I stared at the picture his leg sprawled out in front of him, his backpack and long board tossed aside, an emergency vehicle with flashing lights careened towards him in the night. The picture text included no explanation, but told a horror I wasn’t prepared for this Christmas season. My hands shook, knowing I couldn’t get to my son. He was at his friend, Caleb’s beach house for a few days.
“Christian,” I texted frantically. “What’s happened?” I wanted to scream into the phone. He didn’t respond. I prayed, while dialing his number several times to no avail.
His younger brother, Colin leaned over my shoulder. “What’s wrong Momma?”
“Pray for Christian. Something’s happened.” I showed him the picture. “He’s not answering his phone.”
Finally, the phone rang.
There was a little goat on the farm named Prince William. Prince William didn’t have the typical goat life in the beginning. His mother developed mastitis and was unable to nurse him. He lived in a stall in the barn and was bottle-fed on schedule, usually by a young girl named Emma, who lives with her parents in the barn apartment. You couldn’t help but love this little guy. He bleated as you passed his stall, begging for attention. Emma rode her scooter up and down the barn, and Prince William scampered behind as if she were his mother.
Before long, it was time for Prince William to be castrated so he could join a herd. In the pen, he was the black goat in a pack of white, the smallest of the bunch and one of his ears pointed down while the other pointed heavenward. Life with the herd wasn’t easy for Prince William. The other goats didn’t accept him, he was always in a corner by himself. His food was placed in a separate container, so he would not be ousted at mealtime. Whenever I drove up on the ATV, he ran alongside the fence and bleated as if to say, “My peeps! There you are! Get me out of here!” I think he thought he was human to some extent. We’d discussed moving Prince William to our yard. He’d become a pet and not be so lonely, but after going back and forth we decided he was safer with the herd, until we moved there full time.
One night we’d left our bedroom doors open to allow the cool wind to blow through during the night. Around midnight, I jumped up hearing a loud noise.
I shook Jay. “Do you hear that?” I said.
He scrunched his face. “What is it?”
I ran out onto the porch. Howling and yapping to the left of our farmhouse, then in the front, and answered by howling to the right.
Jay squeezed my shoulders. “Coyotes,” he said.
“We’re surrounded. There’s so many!” I’d never heard anything like it.
“Sounds like several packs are passing through,” he said. “Unfortunately, we offer a buffet. They eat chickens.”
“What about the goats?” I said, turning to him. “Prince William?”
By his expression, I knew goats were what’s for dinner. “We’ll know in the morning.”
I didn’t sleep well that night, worrying over the little black outcast.
Surprisingly, Prince William survived that night, but soon after he received a slash on his hip by what the farmers believed was a bob cat or a Florida panther. He was treated and as it healed coyote tracks were found by the goat pen. This time Prince William wasn’t as fortunate.
He was eaten.
The herd is to blame. While they huddled in a tight circle of protection, Prince William was sacrificed. It’s a part of farm life, I will never become callous to. The pangs you feel when a beloved creature is killed, slaughtered, sold, or traded. Jay often shrugs “It’s farm life.” Sometimes, I wonder if I’m cut out for it.
I’ve thought about Prince William. The poor guy was doomed from the beginning. I knew his story was to teach me something. I didn’t know what until a few nights after, when I clutched my cell phone. Finally, Christian’s face popped up on the screen.
My “hello” sounded frantic.
“Momma!” he said, the sound of traffic in the background. “There’s a dead guy.”
“What dead guy? What happened?”
“This guy was riding his bike around the bridge. We saw him as we long boarded to the beach. Four hours later, his bike was on the side of the road. He was face down in the water on the rocks.”
“What happened to him?”
“He’s dead Momma. He was just alive. I just…” His voice wavered. “I just can’t believe it! When Caleb ran to get help, I called 911. I nudged him and talked to him, but I knew he was already gone.”
“You couldn’t resuscitate him?” I said.
“No, he was already gray and stiff. I sat in the dark with his body. I don’t know why I was talking to him. I didn’t know what else to do. I was scared to touch him too much maybe I’d be blamed for his death or something. The investigator said it was good I didn’t move him.” He paused for a moment. “It was suicide Momma. The guy killed himself.”
I didn’t realize I was holding my breath as I exhaled. My son was okay. It was someone else’s son. Some poor mother would receive a call, days after Christmas. She would hear the gruesome facts. The cans found around his body. How he removed his wallet from his pocket and laid it neatly on a boulder. He wanted someone to know who he was…who he once was.
Your son was snuffing they’ll tell her, he snuffed his life out…snuffed his soul free. He snuffed because he couldn’t stand on his own two feet any longer. He fell face down in the rocks. Crushed his skull. His nose was smashed to bits….No longer looked human.
At home, the next night Christian couldn’t sleep. The picture of that thirty year old’s face and bloated body wasn’t easy to forget. His mind swung back and forth between seeing him alive and then dead. Knowing he and Caleb were probably the last to see him riding his bike in circles on that bridge as he contemplated his end. I explained to Christian, God allowed him to be this man’s witness.
“Maybe you were to see what snuffing does, so you could help someone. Keep someone else from making the same mistake.”
He nodded sadly. “What would make him do that Momma?” He’d ask later.
Sometimes there are no answers… just questions. I myself couldn’t help but wonder if this man like Prince William was rejected by his herd, and if he fought the coyotes and panthers of this life alone. I pondered why he was outside a circle of protection. Was there no one to turn to?
This was not the way I’d planned to start my New Year, but the experience pushed me into a resolution. My resolution for 2017 is to try harder to extend grace to those who are angry, rude, treat me unfairly, or see things from a different point of view, to care for those who are sick, to befriend the lonely, and to open the door for the elderly. Jesus called this loving your neighbor. We are commanded to love without expectation of anything in return, for we never know what’s going on in someone else’s pen. Maybe, this man’s life will not be lost in vain after all.
Isaiah 41:10: “Fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” AKJV