Never had I considered Keigan’s efforts noteworthy prior to attending the Waskom FFA Jackpot Show. Well, perhaps I unintentionally disparage his efforts when no disparagement is meant. Always have I considered what he hopes to accomplish with Bella a noteworthy endeavor. But photographically and linguistically? Not so much.
So when he and his parents invited me to attend their first show, I happily agreed, not only because I consider them dear friends but also because I had never before seen a livestock show. That Keigan hopes to gain university entry via his efforts has not escaped me, thus I have wished him well since I first discovered this project, and yet I had not fully recognized or appreciated the fullness of the whole, but rather I had observed and participated in the smallness of this part and that part.
But a show? Their first show together? A collective step forward on the path that hopefully will become his collegiate ticket and her lasting well-being? Or more importantly, the preliminary go at a years-long journey that wends about such hopes and ambitions and promises as to require Herculean strength, Heraclean endurance, and Damon and Pythias-like friendship and loyalty? Yes, their first show together represented a very different—and much bigger—aspect of this than I had considered.
In the weeks preceding the show I asked Keigan repeatedly if he felt nervous. “Not at all” he would flippantly reply, though no one involved believed him. While Bella had participated in a few shows prior to her becoming Keigan’s partner, he had no experience with the show circuit or its idiosyncrasies or the totality of its myriad requirements, requirements fluid and unpredictable and based on the personality of each judge.
Yet denial can be a powerful sedative to calm frayed nerves; likewise it can be a stimulant that awakens distressed anxiety. Therefore we urged him to accept his concern as normal, to admit it insofar as it would help balm them. But Keigan is young, and as the young are wont to do he maintained the strength of his denial even as his friends and family recognized the growing worms of fear and doubt squirming beneath his skin.
When at least he stood upon the verdant grass of the Marshall City Arena and faced the magnitude of what was to come, surrounded by trailers galore and enough livestock to fill a farm, the boy who is a young man refused to crumble, refused to sway before the force of this thing he hopes to accomplish.
Passing up the opportunity to play in that day’s high school football game because, as he said, Bella represents his best chance to fund college, the maturity oft hidden beneath carefree youth seized the worms of fear and doubt and, though unable to kill them, it nonetheless sought to take control of them—he nonetheless sought to take control of them.
As much as in response to Keigan’s worry as to her own, Bella’s apprehension manifested in many ways, some of it behavioral and some of it psychosomatic. Her previous experiences notwithstanding, she had not before faced a show with Keigan, and like all animals under such circumstances she was as much attuned to her own stress as to his. Any chance for their collective success hinged directly on their ability to work together, to overcome those relentless worms of fear and doubt, to deny them fodder for growth and to stop their incessant wriggling.
Yet both the boy and his cow had unremitting support from family and friends, not to mention his ag teacher (agricultural education teacher for the uninitiated). While not one of us entertained the idea that we could magically cure the stressful ills Keigan and Bella faced, we accepted as undeniable truth that we could be there for them, lending ear and shoulder and words and strength, the quantifiable and unquantifiable manifestations of relentless succor.
At last time came to enter the showground. Significant time still separated us from their preliminary entry into the arena, their first joint effort to show, yet Keigan and Bella had to face the initial obstacle: his leading her from the trailer to the competition area.
Alone together, he soothed her and she him, the two reaching through the worms of fear and doubt to seize upon the powerful relationship they had built in the months prior. That relationship, I will admit, is as moving to witness as it must be intimate to experience. Like Damon and Pythias from Roman mythology, Keigan and Bella have achieved a depth of loyalty and friendship from which burgeons unquestionable trust. But would that be sufficient to stop the incessant squirming of those metaphorical worms?
Where he leads she follows, and so she did on that day, albeit from both a boy and his cow poured forth tangible fear borne of stress and self-doubt, borne of the unanswered questions growing from the daunting task they faced together: his first show and her first show with him. Oh how the worms wriggled and writhed, obvious to any witness, yet equally how Keigan and Bella focused on each other to quell the incessant struggling within.
So their first show began, a journey started months before heading toward fruition with those first few steps, the safety and comfort of the known left behind and the trouble and trepidation of the uncertain ahead. We did not know what to expect.
And always in the background the worms of fear and doubt twisted and turned and fidgeted, distractions from the task at hand and enemies of goals within reach.
— — — — — — — — — —
- Keigan and his mother Denise tending to Bella prior to show
- Keigan and Bella prior to show
- Bella foams at the mouth when she’s stressed; this was her first show with Keigan, so her stress was as palpable as his
- The Keigan and Bella spirit squad: his parents, Kurt and Denise, his ag teacher, Bruce, and family friends
- Keigan and Bella sharing a moment before heading to the show arena; there is a real and tangible relationship here, one that has formed over time and is inspiring to witness
- Keigan leading Bella away from the trailer toward the show arena
- Keigan leading Bella to the show arena (notice the look on the background girl’s face)
And a less-than-stellar photo, a blooper as it were:
Foaming at the mouth with her tongue up her nose, it seemed Bella refused to take the show as seriously as we expected. Or at least she refused to take my photography efforts as seriously as I expected.