Monday, May 13, 2019

smelly sheep

What is good about sheep? Asks the pastor. He’s very joyful, even at seventy-five. I write down his ovine paean, meaning to relate it to Evan later, and forget.

Sheep, he bleats, in a sonorous baritone, light beaming from his face, are animals who remind us of our spirituality. He details the reactions to the sheep who graze in the graveyard every autumn for several months: overwhelmingly positive. Apparently, a flock of sheep is a universal referent to a bucolic, idyllic past in which we all had space to roam and a community in which to do it.

Sheep follow their shepherd—they are discerning animals who can pick out the tone of their shepherd's voice out of a cacophony of competing voices. Sheep are loyal; sheep are communal—gathering in flocks together. They are mild-mannered, vegetarian, peaceful, harmony-loving.

I love this characterization of sheep: these wooly Buddhas of the hoofèd mammal kingdom, gently nibbling grass all over the hillsides, wanting nothing more than to eat together, to live together, to follow the one voice that calls to them.

The pastoral he's painting is certainly the image of the monastery I'm craving; definitely a referent to the spiritual depths of my memory.

After Mass, I board the subway.

Oh yes, there's just one thing, the pastor adds.

A man is walking up and down, eating crumbs of potato chips from a small bag, humming loudly, his hair standing on end.

The thing about sheep is that they smell. Bad.

This man is followed by the stench of homelessness, which wafts through the subway car: an undefinable but unshakable odor of stale urine, desperation and loneliness.

Passengers pull their jackets up to cover their noses; they move away from where he teeters in the middle of the subway car, towards the doors.

But if the Good Shepherd's sheep knows his voice, I think he, too, knows their smell.

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