“It hurts to love something. I am not going to love anyone new,” said Pickles.
“Love doesn’t work that way, Pickles. You can’t run away from love; it will find you,” said Earnest the pig.
Two days earlier, Opie the goat had died. He was only 4 years old and had been diagnosed with an incurable disease. Opie was the first therapy goat of the farm and many people loved him — he visited many of the elder homes in the area.
Pickles started to cry. Everyone in the barnyard gathered around her.
Ollie the goat came over and said, “I know what it’s like to lose someone too, Pickles. I lost my mama — she died having me.”
Pickles cried even more.
“Opie was my friend. If love means hurting, I won’t do it anymore,” Pickles said.
Mrs. Dunn was cleaning stalls and said, “But Pickles, what will you do every day if you choose not to love?”
“I will run and leap all by myself,” Pickles said.
“But you love to run and leap,” Mrs. Dunn said. “And when you do, others are watching you run and leap and they smile and laugh and they feel love for you.”
“Well, I’m not going to introduce myself to any new goats that come here; then I won’t be hurt if they die,” said Pickles.
“Before you came, Pickles, I lost many creatures I loved and I hurt too, and I still miss each one. But I can’t imagine a barnyard without a Pickles. If I had chosen not to love another, we would not have you,” Mrs. Dunn said.
“I guess I’m kind of important then,” said little Pickles.
“Did we stop loving trees after our favorite maple tree was struck down from a storm?” asked Earnest the pig.
“No!” the barnyard said in unison.
“There are a lot of maple trees; there was only one Opie,” said Pickles.
“That’s right,” said Mrs. Dunn. “And that little maple sapling over there will grow up and be a favorite tree to someone someday. And somewhere a little goat is being born just like you or Opie and they will be loved by someone. Love is being born every minute, even when someone is dying.”
“Love is not your body, Opie, it is all the stuff inside you that can’t be seen, but it can be felt,” said Henneth the blind chicken.
“Like my intestines?” asked Pickles.
“Well, like your heart,” said Auntie Bea, one of the elder goats.
“I wish things didn’t die,” said Pickles.
The moon was coming up, and Earnest the pig put his arm around Pickles and said, “When you go to bed at night, do you mourn the loss of the sun?”
“No, because the sun is somewhere,” said Pickles.
“So is Opie,” said Earnest.
The stars were now out, filling the sky.
“I think Opie is a star in the sky,” said Ollie.
Pickles intently watched the night sky, and said,
“I think he is all of the stars.”
(Katherine Dunn, of Apifera Farm in Bremen, is an artist and writer. Apifera, a nonprofit, takes in elderly and special-needs animals and shares them with elder people. Learn more at katherinedunn.us.)