A barn full of animals that have nothing to fear is the most peaceful and holy place that humans can create. Surrounded by the quiet of chewing hay and slow breathing, among sheep and cows, perhaps the most enlightened species that live, a peaceful barn is as close as we can get to heaven and still be inside. A barn is the perfect setting for holiness.
A perfect setting for a lot of things, really. I love this barn. It feels vast, roomy, and open. Light and sacred, like a cathedral. It fills me with gratitude every time I think of it. I am so blessed to offer this beautiful, comfortable space to our beloved cows and sheep. Soon, the horses will join them, as well.
The setting is perfect, too. It is on a hillside, amidst rolling pastures, with a constant chorus of songbirds. PennyLove, Johnny, and I spent many an evening gazing out from that barn, watching the sun melt into a red-orange orb and drip into the purple and blue horizon. Years ago, I had a similar ritual with her mother, Penny Power. We used to walk along the meadow, shoulder to shoulder, slowing our breathing as the sun set, bowing our heads in gratitude for the day.
PennyLove wasn’t very much like her mother in any of the obvious ways, though. Penny Power was cuddly and nurturing. She loved being given baths and brushed and hugged. PennyLove was a bit more like a cat. She let you know when and how and for how long you could pet her. If you wanted to give her a hug and she didn’t want one, she’d swing her head at you as if she had horns and wasn’t shy about using them. Healthy boundaries, I’d laugh.
But something about her reminded me of her mother. I felt her mother in her, in some inexpressible way, and I found it such a comfort to have a tiny spark of Penny Power back.
I loved watching her.
I loved how the sheep revered and trusted her. I loved how her cow friends, Gus and Houdini in particular, would come to her new “retirement” quarters to visit with her. I loved her dignity and the clarity with which she let us know exactly what she wanted and needed.
I loved seeing the sun shining on her red coat. Loved the thickness and warmth of her fur. Loved her slow, careful lumbering gait.
We knew, when she needed more and more help every time she wanted to stand up, that she wouldn’t be with us much longer. For a while we had a nice system going. She’d moo a specific moo when she wanted to get up. Johnny would warm up the tractor while I got straps under her. We’d work together to shimmy the straps into the right spot, then I would attach them to the tractor, and he would raise her slowly.
PennyLove would work with us helpfully and patiently through the whole process and push her front legs up as the tractor lifted her hips. The three of us got so good at it that we could get her up in just a few minutes. And then once she was up, on the nice flat ground of her pasture and barn, she got around really well. She was slow and methodical, and it worked. She was happy. So, so happy. Contentment radiated from every pore. I was feeling optimistic. Maybe we could keep her going long enough to enjoy sweet spring grass and milder temperatures…
A barn is a great place to face the truth of things. Harsh realities seem cushioned by the soft gaze of gentle creatures that love you. One day, we raised PennyLove with the tractor, but her front legs wouldn’t hold her anymore. As I lay in a fragrant bed of hay with my beloved PennyLove, and looked into her eyes, I understood that she would never rise again.
She was content with that. Her life was complete, and it was beautiful.
PennyLove rested then. Slept with her head near mine on that huge pile of hay. Her eyes were closed. Her breathing even. The sheep sniffed gently around us, calmly knowing things that remain a mystery to me.
Our beautiful PennyLove’s life force flowed, like a great orb of red-orange light, and melted into the indigo horizon. Gently, slowly, gracefully. Achingly serene. A barn is a great place to die.
A story for children of all ages
Illustrations by Michah Beahan
The only sound was birds singing their ancient love songs as Princess Isi stared into dancing gems in the lake, the sun’s reflection on its surface. But Princess Isi did not hear the birdsong, and did not even see the lake. She was lost in her own thoughts…
“If only I had a platypus! I would call him Ivor, the Irish Warrior Platypus. He would be so much fun to hang out with! He could swim in the lake while I dance on the shore… Come to think of it, I need three of them!! What on earth does one call three of them? Platypi? Platypuses? All I know is that without at least one platypus there is nothing to do around here!”
This was a common lament for Princess Isi, who had been dreaming of a platypus for a very long time, at least two weeks. Princess Isi knew, she just knew, that she was meant to have a platypus, and that her life would never be complete without one. But how ever does a mere young princess find a Platypus?
She had asked her parents a million times, and they just smiled like she was saying something cute. But it was not cute, and she was not cute. She was serious. Princess Isi needed a platypus (or three)!
“Mom,” she cried, “this is a matter of life and death! I cannot go one without a platypus named Ivor!”
“Don’t be ridiculous, child,” her mother chided. “You are a princess! You have everything a girl could want. Why do you think you need a platypus so much? Or platypi? What is the plural for platypus, anyways?”
“I don’t know,” Princess Isi mumbled dejectedly, “and besides, without a platypus, I am not a princess. I may as well be a pauper…”
You see, Princess Isi was lonely. She didn’t seem to know how to make friends at school. She and her parents had come from a faraway land. Their skin was a different color than the other kids, and they spoke with an accent. More importantly, Princess Isi and her family lived and even understood the world differently than the other kids. Isi thought the platypi might be easier to understand than the kids she knew. The Princess moped for days, thinking of nothing but Ivor, her destiny.
The Princess had just had a big fight with her parents!
They were sitting at the table eating. Well, her parents were eating. The Princess refused to eat the disgusting Roast Beast the chef insisted on making. It was obviously gross. They had to smother it in some sort of horrible sauce just to eat it. But her father, the king, loved it.
So, there she was, trying to impart how important it was that her parents get her some platypi (or was it platypuses?), that in fact without them she was a mere pauper, when her father burst out laughing!
“Honey,” he said once he caught his breath, “just put it out of your head. You’ll forget platypuses (or is it platypi?) in a few weeks and you can go back to playing with your dolls and matchbox cars like a good Princess.”
Her father was so mean!! And he didn’t even know her! If he knew anything, it would be that she abhorred dolls and matchbox cars and had not played with either in months.
She slammed down her napkin and ran out of the palace, straight to the lake where she just knew Ivor would someday cavort and promenade. She flung herself in the grass facedown and pummeled the earth with her hands and feet until she exhausted herself, lying sobbing.
Suddenly, a flower appeared under her nose, where none had been a second ago! “Wh…wha…,” the startled Princess stammered as she looked up to see a porcupine smiling kindly and holding the flower out to her! And this was not just any porcupine! No, this was a porcupine in 1960’s Beatles style sunglasses, wearing a big peace symbol pendant, surrounded in some sort of sweet perfume.
“Who are you?” the Princess wrinkled her nose, “And what is that smell?”
“Oh! Do you like it? It’s my essential oil, patchouli.”
“Essential oil? For a porcupine? How on earth does a porcupine apply patchouli oil without pricking herself?”
“That, my dear, is a secret for another day,” the aromatic porcupine answered enigmatically, “But do you like the scent?”
“Yes, no, I don’t know…who are you? Some kind of hippie porcupine?”
“Who, me?,” she said sweetly. “We’re all One, lovey. I am you, and you are me, and we are All That Is…”
“Whatever!” The Princess turned her back on the strange sight.
But the porcupine was not to be put off. She came right around to shove the flower under Isi’s nose again.
“Ok, Ok, I can see that was not what you meant. My name is Clover Astralride Lovehaze. But you can call me Clover. And you are Princess Isi,” Clover said with a bow and a flourish.
“Clover Astralride Lovehaze? Seriously. Did your parents name you that?” the Princess asked incredulously.
The porcupine simply smiled. Reluctant but curious, the Princess took the proffered flower. “Nice to meet you,” she stammered politely.
Quite suddenly, without the slightest advance notice, the hippie porcupine broke into song– the classic Beatles song, in fact, only the Princess didn’t know it:
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to teeeee-eeell?”
“What? Tell me already,” for patience was not among the Princess’s considerable virtues.
“Closer,” the porcupine went right on singing,
“Oooh wah oooh,
Let me whisper in your ear,
Tell you what you long to heeeeeear…”
“Enough already, tell me!” our pugnacious little Princess was not much of a charmer, either.
“I’m trying to. Just hang on and let me finish!” the porcupine chided before resuming her song:
Oooh wah ooh,
Do you want to know a secret, Oooh wah ooh,
Do you promise not to tell?”
“Yes, yes, I promise not to tell, but only if you STOP SINGING,” the Princess yelled with her hands tightly covering her ears.
Clover only sang louder,
“All’s in love with you,
Oooh ooh oooh oooh ooh.”
“What! Paul’s in love with me? Paul who?” the Princess asked eagerly.
“No! Not Paul, All. All’s in love with you.”
“What kind of name is All?” the princess scoffed.
The hippie porcupine sighed and sat down. “You know, All. All That Is. The Light,.The Source. The Creator.”
“Creator?” Princess Isi said with a wrinkled brow, “You mean God?”
“Yes, God or Goddess, if you prefer.”
“So that’s the big secret? That God loves me? My parents have been telling me that since I was little. That’s no secret!”
“No, my dear, that is not the secret. But what you may not know, and this IS the secret, is hat All That Is– or God– or your own Higher Self if you look at it that way– wants you to have all that you have ever wanted or needed or dreamed of. And there is just one simple thing you must do to get it.”
“All that I dream of? Really? Even a platypus named Ivor, the Irish Warrior?”
“And his faithful pals?”
“Yes, and Ivor’s faithful pals. You, my dear, have plentiforous platypi at your fingertips, all for the asking.” “Really?”
“Yes, all that your heart desires,” Clover intoned majestically.
“No, I mean, that’s great, but is the plural of platypus really platypi?” Princess Isi enquired.
“Well actually, both platypi and platypuses are correct, but don’t you want to know how you can have plentiforousness?”
“Are you going to tell me?” the Princess asked skeptically.
“The answer lies in your heart,” Clover answered cryptically while spraying a mist of patchouli in front of her and walking through it before settling down in a lotus position.
Have you ever seen a porcupine sit in lotus position? Ouch!
“Come on! My heart is already certain of the truth! I know that I must have platypi! My life will never be complete until I have them!”
The porcupine sat still, neither looking at Princess Isi, nor saying a word. A breeze blew the grass around them, the leaves rustled in the trees. Far off, birds sang. The two sat in the warm afternoon sun, a perfectly-at-peace porcupine and a petulant Princess who perceived herself a pauper.
Minutes passed, and finally Clover spoke. “My dear. The problem is perception. Your predicament is in your pauper perception that what you have is a mere pittance. Your heart is full of what you don’t have. Look around you. Look at what you do have. For you are not a pauper princess, but a Princess with a profusion of plentiforous prizes. I want you to tell me, right now, what are you grateful for?”
Pugnaciously, the Princess replied, “Porcupine platitudes…”
“Do you need me to start singing again? No? Then describe for me your plethora of presents!” Clover settled back down into the lotus position (ouch!) and said more gently, “What do you appreciate about your life today?”
“Well,” the princess replied tentatively, “I am a Princess with parents who love me. I have this beautiful meadow and lake to play by. I have food and a warm bed to sleep in. I have flowers to gaze at and to smell.”
“Go on,” Clover encouraged.
“I can dance. I can sing.”
“You can listen to me sing!” They were both getting into it now.
“Oh no! I am grateful that you stopped singing,” the Princess replied giggling. Soon they were both rolling in the grass laughing until their stomachs ached.
Finally, Clover sat up, straightened her glasses, fixed the flower chain around her neck, and straightened her peace pendant.
“Plentiforousness, my dear. You have plentiforousness. The key is in your perception,” pontificated the perspicacious porcupine softly. “Close your eyes for a moment, dear Princess,” instructed the porcupine. “What do you hear?”
The wind blew gently, rustling the leaves in the trees. Birds sang. Waves lapped quietly at the lake’s shore. “It’s beautiful!” the Princess whispered with awe. “I never noticed before how beautiful it sounds out here.”
The porcupine smiled.
“So to paraphrase,” the Princess pondered, “if it’s all in my perception, what you are pointing out is that we must not see what we don’t have, but what we do have.”
“Om…” the porcupine intoned peacefully. “All things bring us joy.”
“But how does that get me my platypi?” the Princess earnestly enquired.
Clover turned then and gazed into the princess’ eyes. “Lovey, everything we do, everything we think, everything we are is a prayer. You may be praying to God or Goddess or the Universe or the Light or All That Is or your own highest self, or that tree right over there. Your prayers go out to anything you believe in, the ocean, the wind, the concept of goodness, anything at all. The point is that your whole life, my dear, is a prayer. And when you pray, ‘I have a paucity of platypi, I am a poor Princess who will never know plentiforousness and will never open up to joy,’ then that is what is granted to you. Remember that All is in love with you and answers every prayer.”
“So how do I get my platypi?” the Princess was becoming petulant again.
“Princess Isi, you must stop worrying about the platypi. It does not mean that you don’t want them, and that you won’t have them. But instead, focus on two things.”
“Gratitude is the first,” said the Princess, “but what is the second?”
“The second, dear girl, is Love.”
“Love? I don’t get it, I’m too young to date.”
“No, my dear, not love with a small ‘l’, but Love with a capital ‘L’. Instead of thinking of your own needs all the time, give time everyday thinking about and doing for others. How can you show them Love? What can you do to bring joy to others, to help others? For example, when was the last time you pestered your parents for platypi?”
“Umm…about an hour ago?” the Princess mumbled.
“When was the last time you did something thoughtful for them?”
The Princess realized it had been a long time, “I guess it would be nice if I would bring a bouquet of wildflowers to them.”
“A little love goes a long way,” Clover agreed.
“This is all very pretty, but what does showing Love to others have to do with getting me plentiforous platypi?”
“Why do you want platypi? Be honest.”
“To play with, of course!”
“And tell me, why do you never play with other kids?”
“They don’t like me,” the Princess said sadly.
“Are you sure? Have you done anything to let them know you’d like to be friends?” “Errr, I don’t know..”
“Might they be concerned that you, an exotic foreign princess, might not like them?” “I, I, I never thought of it that way,” Isi stammered with surprise.
“Mmmm-hmmm,” the porcupine said sagely.
“I think I get it!” the Princess exclaimed, “I have been focusing on all the wrong things!
Instead of trying to get what I want all the time, I should look at what I already have, and look for ways to help others find happiness.”
“Precisely, my Princess, precisely.”
The now-peaceful Princess and the paladin Porcupine gazed at the sky and saw something very special! The clouds were shaped like playful platypi promenading above them!
“Plentiforousness,” the Princess put forth. “I had it all along.”
And the two laid back to watch the clouds roll by, content in the here and now.
© Story copyright Indra Lahiri, 2019, ©Illustrations copyright Michan Beahan, 2019. Do not reproduce without written permission. For permission, contact firstname.lastname@example.org