Now where did we leave off? Ah yes …
As Keigan led Bella toward the arena and their first joint showing, I was reminded of something his mother Denise said: “Give a boy a truck, a job and cow, and he thinks he knows everything.” Facing the daunting task of participating in a livestock competition for the first time with a calf who has as much an excessive personality as he does, Keigan nevertheless continued denying that he suffered anxiety, that he felt nervous about the show, that he was at all worried.
Oh but we knew better.
With Bella secured inside the large structure and Keigan and his father Kurt wandering off to get a better sense of when they would enter the ring, I stood watching Denise as she kept an eye on the cow, the goings on around her, the crush of people and animals, and I realized I was the true third-party observer. My friendship with them notwithstanding, perhaps it was I who had the least invested in the day’s activities, and therefore it was I who could see that Keigan and Bella weren’t the only two suffering from stress and concern.
Before them surged and flowed a veritable flood, wave after wave of people and animals crashing through the cacophony of judges’ voices pouring from the speakers. This they faced together as a family. And within each of them I could see the worms of fear and doubt squirming.
When from the crowd Keigan came sauntering, his carefree gait belied the apprehension in his eyes, on his face. Busying himself, he brushed Bella, soothed her frayed nerves, gave her comfort in the familiar despite the unfamiliar surrounding her. And perchance it was not just the cow who took succor from the interaction, but likewise the boy suckled at the teat of the wonted, of the preferred and comfortable, taking strength from the sweet taste of the known with hope it would wash away the sour sting of the unknown.
But his class and category would not show for some time, hence minutiae could provide only temporary relief from the incessant worms, always wriggling and writhing, always busy unmaking whatever ease the boy and his cow built. So brushing and bonding transformed into busywork. And busywork occupies the hands but not the mind, oftentimes churning the fecund soil wherein fear and doubt grow, consequently Denise and Kurt suggested Keigan spend time observing the show, learning from it, taking from it whatever experience his eyes and ears could gain. For he and Bella faced this together for the first time, something the boy had never experienced and something the cow had never experienced with the boy.
Yet Keigan was not the only one who needed to observe. With him stood his parents, and in the guise of scrutiny the worms of fear and doubt grew, apparent in each face, in their eyes, in their collective study of what soon would come. Livestock shows are as much style as they are substance, as much rigid rules and pedantic procedures as they are idiosyncratic impressions and fussy fancies.
Before them the ring filled and emptied, filled and emptied, each iteration bringing with it a bombardment of new impressions that laid waste the assumptions carried. Most disconcerting perhaps was this realization: the mechanics of showing and the animals shown represented but a part of what the judges considered, for assessed as closely were the human contestants, their dress, their mannerisms, how they treated their animals, how they carried themselves. Yes, Keigan and his family learned quickly that nice clothes and a clean shave would not a winner make, though they would play a part. And more to the point, they realized the worms of fear and doubt had to be faced, had to be subdued, otherwise they would serve only to draw attention to those very human flaws which must remain hidden, obscured by determination and skill and intent.
Each successive class and each successive judging brought home the truth of what they faced and how they must face it, both the family as one and the boy and his cow together. What they gleaned from their collective observation must provide Keigan the wisdom to show well, the knowledge to lead Bella and help her show well, the ability to face observers, judges and contestants with perseverance and purpose, for to do otherwise would be to fail before entering the ring. Entering the ring for the first time, that is, because to win a class means only to move on to the next showing—best of show for their breed.
Keigan, Kurt and Denise watched, unaware that they too were watched even as they focused on what happened before them and what that meant for what lay before them. Their attention keen and directed, for the first time I saw the unconscious struggle within them, the worms of fear and doubt fighting against determination and resolve. And for the first time, I saw the promise of victory in each of them, a hint of potential to overcome the incessant battle raging inside. Yes, for the first time I saw tangible hope: We can do this, it said. We can face this and we can accomplish something.
Oh how they twisted and turned then, those worms of fear and doubt, since hope is their archenemy. In Keigan’s unflagging inspection I could see uncertainty as easily as I could see fortitude. The struggle continued, but soon the battle would reach its zenith: their first showing, their first judging.
And that time was approaching faster than they realized.
— — — — — — — — — —
- Keigan leading Bella into the arena
- Denise, Keigan’s mother, standing watch over Bella
- Competitors and their animals waiting outside the show ring; Kurt, Keigan’s father, is standing near the ring fence right of center
- Keigan preparing to brush Bella
- Keigan and Denise watching the competition
- A young girl putting her heifer into a show stance during competition
- Competitors leading their animals around the show ring during competition
- Keigan, Kurt and Denise observing the ongoing competition
- Keigan closely watching the competition