Softness

I’m sitting in my spot—the one in the far, left nook of the couch by the window that looks out towards the donkey’s barn and pasture—as my coffee cools and the night is swelling into its final, heavy moments before the prick of dawn. I spent the fifteen or so minutes before this trying to meditate without much success. Meditation for me looks more like a whack-a-mole game of trying to silence my internal dialogue. Relax your face, I tell myself. Soften your shoulders. I don’t know how I’m going to respond to that angry email I’ve let sit in my inbox for a day. I guess it was my mistake that got me there, but it was a mistake nonetheless. And I owned it. But the world seems so unforgiving these days.

Relax your throat. Deep belly breath. Notice the crickets outside. Mistakes are supposed to help us grow. We are supposed to embrace mistakes as learning opportunities so that every day, we can do just that much better. But that email. The failure. The broken glass on the floor with me standing over it. In many ways, I’ve always been clumsy. 

Soften your eyebrows. Unclench your jaw. Imagine your breath is a jellyfish gently propelling itself through darkness. I’m sorry, I’ll say, I misunderstood. Because I truly did. I thumbed through my notes which I remember jotting down with what I later learned was incorrect information. My cheeks get hot and red when I realize I’m wrong and a giant hole opens up around my heart which swallows it into a pit of shame. 

Whack-a-mole. Whack, whack whack. So I abandoned my not-so-quiet spot on the floor, made myself some coffee, and settled into my couch nook.

I take a sip of my coffee which is mostly cool now. My brother makes fun of me for preferring room-temperature coffee. I don’t like hot coffee and I don’t much like cold coffee either. Hit me with that middle ground. This makes me smile because my brother never pokes fun with harshness, only silliness. He’s appalled at my coffee preferences and habits (because I also do this thing where I’ll make a whole pot of coffee, only drink one, cool cup form it, and spend the next three days pouring my morning coffee from the same full pot I brewed days ago instead of making fresh coffee). But he never makes me feel bad for it. He just laughs about it which in turn, makes me laugh. Actually, his recognition of my (albeit strange) brewing practices makes me feel seen.

Dawn will break any moment. To me, the anticipation is exciting every single morning. Sip. Breathe.

I recently finished watching the Amazon Prime series, “Good Omens,” which is based off the novel written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman. It’s a fantastic read (and wonderful listen if you’re an Audible subscriber) and I’m happy to have found that the television series is just as remarkable as the book. They did a phenomenal job adapting the story for the screen. I highly recommend.

I bring this up because there’s a moment in the television series where the angel, Aziraphale, sighs and says, “I’m soft.”

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Since finishing the series, I think about this moment often. 

I’m soft, he said. I’m soft. 

My chest still feels hollow and empty as my shame is berating my heart somewhere else that I can’t see, but boy can I feel. I absolutely loathe making mistakes. I hate letting others down, of course, but I also know that a misstep means the beast of self-consciousness is fed. I close my eyes. Stupid, stupid, stupid. 

“I’m soft,” he said. And he said it with a sigh. With a release. With a surrender. 

Softness. 

Softness, I think, is porous. My big donkey, Bunny, keeps relapsing with what’s called “white line disease” because her hooves are soft and porous. It’s been raining nearly non-stop for months which hasn’t allowed her desert-evolved-hooves to dry out and bacteria thrives there. Only in dry, open, and clean air can white line disease start to heal. The hooves need to harden and in hardness is protection. 

Maybe I’m soft. Maybe that’s why the monsters of doubt, anxiety, and depression thrive in my being like bacteria. My face feels so hot. I hate screwing up. How could I be so careless?

I take another sip of my cool coffee. The blackness outside has shifted into navy blue. Ron Swanson, my rooster, perches on the fence and crows—a deafening break of silence. 

I’m soft, I realize. I’m soft. 

I picture Aziraphale’s face and try, too, to surrender to the idea. I let go of the tension in my face, my shoulders, even in the muscles between my ribs. I let out an audible sigh. Ron Swanson crows again. 

But softness is what allowed Aziraphale to become sympathetic to the human race and even, I think, fall in love with them. Softness is how Aziraphale was able to connect with and find a partner in the demon Crowley, ultimately saving the world through their camaraderie. Softness allowed them to see one another. 

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Softness is why my brother making fun of my coffee habits doesn’t hurt my feelings. He sees me as a person with unique traits and I receive the comments as being seen as an individual. Softness is our ability to see one another as humans with strengths and weaknesses. With talents and flaws. With complex histories and room for growth. Softness connects us, it doesn’t block us out. Heck, softness is why I got into donkey rescue in the first place—because those long ears and thoughtful eyes passed through the netted walls of my soft heart and found a home in there and I never, ever, wanted to see another donkey suffer.

To be soft is to be vulnerable and to be vulnerable, in my opinion, is to be brave. Knocking down the calloused walls knowing that the rawness behind it might be seen or judged by others takes strength. To recognize, admit, and own missteps with the intention of improving moving forward is something that as imperfect beings, we should all be trying to do. No one is perfect, so bust down that wall that you’ve built around the insecurity of not being perfect all the time—it’s not doing you any good.

I learned quickly as a novice gardener that the soil must be tilled, soft, and porous in order for plants to find strong rooting, ultimately allowing them to grow larger and hopefully, bear more fruit. So maybe if we till ourselves, allowing the surface to soften from time to time, we’ll experience growth in ways we hadn’t previously imagined. We’ll see each other as individuals with complex pasts and beautiful minds—that in our collective imperfection is infinite possibility for growth and connection. 

I’m soft. 

I’m soft.

I’m soft and for the first time all morning, I don’t have to remind myself to relax. Let flow, the feelings that rise. There is so much to learn and so much room to grow.

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Scatterbrained Showers

Finally, my favorite days. I’ve written about them before: the days where it’s warm in the sun and cool in the shade. On and off I take my flannel shirt as I move across the yard beneath spotted shadows of spring-heavy trees. The ground went from washed out to tangled jungle in a mere handful of days, so I’m tending to her with my myriad of second-hand tools that clink and clank with rusted age. Yard work is my favorite work, especially on temperately blissful days like this one. Like the eager plants around me, I could swear every cell in my body is reaching for the sun.

Bodhi and Tee are playing donkey games in the yard while Bunny stands at the fence  grooming the neighbor’s horse with her teeth. Around my legs, Ron Swanson the Rooster and Trixie the dog chase each other endlessly. This unlikely friendship is one that even the grumpiest of curmudgeons can’t help but smile about. I post about them often on my Instagram, if you’re a ‘grammer.



My last post was a dreary one in which I swore the storms were never going to end. It’s difficult to feel optimistic when the ground is continually washed away along with any real hope for stability and growth while the world around is a blur of colors that you can’t see through clearly even though you want to so badly. And indeed there is more rain in the forecast in the coming week.

But as I stand outside among my funny family of seemingly sunshine-drunk animals and leaves that are practically unfolding before my eyes, I’m reminded that all of this is just an infinite series of small moments. One after another they come, an endless film strip that moves so quickly sometimes, it’s hard to tell what you’re looking at until it’s passed—images already fading softly in your memory.

The sun has dropped behind the trees now with only small bits of light shining through the holes between the leaves as a chill crawls along my arms. I untie the flannel shirt from around my waist and head towards the barn where the donkeys bray because sunset means dinner time and they know I’ll be there with their hay. I always will. I suppose those routines are roots in their own way.

As light slips down the barn walls, I take pause with my donkeys, stretching the fleeting moment as long as I can because with them, I am present. I am here. I am rooted so firmly that no amount of scatterbrained showers can wash me away. Day after day, the donkeys remind me of this. They hold down my kite string when the wind turns wild.

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Like pulling eggs delicately from the chicken coop, I think the best we can do sometimes is pick up one moment at a time as they come, examine them, and tuck them carefully into our apron. Some of the eggs might be bad—it happens—but typically, as long as you’re handling them the right way, they’re going to be just fine.

Just a Little Minute

It’s an early, spring morning where dew is dripping down in little “pit-pats” from the brand new leaves sprouting in these heavy, East Texas woods. I’m in the barn placing hay in the hay feeders as Bunny and Bodhi push and shove each other to get the first bite…but where’s Tee? My third, littlest mini donkey is usually right in the middle of the scuffle for breakfast.

I step out of the stall to find him on the far end of the pen looking out into the pasture with his eyes and ears on high alert. Wiping the hay from my sleeves, I walk over to him and squat down. He doesn’t move his gaze.

“Whatcha lookin’ at, bud?” I say as if he’ll answer. I follow his line of vision, but see nothing out in the pasture. From inside the barn, I hear hay crunching and am surprised that Tee hasn’t gone in there yet. What does he see?

I scratch behind his ears asking him again, “What is it, bud?” and for a moment, he lowers his ears but then immediately, they shoot back up like he hears something. I stand and squint, but there ain’t nothing out there so far as I can tell. Unless there’s something in the woods beyond the field?

“Come on,” I say to Tee, motioning to the barn and taking a few steps back, “ let’s go eat bud.” I click the back of my tongue. He looks back at me, but won’t move.

Then I start to worry.

“Okay, bud,” I say and get behind him to shuffle him towards the barn, but he doesn’t want to move. “Let’s go eat. Eat? You wanna eat?” (the donkey’s know what the word “eat” means.)

Geeze almighty, is he sick? I take a look around. Having not yet mucked the stalls, I look to see if there are more or less droppings than usual. Nope, all looks normal. I place my ear against his belly listening for sounds. Yup, regular sounds.  I lift his lip to check his teeth and gums. They’re good. I even pick up his feet to see if they’re tender. They’re fine.

My heart is pounding now because it’s just not like him to not eat. He loves hay time. Of all my donkeys, Tee loves hay time the most!

He’s standing there now staring at me with wide eyes and pointed ears. “Come over here, bud,” I say, squatting down and opening my arms. He doesn’t move. He just watches. He must know I’m panicking. The only reason I can think he won’t eat is because he’s sick.

Oh no. Should I call the vet? I should call the vet. Right? This just isn’t like him and I swear, I see nothing out there. Even if there is something, nothing’s ever kept him from being my most eager donkey when it comes to hay time. I start to walk back into the barn where I left my cell phone on a shelf so I can call my vet when Tee snaps his gaze back out toward the field.

I pause and turn my gaze too and from behind a tree, a small rabbit darts through the grass and disappears into the woods.

Tee holds his gaze for only a moment longer and then lowering his ears, quickly trots past me and into the barn. He nudges Bodhi to the side to share from his feeder and then just like every morning, there are three, little crunching donkeys standing in a row.

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I let out a long exhale and shake my head. Lord. A dadgum rabbit. I grab my shovel to start mucking, the dew pitter-patting all around as the sun continues to rise on this early, spring morning.

I suppose sometimes it’s all about taking just a few, quiet minutes to be still and let that thing which alerts and worries us to feel safe enough to come out of hiding only to find out that maybe it wasn’t that scary in the first place. Maybe just because we don’t see it right away, doesn’t mean we should jump to the worst, possible scenario. It’s probably just a dang, ole rabbit hiding the grass who’s far more scared of you than you are of it.

Also, I need to get out there and mow…spring has sprung, indeed.

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Mini Tee & Me

 

A Big Thing: Read Across America Day

As a writer and an anxious person, I spend a lot of time dissecting small stuff. I live for small stuff. Tiny moments. Little pieces of much bigger things. I want to see and understand every single brick because otherwise, the house won’t make sense to me. This can be annoying to others because I’ll get hung up on facial expressions or word choices, refusing to skim over the details when trying to get to the bigger picture. It’s why I obsess over things and find myself in the wee hours of the morning, staring out into the darkness with snippets from my past playing on repeat in my mind which have been mulled over to the point of non-recognition.

Because of my obsession with the small, when big things happen, I’m often rendered speechless until the bottom feeders of my anxious mind have had a chance to devour the meat off the bones of the big thing, ultimately breaking it down into something small enough to wrap my head around. It’s why I wait so long to publish posts on my blog after big things have happened. So many of my posts have said things like “I’ve been trying to write for days about [insert event here] but just haven’t been able to find the words” or other, similar statements.

For days now, I’ve been like a snake with the shape of an egg in my throat: full, unable to speak, and so unbelievably happy because last week, a really big thing happened. It’ll likely be months before I unpack all the perfect, little details of that day, but I can’t wait that long to share and to thank the people responsible for making it happen.

Last week, I was invited to read my recently released children’s book to the students of McDougle Elementary School for “Read Across America Day” and I’m not exaggerating when I say it was one of the best days of my life.

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This was the first opportunity I’ve had to read my story to anyone other than my own kid and the few people who helped me out during the editing process and so of course, I was nervous. I wondered if the children would receive it. Would it be meaningful to them? Would they get the message? Would they even care enough about donkeys to pay attention?

Yes. Yes to all of it.

I’ve since been told that many McDougle students went back to their classrooms and drew pictures of donkeys. I’m told several students have said they want to rescue donkeys when they grow up. I’m told that students have come back to check out books about donkeys in the school’s library.

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I was able to do three performances for children ages 6 – 10. Before reading the story, I’d prepared a short slideshow with cute pictures and videos of donkeys and the real Tink. I wanted to share some of the really cool things about donkeys that most people don’t know before diving into the story. They loved it. After each performance, McDougle’s amazing librarian, Ms. Julie Zachary, came up to ask the students what they thought the message of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” was. They’ve been talking a lot as a school lately about themes in books and it never failed that when she asked the question, a student would raise their hand and say the book was “about being nice to others.” That it was about how “we shouldn’t bully others because they’re different.” Another said it was about “being brave” and another, that it was “about donkeys.”

Yes. Yes. YES. YES!!!

Y’all. I mean. Golly. Where are the words? I don’t have the words. It’s just too big right now.

Thank you so much to McDougle Elementary School for having me out to read to your amazing students. What wonderful kiddos. They were so engaged, so sweet, and so thoughtful. Special thank you to Ms. Julie Zachary, the school librarian, for putting together the whole thing and to Catherine Chance for making the connection.

I’m sure I’ll come back to this once I’ve had the chance to digest it a bit more. There will, no doubt, be many mornings of sipping coffee at dawn while pulling apart the fabric of every detail of this most amazing day and in those fibers will be small, magical discoveries. But for now, I am just so thankful. I am so excited. I am so touched. And I am so happy.

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I really hope to have the opportunity to share my story and the love of donkeys with other schools because empathy for animals and others begins with our children! If you or someone you know would be interested in having me come read at your school, please feel free to send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com

Interested in purchasing a copy of “Tink the Bravest Donkey” in which 100% of the proceeds are going to save more donkeys like Tink? Get your copy here!: http://www.donkeyrescue.com/books.html

Grateful to Guest Blog!

I want to extend a very special thank you to our friends at Donkey Time for allowing me to write a guest blog on their beautiful site! Since my children’s book, “Tink the Bravest Donkey,” went on sale, I’ve been asked how this story came to be. Check out the backstory on my book and learn all about how indeed, the real-life Tink was and will always be the bravest donkey.

That story here: Tink: the little donkey who dared to be different

And if like me, you’re an advocate of donkeys, give Donkey Time a follow! Their site is packed full of donkey resources and stories from around the globe!

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Forever our boy, Tink.

The Cutest Grinch

It’s a typical mid-morning here at the ranch where I’m folding laundry back in the bedroom and King Ranch is fixing something (I’m not sure what) in Little Foot’s room. Outside, it’s unseasonably warm (thank you, Texas weather) and everything has a golden crispness to it beneath a cloudless sky. I have an audiobook playing through my phone, “First, We Make the Beast Beautiful” by Sarah Wilson. It’s an amazing listen and for anyone who lives with or struggles with anxiety, I highly recommend giving it a go. It’s a book that for me, is full of life-changers.

I’ve nearly reached the bottom of the laundry basket when from the living room, I hear a crash and the tinkling sound of delicate things bouncing across the tile floor. I drop the yoga pants from my hands and rush toward the noise. Both of our dogs are barking and running in nervous circles and from down the hall, King Ranch and Little Foot come running.

At a shaky, 45 degree angle, our Christmas tree is headed towards the open back door. Ornaments and needles are falling like raindrops and the light cord is about to pop from the wall outlet.

King Ranch lunges for the tree as I dash to wrap my arms around the culprit engaging in this Grinch-like thievery…Bodhi, our not-so-baby donkey. Somewhere beyond the barking dogs, I can hear Little Foot crying, “No! Not the tree! No!” and small, grunting curses from a struggling King Ranch. Bodhi whips his head back and forth with a branch clamped between his teeth, sending more ornaments and needles scattering across the floor when finally, he lets go.

I shuffle Bodhi outside as King Ranch props the tree back up vertically. “No. Bad donkey,” I say to Bodhi, pointing my index finger at his nose which has a few pine needles stuck to it. He looks at me with wide, playful eyes — I swear, he’s laughing. Ha. Now I am, too. I can’t be mad at this face. I wrap my arms around Bodhi’s neck and scratch the sides of his face. He leans his weight into me. Little stinker.

I’m sad to report that none of this was caught on video, the chaos having exploded too abruptly, but I do have video evidence of what it looks like to have a baby donkey know how to open your back door:

 

After re-adjusting the tree, picking up the ornaments, and reassuring Little Foot that Bodhi was just trying to share the tree and not steal it (we had to make a deal with him that we would put a tree in the barn next year so the donkeys could have one, too), our day resumed with its mundane tasks. I backed my book up to where I’d left off and, although covered in donkey hair and pine-needles, I picked up the yoga pants I’d dropped and resumed folding.



This happened a few weeks back and I’ve only just had the opportunity to write about it. Since then, I’ve been trying to list out my goals for this year and besides the usual trying to live healthier, watch our money, do good deeds daily, etc., I’ve landed on wanting the new year to be filled with a bit more sobering innocence. This is an already mean enough world with lots of dark and scary things…but sometimes, your baby donkey sneaks into your house and tries to steal your Christmas tree. And sometimes, days are just otherwise mundane.

One of the things Sarah Wilson talks about in her book I mentioned above are tasks that you do daily — making the bed every single morning, for example, or spending a little time every day while the coffee is brewing to meditate (the cool thing about meditating being that even if you’re bad at it, it still helps!) and how grounding those rituals become if you actually stick to them.

Most importantly, there is a lot of good happening everywhere all the time. There are sparks of light in the dark. There are people who hear you and see you and want to embrace you for your good and your bad because they see that at your core, you are a being worthy of love. There’s a lot of cute and a lot of innocent and I think those things are worth highlighting. It may not make the bad stuff go away, but like that old saying goes, “It’s better to light a single candle than curse the darkness.”

I think that’s what I’d like to do better this year: light more candles.

Happy New Year, y’all. Let’s take this a day at a time 🙂

NamasBRAY.

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P.S. I want to thank all of y’all who have shown so much support for my children’s book that came out nearly two months ago. I would love to hear your feedback / see photos of you, your kiddos, your critters enjoying the book. If you’d like to share, please send me an email at adonkumentary@gmail.com. And if you haven’t snagged your copy yet, there are still some available! Get yours here: Tink the Bravest Donkey

P.P.S. If you’re interested in getting a copy of the book I mention above, “First We Make the Beast Beautiful,” you can find it here. I promise, it doesn’t disappoint.

Gratitude. Hope. Happy New Year.

We end the last year with gratitude…
Gratitude for our time together,
For memories,
For support,
And for kindness.

We begin the New Year with restored hope…
Hope that kindness will continue to prevail,
That love will fill our hearts,
That our voices will be used for good,
And that together, we will make a difference for all creatures.

Happy New Year. Thank you for an amazing 2018. I can’t wait to see what beauty lies ahead.

NamasBRAY. I love y’all. -Jess