Thursday, October 17, 2013

Picking pigs

Pig selection was different this particular year.  Before, the children had looked the piglets over and picked which ones they wanted.  This eventful year, there was a drawing.  Amazingly, each child STILL got the pig they had wanted.  

The year before, our pig came from a nearby pig farmer who had a large operation.  He was an excellent farmer, but it was clearly a business.  He provided for every need, and our pig was healthy but totally wild.  She was rowdy from the start and I’m not sure Ryan ever really connected with her.  She certainly never settled down enough to be a pet.  

This particular year, there was a clear difference.  All our pigs came from Mr. Barnman’s brother.  He had lots of pigs, but it was more than a business to him.  It was fun.  As we entered the barn for the first time, the pigs greeted us.  Curious, they sniffed our feet and nibbled at our shoe laces.  Those pigs were used to being greeted, petted, enjoyed and their response was much different.  I thought perhaps Mr. Barnman had been keeping the pigs a few weeks, but he corrected me.  “No, I picked them up Saturday morning.  They’ve been here three days.  They were sweet like this when I got them.”  He explained that his brother spent time with the pigs and enjoyed the piglets.  Clearly, time spent in the pigpen had made a difference.  

The boys wanted to chase the pigs, but Mr. Barnman discouraged it.  He explained that, when the pigs get upset and start running, they don’t pay attention and are likely to run into the feed bin or even the walls of their pen.   If they start running, he said, they were too likely to injure themselves.  A limping pig can’t show.  

Ryan had the good sense to wear his “pig boots”, special rubber boots for wading in the pigpen.  I forgot about the muck and wore my tennis shoes.  I was confident I could stay out of the mud and manure.  After all, it was Ryan’s pig.  I would just watch from the side.  I was careful with every step.  Ryan waded right in, confident he would avoid all the “smelly spots”.  Almost immediately, Ryan’s new pig rooted with her snout in the mud, then headed straight for Ryan.  She nuzzled him with her nose, smearing his leg with mud.  

When we climbed back into the car to head home, I smelled a familiar essence.  “Ryan, one of us smells like pig.  I can’t believe we smell like pigs already.  Did you step in the pig manure?” I asked.  “No, it must have been you,” he insisted.  Once home, we both checked our boots, but they all looked fairly clean.  Regardless, after only a few minutes with the pigs, we smelled just like them. 

We had been showing pigs for a while, but we learned some important things that evening.  Pigs respond in kind to the care they receive.  Generally speaking, a piglet that is treated with kindness is a pretty nice piglet. Pigs like to share their dirt. That's why Ryan's pig nuzzled him with her muddy snout. She was just sharing her fun.  If you want to go in the pigpen without getting dirty, you have to plan ahead or you will be as pungent as the pigs when you leave.

There was another boy once who had a very nice home, but thought big city life was pretty exciting.  He found, however, that it didn't work out quite as well as he expected.  In fact, that big fancy life of his turned out to be a kind of pigpen.  Everyone was eager to share the "dirt" they had learned to enjoy. It started nice but ended up a stinky mess.  Before long, he wasn't just as bad as his friends, he was in a real pigpen himself, wishing he could eat what the pigs were eating.  In that pigpen, he came to his senses, made a quick 180 and headed back home.  He must have smelled like the pigs.  Phew!  They smell bad, and he did too, but his dad loved wayward boys like Mr. Barnman's brother loved little piglets.  He responded with such kindness that the stinky boy felt welcomed and loved.

There is a lesson in the pigpen for all of us.  We may not end up there because we have chosen a stinky lifestyle, or because we have run out of other options, but at some point we all want what we don't have enough to make some pretty bad decisions that can get us in trouble.  Most of us will have at least a little time in a pigpen of our own making.  What I hope we will always have is someone clean who is waiting to welcome us back with open arms and a warm heart.  For those of us on the other side of the pigpen, may we always be the clean one with the warm heart and the widespread arms.  That's who I want to be. What about you?