During this holy season of Advent, in which we celebrate the birth of the baby Jesus, I find myself contemplating the role of the humble donkey in the two most significant events in Christianity.
A donkey was there in the beginning, carrying Mary to a stable in Bethlehem; another was present at the end, bearing Christ triumphantly into Jerusalem the week before his crucifixion.
In both of these Biblical examples, scholars have observed that the donkey represented peace not the haughtiness of conquering rulers. Throughout history, this meek and hard-working creature has earned a reputation for intelligence and dedication.
I have been reflecting on all these qualities – quick-wittedness, loyalty, and amazing strength of character – since a donkey came into my life four months ago.
I adopted an elderly donkey, whom I named Eeyore, after he was found abandoned on Rt. 165 in western Exeter. We have brought each other great happiness.
He is at least 25, the vet says; blind, virtually toothless and crippled. When he arrived at his new home at Clouds Hill Farm, in Warwick, he was so starved you could see every bone in his body.
But he is a survivor and no matter what abuse he suffered in the past, everything has changed drastically in Eeyore’s world.
He learned his new name quickly and memorized the path to his paddock after only a handful of trips. Because he knows the sound of my voice and trusts me, he soon understood that when I said “right here,” he should stop and wait for me to open the gate so he doesn’t walk into it and bash his head.
Now he stops on his own. When returning to the barn, I direct him around the door to his stall with two words, “over here” because he has no peripheral vision.
Similarly, I bought gym mats and we hung them on the walls of what’s known as his “house” so if he gets confused about how close the wall is his face touches soft padding.
He is gaining weight at the speed of light.
Eeyore polishes off three meals a day including moistened senior grain with glucosamine added for his joints, soaked and softened alfalfa cubes and his afternoon snack comprising a bowl of peanut butter Cap’n Crunch (no substitutes), a sliced apple and four soft horse cookies – the equine answer to Little Debbie cakes – made of molasses and flaxseed on a marshmallow-y base.
After he’s been outside and then groomed to a glossy shine, Eeyore begins nagging me for his treat. He doesn’t really bray; it’s more a persistent squeak. I have taken to fondly calling him the demanding old husband I never had. Because of his method of communicating, a young woman named Christine, who owns one of Eeyore’s buddies – a big, handsome, 38-year-old horse named Bailey – has nicknamed him Sir Squeaky.
The little guy is completely content as evidenced by the exuberance with which he takes his daily roll on the ground. Eeyore goes into his paddock, carefully kneels then flops, followed by rolling back and forth, whipping his head around and kicking his feet in the air like a member of the Rockettes.
He sometimes concludes by lying quietly, curled up like a puppy. He is adorable.
Eeyore recently received what is almost certainly his first blanket – a garment in a purple starburst pattern that I call his “smoking jacket.” From the moment he put it on, it was clear he believed himself to be People magazine’s Sexiest Donkey Alive. He posed as though on the red carpet until every person in the barn came by to tell him he looked stunning.
To be honest, the blanket is a tad too big although he doesn’t mind. I had ordered one that was exactly the right length but had to return it for a larger model. He’s gotten so tubby that not even three of us working together could figure out how to fasten the strips around his tummy.
Not long ago, his veterinarian who was tending a stable -mate drove past when Eeyore was in his paddock. She leaned out her truck window and called: “He looks great!”
I am very fortunate that Andra Collins, whose stable the donkey calls home, has shared so much practical knowledge and overseen my progress. She is also very kind, pitching in to tend Eeyore when I’m suddenly called away.
Is he spoiled? Absolutely; he deserves it. My goal is that he spends the rest of his life receiving all the love and attention I can provide.
The U.S. Postal Service has issued a beautiful Christmas stamp this year. It depicts four figures against the fiery sky at dusk: Mary cradling her baby in her arms and Joseph leading the donkey who bears them.
Martha Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org .