clinical interest to see if this was bravery or boredom.
Daisy (she was tagged) crossed the road and instead of tasting her freedom she tasted the grass on the other side. I walked over to take a photo, and chewing on a stem she gave me her best tough girl look. But she was scared; I could see it in her eyes.
Soon a very large Amish woman came out and shooed Daisy down the road to her own farm while the other cows cheered. I’m not sure if they were cheering for Daisy to come home or to make a break for it, but it started to rain and I lost interest.
T.S. Eliot once wrote: “Only those who will risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.” In this case it was about a quarter mile until she was reunited with her friends. I can only wonder if they thought Daisy was a hero, a coward, or just another pretty face in the crowd.
Cow graffiti on the broad side of a barn in Smoketown, Pennsylvania has been reported by local farmers. Suspects are believed to be very tall, artistic cows, although they likely had help from friends.
An old expression that is rarely used these days is “until the cows come home.” An example is: Mike can dodge and burn until the cows come home, but he’ll never fix that photo. In my experience driving around the back roads of Pennsylvania, cows do not actually come home because they never leave.
Once in a while a brave one will decide to make a break for it, to see what’s out there besides walking around in circles and getting milked. So knowing that there’s an electric fence to keep her in, she decides that a little bit of pain is worth the pleasure of doing what she wants and goes for it.
After the brief thrill of the escape is over, she stands there in the middle of the road wondering what to do next. She has the same look that a prisoner has after being released from jail, and the same thoughts. Being where they were wasn’t exactly heaven, but it wasn’t hell either. In many ways it was safe, predictable and at times even comfortable.
So like many ex cons do after realizing that the unknown can be frightening, they go back to the life that they knew. Ordinary people also do this and it is sometimes called quiet desperation.
Occasionally, someone will escape from a place and stay out despite not knowing what to do or what will happen next. This is known as courage and is different than bravery.
The essence of courage is not the feeling of being certainly capable of overcoming what’s one is faced with, but rather is the willful choice to fight regardless of the consequences.
Write that down.