If you’ve ever heard dozens of donkeys braying at once, you know what it does to one’s neck hairs. The word “cacophony” doesn’t begin to describe the din.
It’s been almost four decades since I heard that sound. I’ve never forgotten.
Thousands of formerly mistreated and neglected donkeys have been rescued by the Donkey Sanctuary in Sidmouth, Devon. Founded by Dr. Elisabeth Svendsen in 1969 the Sanctuary now has several branches throughout Europe. Our family toured the original site on a visit to England.
I remember Blackie best, a small shaggy beast rescued years earlier from a village in Spain. At the time, the village held an annual New Year’s Eve parade in which it was custom for someone to lead a black donkey, representing the old year, down the parade route. As the donkey passed, villagers flailed, flogged, beat, stoned, kicked and otherwise abused the little creature as it plodded, terrified, over the cobblestones. Their aim was to kill the donkey (the old year), so that the new one (a white donkey, if I recall correctly) could be properly welcomed with cheers, treats and pats. Miraculously Blackie had survived the gauntlet.
A rescue team transported the severely traumatized and badly injured Blackie to the Donkey Sanctuary, where he recovered and bonded with a white donkey named Lola. To prevent future abuses of other donkeys, Dr. Svendsen provided the village with a realistic pretend animal, manufactured to withstand the rigours of the annual event.
Our past year, capped by Christmas festivities, has reached its end. Ahead waits a promising new one. I’ll soon take down last year’s calendars – the crazy cats hanging in the hall and the calendar with scripture and folk art paintings on the pantry door. In their place, I’ll put up new calendars. Their numbered squares bear unknown promises, unlike last year’s expired dates, many almost obliterated by scrawled appointments and notes.
Each year, as I flip through the previous year’s calendar, reviewing those scrawls, I find it odd that the difficult memories stick tighter than the pleasant ones, and I understand the Spanish villagers better. If possible, I’d beat a few dates in the old year to death, too. Wasted days. Unpleasant, unexpected detours. Days that hurt, filled with trouble of one sort or another. Not to mention the incessant problems that plague our world. Pain, ugliness and sin.
Like those abused black donkeys, the year behind limps past us all; a parade of pages lined with too many days we’d rather forget, recriminations and regrets we wish would die.
If that’s you, put down your sticks and stones. Let God rescue your black donkey. For no matter how dark the days behind us, he saw us through each one. With our cooperation, he can redeem those days – transform them into instruments to enrich, teach and strengthen us for service in the days and years ahead.
“For even darkness cannot hide from God. TLB, Psalm 119:12a”