When you wean a calf from its mother it is often the practice to purposely separate the calf from the cow (and the milk it relies on for life) so that it can get used to eating on its own. Weaning season is a noisy time on a cattle farm because the mothers line up at the end of their fenced-in area and scream after their children that are just beyond their view. Often hidden from their line of sight only by a barn, pen, or other fenced in area—the mothers still know that their calves are near and continue to scream for them.
I have a friend who is, among many other things, a cattle farmer. When I visited him a few weeks ago I knew that I would be hearing this sound as it was in the middle of “calf season”. Pulling up his long driveway and getting out of my car, I could hear the sound of the cows echoing off of the silo in the distance. He had already separated one calf, so that mother was pacing about in the pen restlessly “yelling”. But there was another cow in the same pen that was even more frantic.
My friend, as it turns out, had not had a very good calf-season so far. A few weeks prior to my visit a cow had given birth to twin calves—something that is not particularly good for bovine. To add to the already grim circumstances, she just happened to give birth to these twins on the coldest day of the year. My friend buried the two calves not 8 hours after their birth. Like any mother, the cow was inconsolable.
As I made my way from the driveway up to the barn my friend told me how another cow had given birth to a seemingly healthy calf the day prior to my arrival. Everything seemed fine, but for some reason the mother wasn’t able to feed her calf. The calf, only having eaten once the day before, had grown weak and was lying in the pen shivering and shaking. The mother was pacing screaming frantically as if she was looking for an answer as to why her calf wouldn’t get up and feed. For anyone who has spent any time around bovine, this is a familiar yet troubling scene. Everything seemed fine with both the mother and the calf. But for some reason he was just not eating. Every time the mother would come near and it would seem he was just about to eat, the calf would lay its head back down. Every time the calf would seem to raise its head—indicating it wanted to eat—the mother would pace about and not come near. My cattle farming friend also happens to be a nurse who has worked in critical care units. Death is certainly something that he is used to. But my friend also is one of the most determined, persistent, and stubborn people I know.
Not satisfied with what appeared to be a slow death sentence, my friend, his wife, my wife, and other family began to form an impromptu assembly line of blankets, towels, and a bottle filled with milk substitute. My friend climbed over the fence, cradled the calf, dried him off, got him warm, and helped him to his feet. Still wobbly, within minutes the calf had eaten from his mother, sucked down an entire bottle, and was beginning to look again like a healthy calf should. As I stood a little ways off watching, I found myself smiling and thinking, “This is what resurrection is supposed to look like”.
Good Friday has always seemed like a strange name for this day—a day that Christians mark the death of their messiah. Death is never good. It’s visceral, depressing, messy, terrifying, and a lot like spending time on a cattle farm. I find myself not satisfied with easy answers to why death and loss are often this way. I ponder the systems and structures that exist in our world that perpetuate death and suffering. A corrupt occupying government that publically murders human beings as a display of power and a tool for fear, the existence of war and the terror used by those who are so convinced that they have the monopoly on truth that they are willing to kill others who disagree, and even the harsh reality of mother nature. Yet through the death and the messiness and the stink that is life, there are moments where you see a calf get up out of the mud. There are glimpses of what goodness can come from those who are willing to put the needs of others in front of themselves. There are those that are willing to extend a hand and a couch to sleep on. Clouds that part for just a few moments so the sun can burn through. Children with sticky hands and chocolate covered faces that say, “I love you”. And there are stones that are rolled away so the machine of death NEVER has the chance to have the final word.
Resurrection is an art. And it is one that we can learn and practice and live into. Friday may not seem all that good. But a better day is coming soon.