I watched a vision of raw pleasure the other day so simple, so unrehearsed, I won’t forget it.
I’ve accumulated end-of-loaf pieces of wheat bread over recent weeks and decided it was time to gather them up and take them to my goats and donkeys at morning feeding down at the barn. As I gathered up the left-overs I spied a container of uneaten croissants. They were still edible, just dried out.
There were two whole croissants. I thought of Merton immediately. He’s the male donkey of my original pair and a character if ever there was one. Merton has a carbohydrate fetish and simply loves bread. He came to me from an auction feedlot where the owner fed him day-old tortillas salvaged from an Albuquerque tortilla factory. He eats grass hay now and has for the past six years. But as I looked at the still-flaky pastries, I wondered how he would respond to the taste of croissants.
At my place, the four goats are the bawdy eaters, pushing and shoving the larger donkeys out of the way for first grabs at everything edible. So I distracted the goats and other donkeys by putting the slices of wheat bread at a distance and enticing Merton elsewhere with a whiff of croissant.
I wanted to watch his reaction when he figured out what his ‘treat’ was.
It was instantaneous. The long fine hairs on his lips and chin got near my hand holding out a croissant and it was as if a beatific vision came into his soul. He took the half-croissant into his agile lips and into his mouth and I swear I saw heaven in his eyes. He savored. Then he licked as if in disbelief of his own tongue.
I gave him the other half of his croissant. Then the other one. He ate slowly, meditatively, like a gourmand on assignment. He didn’t want his culinary heaven to end.
I stood for a long time, rubbing his ears, watching my Merton’s unadulterated delight, watching him lick his lips and seemingly extract from his own tongue every molecule of taste left of the croissants.
It isn’t true that pleasure must be expensive or that until we get the latest and best technology pleasure is beyond us. Author Lynne Twist describes the too familiar modern predicament like this:
“We’re not thin enough, we’re not smart enough, we’re not pretty enough or fit enough or educated enough, or rich enough–ever. Before we even sit up in bed, before our feet touch the floor, we’re already inadequate, already behind, already losing, already lacking something. And by the time we go to bed at night, our minds race with a litany of what we didn’t get, or didn’t get done, that day. We go to sleep burdened by those thoughts and wake up to the reverie of lack . . . What begins as a simple expression of the hurried life, or even the challenged life, grows into the great justification for an unfulfilled life” (Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money).
I watched Merton savor his croissant with sheer pleasure and I saw proof that God is in every true pleasure. I thought how little it takes to bring joy to those whose tastes aren’t jaded by entitlement.
I came back from the barn that day having witnessed a pleasure-prayer of gratitude by a donkey.
Some would call Merton a “beast.” But I own that label more accurately than Mert when I don’t allow myself to recognize how good things really are.
Joseph Harvill, publisher Great Scots Magazine