Posted on Feb 22, 2017
By Ellie Laks, Founder of The Gentle Barn
This week, Magic recovered nicely in the hospital after his Epiploic Foramen entrapment surgery and came home. Before Magic came home, Jay and I visited him in the hospital every day so he would know he was loved and special to us, and stay strong. On one of our evening trips to the hospital, Jay was driving and I was in the passenger seat. Jay kept reaching over to tuck my hair behind my ears but I kept untucking it, explaining that I don’t like my gray to show. Jay asked why and I said it’s embarrassing and it makes me feel old. Jay then stole a glance at me while he drove and said, “Your gray hair is nothing to be ashamed of; it is your badge of honor!” My eyes stung with tears and my cheeks flushed red as I held his hand gratefully and drove on in silence.
My mind was racing with a thousand thoughts inspired by what Jay had said. My gray hair was probably brought on by working hard, taking few vacations, worrying about my kids, working to make The Gentle Barn successful, falling in love with animals, and saying farewell to them when they were old, hearing about the cruelty out there in the world every day, and trying so hard to make this a better place. I have helped many people and animals who have later turned around to bite me, the human bite always hurts the most. I have gone through times when I didn’t think The Gentle Barn would make it. I have taken on the suffering and pain of these animals and made it my own. So, if that caused my gray hair, then my gray hair was my badge of honor. It shows of things that hurt me that I have overcome. It shows of all the lessons I have learned and the many teachers that have taught me. It shows my unwillingness to give up or give in. It shows how much I have grown and survived and all the things that have made me stronger.
That got me to thinking about many more of my so-called flaws that I pick apart on a daily basis, like my tummy and my wrinkles. My body is stretched and saggy because I have had two beautiful babies and nursed them until they weaned themselves. My body gave them life, nutrition, and sustenance. I could have gone since to the gym and worked out to get my body back in shape, but I have chosen to be in the barnyard instead, living my dream. My wrinkles and lines on my face are there because of all the millions of times when I have laughed and cried - the many times I have loved and said goodbye. The many times I have smiled with my whole soul because of a newly rescued animal playing for the first time, or a child finding her voice, or someone going vegan for love, or a young man realizing that to be kind is cool. The lines on my face and the shape of my body tell a story of a good, rich, emotional, rewarding, triumphant life. A life that I am so grateful and honored to live.
Our animals have similar badges of honor that tell their stories of struggle and survival. Our cow, Aretha, has the number 28 branded on her left hip. While it makes me cringe and my heart ache every time I see it, it reminds us of the slaughter that awaited her and how she escaped it. It reminds us of a world that still sees animals as slaves, but that is evolving ever so slowly to more kindness. Aretha is now safe in a sanctuary that will respect and love her for the rest of her life. Her scars show of her triumph and survival - it is her badge of honor. Our horse, Patrick, has a grossly swayed back from years of carrying humans. He could have run, or bucked, or knocked them off, but he carried them patiently and carefully because he was so loving. Even though he knew they were damaging his back and his spirit, he allowed no harm to come to them. Patrick’s back is his badge of honor telling of a life of service - not for what he received for it, but simply because that was his soul’s path and his hearts expression. The dogs we save from shelters usually have faces dusted with gray. Gray from all the years locked in back yards excluded from their families warmth. Gray from talking, but not being heard, from loving, but not being loved back. Gray from taking on their family’s pain as their own, and gray from hoping for a more gentle life. The gray on our animal’s faces tells of strength, survival, and perseverance. It is their badge of honor and I can’t imagine them being ashamed of it. When I see their “flaws,” I don’t judge them for it, I don’t think they are imperfect or ugly. They are so beautiful and magnificent to me for what they have gone through, for who they are, for how they healed, and for the many ways they have taught me about forgiveness, courage, trust, unconditional love, and second chances.
So, why does our culture revere the inauthentic, the plastic, and the fake? Why can’t we honor the real, the age, the scars, the gray, the years of wear and tear on our bodies for a good, fulfilled life?! Let’s learn from the animals and teach our daughters and all the women in our communities to love themselves, to grow old with dignity, and to be proud of all their badges of honor, in all their many forms. Next time I look into the mirror, I am not going to be ashamed of what I see or pick myself apart. I am going to look at all my bumps, lumps, lines, and wrinkles as the things that illustrate my life, my story. They are evidence of all the things that I have gone through and all the things that make me, me. I love my life and am profoundly grateful for all the things I have gone through and done. So from now on I am going to embrace the road map of my body that tells the story of my wonderful, wonderful life. We are all so beautiful!
By Ellie Laks
Founder, The Gentle Barn