There’s no such thing as risk-free love.
I know that this is absolutely true when I watch my daughter, with her chin resting on the farm gate. She’s got this one long worry-crease above her brow. Inside the calf pen, a veterinarian puts a stethoscope to the heart of a sick baby calf.
Her baby calf.
He’s listening for beats per second. But me? I’m trying to get a fix on how that young girl’s heart might be thumping right about now. I’m watching the way she wears her heart on the outside of her body — a mother’s heart, I think.
She winces when the veterinarian gives the calf a shot with a long needle. Her hands grip the gate. Yes, she winces — the way I winced when I took her in for her first immunizations as an infant ten years ago. And now, my grown-up girl looks down the gate at me, eyes wide and pooling as her baby calf fights and kicks and groans.
“Is she going to be ok, Mom?” she whispers. “She isn’t going to die, is she?”
Lydia was the one who knew first that her calf was sick. She had told me earlier that day, as we bottle-fed, that something wasn’t right. Sherbert the Calf backed away from a half-full bottle of milk.
“Come on, Sherbs,” she cajoled, waving that gigantic bottle in front of a young calf’s face. “Come on. Drink!”
“See?” she turned to me, with wild eyes. “It’s just not right!”
Moms know these things about their babies — even 10-year-old surrogate mothers of calves.
Hours later, the vet pulled onto the yard in a pickup. Lydia shot out the back door with determination in every step.
The vet carried a stethoscope, a thermometer and a portable pharmacy.
And Lydia — carrying her worry — ran down that hill alongside him. Ran hard after love.
Here at the pen, I watch her from a distance. I try hard not to stand between her and this calamitous love that needs to have its way with her heart.
I hold back advice. I let Lydia answer the vet’s questions. I watch her stand tall, shoulders back, looking that vet straight in the eye when he confirms her fears: both calves are sick. Probably pneumonia.
I see it, how she feels the need to muster up the strength to carry a burden, because that’s part of love. Love can be erratic, like it might drop straight out of the bottom of her heart. You’re laughing one day, and worried sick the next.
For a moment, I sense something Edenic about what I see across the gate.
I remember the story in Genesis, when the Lord formed all the animals. He gave them feathers and fur and sharp claws and tentacles. He fashioned cows with wet noses and long eyelashes. Then, God asked man to care for them … and to give them names.
Lydia named her calves. They are Sherbert and Daisy. And you know, if you give something a name, you approach it a whole new way — with a tenderness that changes you on the inside. They aren’t merely 357 and 358. They aren’t Things One and Two. They have distinct hair-lines, and personalities, and names. And you can’t NOT love something you’ve named.
But now they’re sick.
Love is risky like that.
As mothers and daughters and uncles and cousins, we love anyway. We love … even when we know love might fade or might break out heart. Or might get a fever — or cancer. We love, even if love stays out past curfew. We know that love might break the rules, or break the glass, or spill the milk (or spill the beans). But we love anyway. Because that’s what we were made for: love.
We know that love might run out the door … but if it does, we pray that love comes running back again).
Because we also know that Love
In the end, love prevails. And we know that Love died for messy, erratic us. And in some unfathomable mystery, we must have been worth every calamitous risk. Or it simply wouldn’t have happened.
I watch my daughter here, on this side of the gate, knowing that love hurts. But she decides that love is worth the risk. I know it, because instead of turning her back and walking away, she reaches a hand through the gate to run fingers along the body of someone she named. Someone she loves. Someone who’s worth the risk.