So, I have chickens, now.
Friends of ours are moving to California, and apparently they don’t want to take their foul. So now there are two hens in my backyard. My kids named them Marcy and Peppermint Patty. We call them “The Ladies”, for short.
Our friends told us not to expect the hens to operate on our terms: “They will never come when you call – you can’t train them to do anything. Just let them do what they do.” They wander around, nibble at food, lay a egg in the same spot at the same time every day, and go in their little house at dusk to roost. The Ladies are great at what they do, but you’ll never get them to do anything differently.
Of course, ours is a dangerous world for a chicken. We have to lock them in their henhouse at dusk to protect them. The other night I was walking out to my garage and there was a raccoon the size of a mini-fridge perched on my fence watching them in their house. I froze and the raccoon turned and we locked eyes.
I got all primal just then and actually spoke to the raccoon – “Listen buddy, if you decide to fight me for those hens, you’re going to lose. I will end you with this here shovel.” I’m pretty sure I could have gotten a hold of the shovel before the coon got a hold of me, but full disclosure, I’m glad he didn’t test me.
Anyway, that got me to thinking about the difference between helping someone and trying to control them. I have a responsibility to help and protect my hens, and they also help me by eating bugs that threaten my garden and by providing eggs that I eat. But I will never be able to make them do anything, or be anyone other than who they are.
Though my responsibility to other human beings has a lot more nuance to it, the lesson for human communities is clear: When someone truly needs help and you can give it, for God’s sake, help! But our calling as neighbors is not to change or control the people we care about, to get them to adopt our lifestyles or points of view. That’s a futile pursuit anyway, a fact many of us take a long time to learn.