“I hate being a shepherd…”

Annunciation to the Shepherds, Taddeo Gaddi, Fresco in the Basilica of Santa Croce, Florence c. 1335

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.
– Luke 2:8

Over at First Things, today, we meet a shepherd who hates the sheep; he hates their stink and their stupidity — he dreams of being a pirate, and even pays grudging respect to the wolves he must keep at bay:

It is different for his son, my cousin. Joining us in the fields, he had adopted the self-important swagger of a boy set to working among the men, but a month of raw weather, of keeping predators at bay while saving the sheep from themselves—for there is no stupider creature on G-d’s earth than a sheep—has brought a dullness to his step. A wolf can be cunning, but does not have to be; even a lupine dullard is smarter than the filthy, stinking sheep we guard and save and lead and nurse back to health, when we can.

This sheep, my uncle pronounces, as he treats the wound with garlic and honey and binds it tightly, will likely live; its wound is slight. As I watch him work, my imagination and my stomach conspire against me. Our meal tonight was only lentils and bread and at the notion of a lamb roasted with garlic my gut has gone rude and noisy.

This, more than anything, overwhelms whatever meager pleasures a shepherd might take in his labors: the hunger. For all that the night-sky fascinates and the breezes alive in the grassy pastures may bring delight, there remains a constant sense of hunger—of an appetite never fully assuaged. This gnawing emptiness is no accident of poor planning; it is by design. To be slightly hungry is to be awake, alert. A shepherd who eats his full finds his senses dulled—he becomes more likely to want a nap and that always becomes a hard sleep. If a predator comes, or a sheep gets himself lost, or trapped—or has stumbled into harm’s way, as they always do—the shepherd will be too weighed down to react; his reflexes too slow. One cannot run well with a full belly.

Still, when we bake our breads upon the fire daily, my wish is to add a few fistfuls of flour into the mix; to bake enough bread to fill in the chinks until I am finally sated. When I have tried, always my older brother has stayed my hand. “We have the rations,” I argue, but he shakes his head. “Be prudent and stay prepared,” he says. “Each day we must have bread.”

I hate being a shepherd.

I do not know the narrator’s name, but don’t miss what happens as he takes first watch in the night!

Yes, I take a rare foray into fiction.

Oh, be nice.

About Elizabeth Scalia
  • Win Nelson

    Lovely, thank you for sharing it!

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny

    Will you allow me to be the skunk at the party? It’s well written. However as a story one thing does jut out at me. The language (diction and syntax) would be way too above a shepherd boy’s language. The story is in first person, so to maintain verisimilitude you are somewhat obligated to capture his speech. Otherwise you should change the point of view to third person. The other thing that nags at me is that while the shepherd boy does meet and hear the angel make that proclamation, would he really grasp the fullness of the birth? It’s your story, so the answer would be yes, but for me it doesn’t seem all that natural for such a leap of understanding to occur. But hey, that’s me being picky. It was a good read.

  • Victor

    (((“I hate being a shepherd…”)))
    Anchoress what we Christians need is a good old Shepherd and a good old wolf who understand G-d’s rules and follow them to a “T” now!

    I hear YA! BE NICE Victor! :)

  • http://ashesfromburntroses.blogspot.com/ Manny