Cow chasing and the mystery of grace

by Kim on September 30, 2012 · 29 comments

To celebrate our last day of volunteering, Brian and I and the other volunteers made a night of it. After grabbing pizza at a local establishment, we stopped at a bar for caiphirans before heading to a karaoke joint.

A few of the people in our group overindulged and as the night wore on they began to spill drinks and climb up on chairs to dance. One of them dropped the karaoke microphone and it broke into pieces. I was embarrassed by the scene and stood to leave, but as we filed out the door we were stopped and told we owed $3 additional. This set off a round of drunken complaining from some of the members of the group, so I quickly paid the $3 and headed for home, ashamed that we had fit the stereotype of the self-centered westerner.

The next morning Brian and I awoke and set off on a hike while some of our roommates were still sleeping off their hangovers. Our plan was to hike to the Virgin statue that overlooks Baños and then across on a trail to a large illuminated Cross, a route that would take us high in the hills above town.

After a hellish twenty-minute climb up a never-ending flight of stairs we reached that statue of the Virgin where we lingered to snap a few pictures and take in the view. Then we set off on the path that would lead us to the Cross, past tiny shacks and farmland built onto severe slopes.

After a half-hour or so of walking we passed a man of about sixty chopping thick branches with a machete, two tiny dogs at his heel. Buenos dias, we said as we shuffled past.

Ten minutes later we came upon a very old woman standing behind a barbed-wire fence. She stopped us and spoke to us in Spanish. Brian and I could make out only a few words: man, below. Was she asking if we’d passed a man on our way up? Si, I told her, we had. She spoke again, a long sentence at a rapid-fire pace, and I caught only one word: cow. Lo siento, no entiendo, I told her. I’m sorry, I don’t understand. She looked angry and disappointed and waved us away.

After another ten minutes we passed an old man walking slowly with a makeshift bamboo cane. He was yelling something in Spanish to a man farming on an almost vertical hill below us. We passed them both and continued on.

Finally, about a half-mile from where we’d seen the old man, we came upon a gigantic black and white cow who was blocking the trail, leisurely eating grass. We noticed she was tied to a heavy rope that had come untethered. We put the pieces together. The old woman had been asking if we’d seen her husband. Their cow had escaped. The old man with the cane was desperately trying to track the cow down.

The runaway cow

Brian took hold of the rope and I turned around to find the old man and tell him we’d found his cow. When I saw the man hobbling slowly up the steep slope of the trail I yelled Tengo tu baca (I have your cow). As I approached he tripped and fell. He couldn’t have been more than five feet tall and was at least eighty years old. He’d been hiking on this muddy, rocky trail for more than an hour. Uno momento, I said to him. Aqui, aqui. Here. Stay here.

I turned back up the trail to find Brian unsuccessfully trying to wrangle the cow in my direction. Together we worked out a system: I stood behind the cow clapping my hands and Brian walked in front, guiding the cow back towards the home of the old couple.

When we reached the old man again Brian moved ahead with the cow while I lingered behind to make sure the man didn’t fall. I resisted my urge to just pick him up and carry him over my shoulder. He’d look up from time to time and rub his knee, indicating to me that his knee was bad and walking was painful. 

We eventually reached the barbed-wire fence where we’d seen the old lady earlier. We found her there still, but this time she was trapped in the fence, her foot caught on the barbed-wire and bleeding. From what I could make of the situation she had tried to climb through the fence to look for the cow, but got caught in the barbed-wire instead.

Brian handed the cow over to me and set about freeing the woman from the fence. She didn’t say a word, didn’t cry out in pain, just stood there with a steely look on her face until her foot was released. When she was free, she and her husband yelled back and forth to each other while Brian and I stood waiting for instruction.

The old man wanted to try to force the cow back through a small hole in the barbed-wire fence that it had escaped from. Brian and I tried our best to coax it back through, but the cow was having none of it. The old man took his cane and beat the hind end of the cow. I tried to place my hands on the cow to calm it. I’m sorry, I whispered. I could feel it jump with fright each time the cane came down.

When it became clear to the old man that we’d never get the cow back through the hole we moved on to option number two. The old man and woman gestured wildly, signaling to us to take the cow down the trail and around the bend to their casa. Brian left with the cow while I walked with the couple as they limped and tripped their way back home.

We finally rounded the bend and their home came into view, a tiny, one-room wooden shack. We walked onto their property and Brian tied the cow to a post, wrapping the tether tightly.

Brian and I looked at each other and grinned. We’d returned the cow to her home, the old couple had made it back safely. We’d been in the right place at the right time. Perhaps it was coincidence or luck, but we could both sense that it was something else. 

The old couple thanked us profusely. The old man clapped Brian on the back and shook his hand. The old woman removed her hat, closed her eyes, pushed her hands together and prayed. Then she blessed us both. We couldn’t catch much of what she was saying but I heard her repeat the words hermoso and gente: Beautiful people. 

__________

Yesterday I was writing with an old friend from High School over Facebook chat. She told me that she was back in our hometown to donate her kidney to her brother.

I’m excited,” she said.

Excited because your brother will be healthy again?” I asked. I was surprised that she’d used the word excited. It wouldn’t have been the word I’d use to describe how I felt about having a kidney cut out of me.

Yep,” she said. “And that I’m blessed with the opportunity to share.” 

I’d typed up this blog post in the afternoon after we’d helped the couple recover their cow. I put the story down right away, but I was still searching for the words to describe what had made the experience so moving. It has affected both Brian and I in a deep way.

It wasn’t until my friend told me that she felt blessed with the opportunity to share that I realized that I felt a similar way about helping the couple find their cow. I felt blessed to have been of service to people that needed me.

I still feel strange talking about prayer because I don’t consider myself a religious person, just highly spiritual, but when I pray each night one thing I ask for is to be a force for good. I ask that, despite all of my faults and flaws and tendency to be self-centered and bitchy, that in my best moments perhaps I can be lucky enough to create or give something to the world that makes it better. We all yearn for that, don’t we?

So when something like this happens, when a cow escapes from two people who desperately need it, and Brian and I are there to retrieve it, I can’t help but feel like I’m receiving what I’ve asked for. I don’t know what to call the blessing except, perhaps, to call it grace.

“You can have the other words-chance, luck, coincidence, serendipity. I’ll take grace. I don’t know what it is exactly, but I’ll take it. ” – Mary Oliver

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{ 28 comments… read them below or add one }

Sarah Somewhere September 30, 2012 at 4:05 pm

This was so wonderful to read. I love that this little moment gave you so much to ponder on and that you have the awareness to recognise the grace present all around us if, as you say, we are open to it. And like you, all we need to do is ask.

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:45 am

Asking is so important. I always think of a line in one of my favorite Rumi poems “you must ask for what you really want.” That line runs through my head all of the time and so I do always ask for what I really want.

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Tracy September 30, 2012 at 4:34 pm

This is such a great story, one of my favorites, you two were meant to be there. And your Spanish is improving!

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:46 am

I think we were meant to be there too! Our Spanish really is getting better. I can understand whole conversations now if I’m overhearing, though answering or having a conversation in Spanish is a different story.

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Cheryl Dinan September 30, 2012 at 5:45 pm

Kim, Just now reading the story about the cow! It was delightful. I really enjoy reading your work and looking at your photos! stay safe and take care love, mom

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thanks mom, glad you enjoy it :)

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Patti September 30, 2012 at 6:14 pm

I cracked up when you wrote you had to fight the urge to just pick up the old man and put him over your shoulder! Hilarious. One of the wonders of life is the amazingly simple things we would normally not give a 2nd thought, but for others it’s a lifeline.

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:48 am

I’m so glad we got the opportunity to be there. Still wonder if I should have picked him up… probably not though.

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Steph (@ 20 Years Hence) September 30, 2012 at 6:41 pm

Loved this post! What a great story, and I definitely understand what you mean about feeling like you are a force for good. When I thought about all the things I wanted to get out of this trip before we embarked, it struck me that I want more than anything to believe that I am a good person who can easily give of herself to others. Haven’t had the chance to wrangle a wayward cow, but I hope that should such an opportunity present itself that I would be able to handle it with the grace that you and Brian did!

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:51 am

There are times when it is so hard to give of yourself… I think our tendency sometimes is to be guarded and wonder if we’re being tricked, especially when traveling. That wasn’t the case here because we could so clearly see what was going on, but I think that we have to work hard to keep ourselves open during this time when we are constantly encountering new people and new experiences. I think though, that I can slowly sense myself opening up to the world and just feeling a little more confident of my place in it (starting out was like being in a washing machine, you know? It takes a little time to adjust). I know that when the opportunity presents itself you will handle it with grace, Steph :)

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Michele Crim September 30, 2012 at 9:36 pm

Lovely post Kim!

I was thinking back to that picture of you and Brian in your daily Spanish lessons…I bet you never thought “I have your cow” would be something you would be saying!

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

Haha, that is definitely true!!

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Jen September 30, 2012 at 11:51 pm

Great story! I always look forward to reading your posts! Keep up the great writing and please continue sharing.

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:52 am

Thank you Jen- for reading. It is my pleasure to write and share with everyone!

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Carmel October 1, 2012 at 7:33 am

Perfect quote to end the story. When I am at a loss as to what to pray for (which is often these days), I simply ask to be willing to accept God’s grace, no matter what that may be. Very inspiring.

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Kim October 1, 2012 at 11:53 am

Ah, that is beautiful. At times when I don’t know what to pray for I just say “thank you.” XOXO

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Rhonda October 1, 2012 at 12:32 pm

What a touching story, you made my day! Grace, I like that word… I once read a poem about praying to have the grace to face the difficult times as easily as the you do the times when life just flows along. Certainly something we can all aspire to.

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Kim October 2, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Thanks Rhonda, I’m glad it made your day. Living it certainly made my day. I like the sound of that poem.

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Stephanie October 1, 2012 at 5:22 pm

Love this! What a wonderful ball of opportunity you have. It is refreshing to read your posts, share in your realizations and witness your humbleness. Thank you so much for sharing.

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Kim October 2, 2012 at 12:54 pm

Ha, yes, it does feel like we have quite a ball of opportunity. Its so nice to have it :)

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Stacey M. October 2, 2012 at 3:41 pm

What a great post and experience! I, like you, pray that I can be a good person and make the world a better place, even in small ways. Small acts of kindness go a long way. Grace!

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Kim October 4, 2012 at 7:17 am

I completely agree. Small acts of kindness make a big difference, and they’re rarely forgotten.

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Jan October 2, 2012 at 5:39 pm

What a wonderful experience! I just found your blog & am enjoying your stories.

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Kim October 4, 2012 at 7:18 am

Thanks Jan. I’m so glad you found it!

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JOYCE TANOURY October 5, 2012 at 7:35 am

Kim….I am truly living vicariously through you. While I am sitting at my cubicle daily, I imagine myself hiking through beautiful, mountainous regions; enjoying spectacular views while sitting in a hot tub; or just lazying around a pristine beach listening to the peaceful sounds of the ocean. You rock girl!!! Enjoy your time away and keep writing. Love you, Aunt Joyce

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Kim October 7, 2012 at 7:03 pm

Thank you Joyce! I’m so glad I can provide some distraction from work :)

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Daniel October 6, 2012 at 7:56 am

Your story sent chills down my spine because of how moving it was. I’m so happy for the both of you and definitely the old couple, that it all worked out in the end. You guys could have easily walked on, and left the cow where it was grazing, but the simple act of guiding the cow back to her rightful owners must’ve made everyone’s day. Keep travelling, keep writing! I’ll be here reading! :)

//Daniel

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Kim October 7, 2012 at 7:07 pm

It really did work out just as it needed to- I’m just glad we were in the right place at the right time. Thanks for reading :)

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