"Cows are my passion. What I have ever sighed for has been to retreat to a farm and live entirely surrounded by cows–and china." Charles Dickens

April 23, 2013

Random Acts of Violence

Menacing storm clouds over our ridge farm last spring.
On Monday, April 15th, after a late afternoon at the library helping my eldest son gather research for his World War II project, we came home to our ridge. As we drove down our farm lane, I shared my benediction with my son as I noticed the fringes of redbud along the greening forest and our cattle grazing on pasture after a prolonged winter. Each time I come over the rise and dip of our knob and behold the picturesque meld of landscape that defines our farm, I am grateful. No matter what has happened in my day, I feel nestled, even safe, in the sustenance that is our homeplace.

My husband greeted us at the door. “Have you heard about Boston?” I had not even checked Facebook at the library, as involved as we were in our short research of the enormity of World War II. “Bombs went off near Copley Plaza at the end of the marathon.” Without knowing anything more, I felt sick. Boston is a city where we are both familiar, where I once lived, worked and went to graduate school, and where my husband was planning to be this week for an annual club dinner (he did not attend, after all, but had a lovely visit with many old friends in the area). We moved to Kentucky five years ago but we will always be New Englanders at heart.

Before I could process the Boston Marathon horror, my husband came closer so our boys would be out of earshot. “I picked up some trash on the side of the road and got pricked by a hypodermic needle,” he said. I went into my usual mode of rapid-fire questioning when presented with something jarring. Yes, he’d called the doctor and made an appointment for a blood test the next morning. No, he’d burned the evidence in the stove, left in its Hardee’s bag, after a fit of anger and so no one else could be harmed. We called a neighbor, not telling her why, to ask if she’d seen any vehicles drive past when we were both off the ridge to get our boys from school. Any vehicle driving past our farm is cause for a pause and a wave. No one lives on the county road but us so it isn’t especially well traveled—however, it is a short-cut connector between our larger ridge road if you don’t mind the bumps.

I saw my husband and our youngest son as I passed and waved to them at an intersection before they headed home. I remember thinking, with their arms outstretched towards me from their car windows, “They look so joyful!” They came back to the ridge before we did, a few hours later. My husband notices details and stopped to pick up the Hardee’s bag. The constancy of trash along the roadside, or dumped wholesale down a gully, is a sad occurrence in parts of Kentucky where there often seems to be little regard for the land or its intrinsic beauty by the people who were raised in these hills. This is not a judgment call, just fact: just as many seem to disregard their pets by not spaying and neutering them and allowing them to roam and become other people’s problems.

My husband has built a working cattle operation in the past few years from run out farmland and he works very hard. Even though we struggle at times, we don’t even take the farm subsidies that are available to us through the Farm Bill because we regard it as unnecessary welfare. [“Send it back to Washington to pay down the deficit!” my husband said when our local agency said it was there for us. “That’s not how it works,” was the reply. Just imagine the logic, for a moment, of being paid to not grow something?] I admire someone who, in his 50s, has the conviction that this is what we should be doing with the rest of our lives. Neither does he hesitate to pick up trash, barehanded, on our barely-traveled farm road where it always seems such a deliberate violation.

My first thought regarding the needle prick was that he has health insurance (I was denied). My second thought was more selfish and entirely mother-driven: “thank goodness it wasn’t one of the boys.” My final thought was “what if?” I didn’t linger long with that question. In my upset over the needle incident and its possible outcome, as I watched the coverage of the tragic Boston bombing, I realized there is no predicting the senseless events that occur in our world. Neither is any place safe or immune from the possibility of tragedy, whether natural or triggered by human interaction. There is a strange calm in this knowledge. My anxieties do not revel in the things I can’t control but in the things that I can.

I winced at the irony of receiving a “service message” phone call as I wrote this: “The FBI says there is a home invasion every fifteen seconds,” it began. “If you allow us to install a new security system…” at which point I hung up the phone. If bombs can burst and kill and maim in a crowded city street in America, or a troubled person can enter a suburban school with a semi-automatic weapon, then a tossed and dirty needle can pierce a hardworking man’s hand on his own peaceful bit of farmland. No one is exempt from being violated and, like everyone, my family has had its share of harmful acts from external sources. Yet we can never allow ourselves to be defined by our misfortunes or the difficult things that happen to us along the way: victims always wallow in the mire and blame while victors rise and move forward from the wreckage.

Even if we are able to find the person who used and threw away the needle, the damage may have already been done. So now the question is do we live in disgust or fear of every bit of “trash” or person who wishes to do harm or do we listen and look for those moments of quiet beauty, as when the whippoorwill calls across our fields at the edge of twilight? Or when neighbors let us know that they saw one of our cows struggling to give birth and then offer to help our boys while their father is away? [But I do need to boast for a moment: by the time the neighbors arrived, our boys had corralled the mother and pulled its calf safely and with all the finesse of seasoned midwives.]

I had to cheer what David Ortiz said at the Red Sox game on Sunday: “This is our f@#$ing city!” This is our f-ing country, too. I don’t often say this, and at the risk of sounding jingoistic: “Love it or leave it.” At least respect, nurture and honor it. Don’t trash it. Please don’t deny that we have major environmental or societal problems and accept that our own small orb in this immense universe is in trouble—and, God willing, or not, we can affect the outcome of our planet and how we interact.

My heart is with the families who have suffered loss of life or massive injury in last week’s bombing and as a mother I also feel for the family of the brothers in the Boston tragedy. At nineteen, the youngest brother is only four years older than my oldest boy. Where was his mother or his father for the past few years? Even though he seemed Americanized and had even become a citizen, did he feel alone and homeless? Without home or country? Feeling displaced, or without place, are disconcerting places to be—sometimes with no firm or familiar ground. We may never know what drove these young men, or other people, to hurt innocents in the name of a cause or personal hurt. What causes someone to explode rather than to quietly implode? I will never understand a religious faction that advocates killing or hatred—and, throughout its long history, Christianity, as a religion (not the person in whose name it exists), has not been immune to this, either.

While we live on an inconsiderate planet, where people, animals—and the land—seem increasingly disrespected, I still know there are those who run back into the fray to help or who stop to assist a stranger, to take in a stray animal, or who are willing to share their time or what they have with their neighbors. When there are random acts of violence and terrorism—as there have been throughout our world’s history—we must also assure that we never lose our humanity and hope for goodness. If we do, those who terrorize, or who bully or disregard the rest of us, will have won.

Each spring, violets bloom from the detritus of fall––always a reassuring sight in a weary world.

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.” If we could just remember this basic creed and put it into more regular practice, whatever our religion (and it is a tenet of all faiths), the world would just be better. Practice random acts of kindness—daily, even hourly—in quiet benediction or loudly to the hills or the city canyons. And pray—pray especially hard for those who wish to harm us or through their own sad lives, can’t seem to help it (whether from their hatred, envy, greed, ignorance or inadequacies). Sometimes, in a crazy world, it is all that we can do.

You come back when you're ready! 



  1. I pray your husband will be ok from the needle stick. I, as a nurse, had to go through a years worth of testing because I accidently stuck myself with a contaminated needle of which the patient was Hepatitis C positive. Thank God everything turned out negative! Your husband's will too, I BELIEVE in JESUS NAME!

    I also loved the fact that your husband doesn't take government subsidies! More farmers should be like him!

  2. just an idea, out here certain organizations "adopt" a highway, keep it clean on a regular basis using certain instruments/items for trash clean up- for special reasons of all different sorts... maybe you can research/google/glean information and use this education? also on the job my husband always carries a spray clipped to him called "MyClyns"
    please research that one also...yes, times are a changing, but finding, preparing and using the tools can maybe counter act some of the bad in many ways.


Welcome to the farm! I hope you feel free to comment and share here. I will respond as often as I can.