Dying (chickens)

My father is the proud owner of an entire flock of pet chickens. Yes, I said "pet" chickens - they have averaged less than a dozen eggs a week for years. (Note: he will pop in with a comment if I misquote their average, never fear!) After a year or so of little or no egg production, my father sighed. We all cringed as we waited for the announcement that he was going to start butchering. He said, "I guess it's time to take them off the organic feed." And so, these now non-organic but all-natural chickens live in a beautiful coop with cedar siding and a green roof and are tended daily by my tenderhearted dad.

When he leaves for any length of time, the neighbors - i.e. his kids - tend the chickens. Melissa and I both have a mortal dread of being pecked by a chicken, and now that there are also occasional rats in the coop...suffice it to say there have been some harrowing moments for both of us. The chicken duty fell to Melissa while my parents were gone on their annual January vacation. One chicken was sick, which made the job a bit more dreadful than usual.

Melissa noticed the chicken hadn't moved in a day or two, although it was "distinctly still breathing". Gathering all her inner gumption, she walked into the coop, trying to avoid the little mountains of chicken...er, dust...to pick up said unmoving chicken and move it closer to the water dish. The next morning, she found the chicken, deflated. She was surprised at how flat it had become after it died. Flat. Still. Quiet. And still surrounded by the cackling mob, the intimidating and very much alive flock. She rushed back into the coop, avoiding the mountains of...er, dust...once again, picked up the flattened creature and rushed back out. The deflated and exceedingly frozen chicken had to be carried above her head to avoid sacrificing it to the drooling jowls of the excited golden retriever, who very much desired frozen, deflated chicken for his next meal.

The gritty details of death are usually hidden in our cremation/embalming nation. We know death is coming, but we have little working knowledge of how it happens or when, and what to expect afterward. We have scrubbed death out of our daily lives sufficiently to allow us to persist in denial at some level that such a thing even occurs. But is it really beneficial to us, psychologically, emotionally, spiritually? A more organic way of life - close to the land, close to the animals, close to people around you - living as a tender, a keeper, a caregiver...doesn't that afford more realism and a healthy dose of perspective about what dying - and consequently living - really means?

The chicken: created to be food and provider of food for us. Me: created to be mother, wife, caregiver, tender, nurturer. We are both on a trajectory toward death. The amazing thing is that I, through the ever-beneficient Grace of my Father, am also on a trajectory toward heaven. I have always been the sort to be conscious of the grander, eternal vista. I have been keenly aware of my living...and dying...state since I was a small child, who accepted the Savior at 4 and spent the next 20 years sorting out the details of a faith that was much too large to comprehend at such a young age. Standing here, in my shoes at 29, I look back and wonder if God was preparing my heart then for cancer now. I don't know that. And the connection to the dead, deflated chicken is loose at best. Yet I see the incomprehendable beauty, the frank hilarity, and the awesome soberness of the situation so clearly condensed in the story of a frozen pet chicken.

I don't know yet if I am walking in the footsteps of David, who faced death a thousand times, emerging to rejoice in the mercy and healing of God...I have suffered much; preserve my life, O LORD, according to your word. Accept, O LORD, the willing praise of my mouth, and teach me your laws. (Psalm 119:107-108)

Or am I embarking along the somber path Job trod? Will chemo and sickness and despair bring me to a place where I say sighing comes to me instead of food; my groans pour out like water. What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me. I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil. (Job 3:24-26) I pray for a spirit of rejoicing if God allows me to suffer more! I pray that I can endure the race He has set before me. Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my Redeemer! (Ps. 19:14)