Saturday, March 1, 2014

The Natural History of the Chicken

"They're Just Doing This" by Brian Kershisnik

I liked the film all right, for the most part. It had a lady in it who resuscitated a frozen chicken. That was a heroic and a lovely thing. And she called her hens “girls,” just like the kind Long Islander who runs the little bed and breakfast in Salt Lake and makes exquisite morning food. And the movie had that gentle bearded man with the intelligent eyes who likes to know where his food is coming from and so he raises chickens and sends his small children out into the slanting early sun to gather the eggs of the free-range birds from the long grasses of his backyard—like Easter every day.

But sometimes the film almost seemed to smirk a little, you know? And that sort of bothered me. Look at how idiosyncratic some people are, it seemed to say, elbowing me in the ribs, urging me to join in with a conspiratorial smile, I mean, this lady puts underwear on her rooster and drives him around in her car.

Well, people are idiosyncratic. That’s a lovely thing. Quirky, sacred human beings living out their eccentric, holy lives all over this peculiar, blessed planet.

Here’s Hopkins:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
  For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
  Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
  Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                  Praise him.

That’s what was missing from the movie—a sense of reverence for the strangeness in others, for the otherness of others. Idiosyncrasy is to be met with honor, I believe, with great affection. I have long appreciated something Joseph Wirthlin, that quiet-voiced apostle, once said: “The Lord did not people the earth with a vibrant orchestra of personalities only to value the piccolos of the world. Every instrument is precious and adds to the complex beauty of the symphony. All of Heavenly Father’s children are different in some degree, yet each has his own beautiful sound that adds depth and richness to the whole.”

The novel Gilead begins and ends with a similar affirmation. Old Reverend Ames tells his young son, “You might have a very different life from mine . . . and that would be a wonderful thing, there are many ways to live a good life.” And this from the final pages: “There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” And thousands of thousands of people living this life, every one of them cherished and sufficient and worthy of reverence.

Which makes me think, for some reason, of that baffling response Spencer Kimball once gave when someone asked him what he does when he finds himself in a boring sacrament meeting: “I don’t know,” he said, “I’ve never been in one.” That anecdote is usually told in the church with a little bit of a chuckle, because heaven knows some meetings are tedious. But a large part of communal worship may be the privilege of experiencing the holiness in others, of attending to someone’s utter otherness. This may be a large part of why I go to church—to learn to love and to briefly inhabit the foreign countries and strange planets of other people’s souls. Neal Maxwell once commented that “God is never bored . . . because of His perfect love for His children.” Boredom, then, is a failure of love, and also, I think, a failure of imagination. Every unusual human being, every ostensibly wearisome speaker, every oddity and every quirk I encounter is an invitation to see God’s image in the countenance of the other, is a summons to reverence.


  1. Amen! Every someone's singular self-ness makes mortality inexpressibly delicious. Thanks.

  2. I love the messages portrayed here and I full-heartedly agree!

    For me it translates into my belief that there are as many correct ways to be as there is to be found in the potential for all life - infinite. Idiosyncrasies and individual uniqueness are the variety and spice of life! What are you cooking over there with yours?

    Thanks for sharing your insights!