Life Lessons Learned While Milking A Cow

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Recently my Uncle Jim passed away. For a few months, he had not been very well. After a doctor recommended hospice care, Uncle Jim said no and requested that he just go back home to his century farmhouse, where he had been born and lived all his life.

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After he passed, my aunt told me that Uncle Jim had requested I officiate the funeral service. I was honoured. I met with the family and did the best I could to create and lead a service to remember and celebrate his life.

When the funeral service was over, I spent the next day in my flower gardens, processing all that had happened over the past few emotionally intense days. After I lead any ceremony or speak at an event, I need the next day to digest and integrate what I have learned from the experience. While pulling weeds, a childhood memory suddenly came up about my uncle. The memory flowed up in me like a mental movie. Instantly I felt sad that I had not thought to include this story in my eulogy at the funeral.

In my moment of sadness, I knew I could stand there and regret an apparent oversight, or I could take a deep breath and trust there was a reason I did not share my story at the funeral. I suddenly had the thought, "I was not supposed to share that story, how do I know that? Because I didn't. That is the reality of it."

I have come to know when I argue with reality, I suffer, but only one hundred percent of the time. So I let go of the story of "I should have…" and asked, "So now what? What do I do with this 40-year-old story that as far as I know, nobody has ever heard?” What instantly came to me were these words: "Write about it."

So here I am, sharing with all of you the lessons I learned from my Uncle Jim one night, many years ago, while milking a cow…

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This story begins when I was young child. I was at my Uncle Jim's and Aunt Alice’s place. Somehow I found myself going to the barn with Uncle Jim to milk cows. As a kid, I was a very shy child, and looking back, I have no idea how I was brave enough to go with him. I can see myself standing in the milking parlour and I see Uncle Jim going about the business of milking.
I am standing quietly at a distance. Growing up on a farm, with beef cattle and pigs, I was already trained to stay out of the way and stay quiet when adults are working with animals. So I stay silent and out of the busy-ness of milking cows.

Looking back through my childhood mind, I can see Uncle Jim washing the cow's teets, placing the milkers on and then moving over to the next cow. I can see him patting and rubbing a cow's side, speaking to her as he dismisses her from the stall in order to let the next cow step in for her turn. Then he looks over his shoulder at me, looking like he just remembered I was there. I can see him wave his hand at me and calling my name to come over. With great trepidation over what might happen next, I reluctantly approach his side. He tells me to hold out my hand. I feel panic as I am uncertain of his plan. Reluctantly, I offer my hand. He then squirts milk into my palm.  With my eyes wide open, I look up at him and break my silence, exclaiming, "It's warm!"

Uncle Jim lets out one loud hoot of a laugh. He asks me, "Well by golly how did you think it would come out? Cold?", followed with more laughter.

I look at the milk in my hand, asking myself, "How did I think the milk would come out of a cow?" As I hear Uncle Jim continuing to laugh, I feel great embarrassment. Why didn't I already know that milk from a cow comes out warm? Why is he laughing at me? I take a few deeps breaths and blink several times. I can feel tears coming, but I am determined not to let Uncle Jim see me cry. I am certain my tears would only bring out more of his laughter. That is all I can remember…

By the time I became a young adult, Uncle Jim was now a grandfather. I remember one day hearing him tell stories about the latest things his grandchildren had said and done. His great hoot of a laugh followed each story. Hearing his laugh, as he told stories of his grandchildren, made me remember the time he laughed at me that night milking cows. It occurred to me that he had not been laughing AT me. Instead, he was laughing over the sheer enjoyment of being with and witnessing the innocence of young children.

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As a mother of 4 and a teacher of young children, I have had my share of belly laughs after one of those "kids say the darndest things" moments. Uncle Jim wasn't laughing AT me. He was laughing with joy in witnessing the wonder in my childhood moment.

I have never told anyone this story before. So now, approximately 40 years later, I find it incredible how this memory suddenly resurfaced. As patchy and unfocused as some of it is, the heart of this story is vividly clear. What did I truly learn from Uncle Jim that night in the milking parlour?

When we hear someone laughing at something we said or did, we often feel embarrassed and think they are laughing at us. It is important to see situations with more openness. When we do, we often discover the other person is not laughing at us, but with the joy we have brought them in that moment. We can choose to be a victim of the other person's laughter, or we can join them and laugh along. The second option is far more enjoyable. I highly recommend it.

The other lesson I learned? … "Milk from a cow comes out warm."

Thanks Uncle Jim, for your lessons and your laughter, none of which will be forgotten.

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Jill McPhersonComment