“You know,” the shepherd on the hill said while he blew the smoke from his cigarette through his nostrils. It’s been years ago now. I was in some sort of mountainous free state. I left my car in the valley where traffic jam, tax free shops, billboards with shrill colors and the eternal concrete construction sites made my head spin. Taking a narrow path that wound up into the green, green grass of spring mountain I finally reached higher ground. It was quiet here. A bird of prey soared silently around snowcapped peaks. On the top of a hill I saw a flock of sheep and a shepherd. I climbed the steep slope.
The shepherd greeted me in the stubborn way of men who are alone most of the time.
“Are you in for a chat?” I asked casually.
“Yeah, sure,” the shepherd answered surprisingly friendly. “I don’t see too many tourists up here. They stay in the valley. So feel welcome.”
He nodded with his head to sit down in the grass and rolled a cigarette from my tobacco.
The Shepherd and the Way of Nature
“You know,” the shepherd on the hill said, while he blew the smoke of his cigarette through his nostrils. “You know, in a pack of wolves there’s a strictly observed hierarchy. On top of the social structure is the leader. The place in the pack is determined by dominance and submission. The position in the pack is already being established while the wolves are still pups. It looks like they are just playing, but in reality the strongest, smartest and most ruthless of them emerge to become in time the next leader.
Further down the line there is a fiercely guarded hierarchy. If there is a ranking from first to last one animal, as a matter of course, must be the last. We call it the underdog or outcast. The outcast is easily recognized, for it follows the pack at a little distance. It belongs to the pack and it does not belong to pack. The outcast is warily watching evolvements within the group, always alert in case the other wolves might let off their frustration and wrath at any time on him or her.”
The shepherd was silent and looked into the sky where the bird of prey was making a nose-dive. I knew the shepherd had been talking about me. He had seen me climbing up the slope, gauged me, seen through me. I had never belonged in high-school. You may say it’s merely regular teenage angst. That is absolutely true. But at the same time it was maybe more than just that. I was fatty and thought that was the reason I didn’t belong.
I became obsessed with diets. And again that didn’t suffice.
At night I heard the voices of classmates and teachers, saying: “You should this and you should not do that.” I thought: “If I just literally do as they say, then maybe one day I will belong after all”.
Every night, before falling asleep, I promised myself: “Tomorrow I will start a completely new life. I am going to be perfect from then on.”
The pursuit of perfection turned into an obsessive-compulsive disorder. An unforgiving winged creature guarded the entrance to the Garden of Eden and the child in me. But his fiery, flashing sword didn’t only kill the naturalness and intuition of the child, but was severely condemning others too. I was stuck in a morass of anger.
The kid who was once one with laughter in the cinema, had also dreamed of becoming a missionary. But it wasn’t gonna be that way. Maybe it was never meant to be in this world. I remained an outsider, scrubbing floors in factories.
The Shepherd and the Way of Grace
Meanwhile driving through the next village in Lorraine my wife and I saw a castle. The castle was built as a calendar with 365 windows and 52 fireplaces.
“Look up there,” my wife exclaimed and pointed to one of the chimneys.
A pair of storks had built a nest on top of the chimney. I saw how they were feeding the young storks. The fledglings reached deeply into their parents’ beaks for food, flapping with their wings. I realized that this is part of this world too: all this love and caring and all these creatures parading before my eyes.
The shepherd on the hill blew out the last smoke of his cigarette.
He sighed and whispered: “Dominance and submission, that’s the Way of Nature, son. But that’s not all there is. One fine day of death, grace and glory you will find another Way, the Way of Grace. The Way of Grace will bring you delight and happiness and deep bonds of friendship and brotherhood.”
As a plain under a blanket of snow
And I, a lonesome traveller,
Stand at the side and hesitate,
Afraid to break the white silence
and leave my trails as ineradicable curses.