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A Man Alone  June 1, 2005

SeptimusH — June 1 @ 3:46pm

It’s nearly a mile to the nearest house next to mine and I’m not used to hearing knocks on my door. When I heard my neighbor knock I almost hit the ceiling. I thought about hiding, but I saw it was him, so I felt safe coming to the door.

After all, I wave to him when I see him in front of his place and I say hello when I see him in town. Sometimes we talk about the weather, but we’ve never had what I’d call a real conversation. He’s an old guy, with a craggy face, and he never looked older than the day he showed up on my doorstep and asked me to help him bury his cow.

I told him the county has a service that hauls away dead livestock for rendering, but he just said, “No.” Too cheap to pay the fee, I figured. He stood there not saying anything, until I said, “All right, okay.” I don’t know why I agreed. “Love your neighbor,” I guess.

He’s got a pretty big chunk of land over there and to my mind he doesn’t do a thing with it but keep random farm animals. He might just have one of everything mentioned in “Old Macdonald.” I know he only had one cow because he led me without saying a word to what must have been the very limits of his spread, and when we came up on the dead cow he said, “She was the last one.”

He handed me the shovel and the handle was so hot from the sun I nearly dropped it. It wasn’t long before my hands were blistered and burnt and I found myself wishing I had hid, because digging a giant hole with the sun beating down on you and a rotting, fly-covered cow carcass three yards away is no way to spend a summer afternoon. Trust me. Lucy was the cow’s name, I later learned, and she was in a bad way, let me tell you, I don’t want to make anyone ill, but Lucy was all gutted and torn up especially around the face. My neighbor said, “I think a coyote got to her.”

We dug all day and when the hole got to be roughly cow-sized my neighbor started to weep. Seeing tears on a craggy face like that was weird. Kinda like seeing rain fall on dry, caked earth without seeping in. Not many tears at first, but by the time we had Lucy by the hoofs and were doing all we could to drag the poor beast to its grave the old man was sobbing. I wanted to cry too, mainly because my back was killing me. The animal was nearly desiccated, but still we had to push and pull and stop and heave, over and over until the job was done.

Dale—I finally asked what his name was—invited me in for a beer after we threw on the dirt. Old habits die hard and I declined, so he offered me some cool-aid and we sat down at the tiny table in his kitchen. The words gushed forth then like Dale was making up for lost time and he told me his life story. I was flattered but embarrassed at seeing so much emotion from the old man. I never figured burying a cow to be such a male bonding experience.

Dale’s a widower, has been for something like thirty years, and he rarely if ever hears from his one son who hated the rural life. At one time he had a thriving patch of land and quite a few cows, I guess, but with time they died off for one reason or another and that was why it hit him so hard when Lucy had finally gone and left him. He told me he didn’t have anything left to care for. He told me he couldn’t just wait to die. I wanted to tell him how courageous I thought he was, but I said nothing.

And I think just like me Mormonism fails to recognize the courage it takes to be alone. Instead, it punishes the people who are solo, but I say this flies in face of scriptural examples everywhere. Christ had to be alone in his most heroic moment on the cross. Joseph didn’t walk into the grove with Hyrum or his mommy. Abinadi didn’t stand in front of King Noah with a missionary companion. Alma wasn’t converted with one single other person. Samuel the Lamanite wasn’t up there on that wall with a bunch of his best friends.

And Moroni—I thought of him when I was listening to Dale—Moroni who remained alone to tell the “sad tale of the destruction” of his people and who wrote, “wither I go it mattereth not… I have not friends nor whither to go; and how long the Lord will suffer that I may live I know not.” I still think of Moroni a lot, in the wilderness, evading the Lamanites out to kill him, carrying the precious record, depositing it safely where it was supposedly rediscovered hundreds of years later. Of all the Book of Mormon characters he is the most real and brave to me, but not as real or brave as Dale.

39 Comments

  1. Sep, I don’t know whether to laugh or cry! Thanks for the most interesting post I’ve read in a while.

    Jenn — June 1, 2005 @ 4:02pm
  2. Excellent post. Keep it up.

    J. Stapley — June 1, 2005 @ 4:07pm
  3. Waddup, Sep? Sorry I posted right after you man. I hope people read yours because it’s better than mine. You Mormons are always helping people. That’s great. Is Moroni in the Book of Mormon or the Bible? My grandma never read me that story, but she’s Quaker, so maybe that’s why.

    Greg Fox — June 1, 2005 @ 4:37pm
  4. What a great post and a salient point.

    I think that the bravest people at church are the ones who come alone. Far from being embraced for their solidarity they often feel invisible. I think this is one of the most unfortunate results of having such a family oriented church.

    diet coke — June 1, 2005 @ 4:53pm
  5. Septimus, thanks for posting your story. I think it does a good job of showing why, even though it takes bravery to be alone, sometimes we’re truly blessed to help each other out. Dale was so lucky you were there and willing to help him. Christ died alone on the cross, but for his sacrifice to be heroic, he also needed other people to partake of his sacrifice.

    Mari — June 1, 2005 @ 5:31pm
  6. Lovely post, thanks….

    annegb — June 1, 2005 @ 5:44pm
  7. I’d reconsider my take on loneliness if I were you. I was just at the MHA conference, and RL Bushman told a story where WW Phelps asked Emma why Joseph didn’t sit at his own table apart from others in the manner that Bonaparte did. Emma responded by saying, “Mr. Smith is a larger man than Bonaparte. He cannot eat without his friends.”

    You thought about hiding when somebody knocked? I think you’re taking a few instances where men were heroic in spite of the fact that they were forcefully isolated and generalized it to justify becoming a lock-in.

    That said, you tell one heck of a story. It’s definitely forcing me to rethink my take on livestock mortality.

    DKL — June 1, 2005 @ 6:57pm
  8. Septimus, wow, what a story. At the beginning I decided that this one deserved a few chocolate chips for accompaniment (I love to eat and read, especially late at night), but I forgot all about them when I got to the rotting cow carcass. It reminded me of a landlady in Portugal who raised rabbits to slaughter and sell: one day she asked if we’d like to watch her slaughter one, and I thought it would be interesting to see. It was interesting, riveting, in fact, but also sort of horrible to see her snap the neck, slash at the tough hide, and release the quivering entrails unto the concrete floor. My companion didn’t want to watch, so I was alone to witness the events, as it happened.

    I don’t know about your conclusions, though. And I wouldn’t know, either about loneliness or about courage: I’m rarely alone, and when I am I’m almost always doing something pleasurable (like showering or going to the bathroom or touring NYC), so I really like to be by myself; furthermore, I don’t think I’m a particularly courageous person, and have never really had to be, aside from the time I killed a spider in my daughter’s hair with my bare hands.

    But it seems to me that in almost every way that really counts, Mormon theology comes down on the side of the social rather than the individual, and this tastes right to me. For me, at least, it takes a lot more courage and commitment to live right in relation to other people than it does apart from them. Just as, almost always, it takes a lot more courage to achieve the good life than it does the good death.

    By the way, I’m guessing that you’re in cow country, but not of cow country, am I right? And why in the world did Dale wait until the cow carcass was dessiccated to dispose of it?

    Rosalynde — June 2, 2005 @ 12:42am
  9. Greg,

    My young padawan, I see you have learned much in the ways of the Mormons. Far you have come and farther still you must go. Just remember as you learn, youngling, the words of Obi-Wan, “Only a Sith Lord deals in absolutes.”

    Moroni is in the Book of Mormon, kid. Toward the very end. It won’t be long now and one of your roommates will probably tell you about the promise Moroni makes in the last chapter of the Book of Mormon. Be afraid be very afraid.

    So grandma was a Quaker, hunh? From the Religious Society of Friends to the Banner of Heaven. That’s quite a journey, Greg.

    SeptimusH — June 2, 2005 @ 1:43am
  10. Whoever said anything about being a lock-in, Landrith? I helped him, didn’t I? Plus, for all you know I’m in a bowling league, a quilting bee, and a volunteer fireman. Who are you to judge? Do you open your door to every salesman, chat up every telemarketer that calls, have tupperware parties nightly in your living room? I think not. No, you strike me as the kind of guy who has caller ID, has his secretary screen his calls, and tells his wife to lie if someone he doesn’t want to speak with calls up.

    But thanks a lot for saying I tell a heckuva story.

    SeptimusH — June 2, 2005 @ 2:02am
  11. Ms. Rosalynde,

    I gotta be honest. Your comment freaks the hell out of me. You said a lot of meaningful things, but I can’t shake the thought of what you consider pleasurable to do when you’re alone. I’ve done a lot of lurking and read a few of your posts (you’re Rosalynde Welch from Times & Seasons, right?) and I had this impression of you as all class.

    I don’t know how to say it, the thought of you, or any woman enjoying a crap makes my mind just flip out and shudder. Maybe I had it all wrong and put you up on a pedastal.

    Regardless, there’s a whole world of fun things to do when you’re alone besides showering and that other thing–I can’t even write it here. You might want to broaden your horizons a little–not too much now. Now that I’m getting to know you a little better I have no idea what direction your mind might head in.

    Sheesh, I’m still not getting over it. (Shudder shudder)

    To answer one of your questions, I did say Lucy was nearly dessicated, but it wasn’t like the cow was mummified or anything. I don’t think my neighbor left her out for a long time. I suppose a couple days could have passed before he found her. I just said dessicated because she appeared dried up on the surface, although the body was plenty heavy it honestly seemed lighter than it should have been given the size of the animal–almost like it had lost some blood. I don’t remember seeing any blood around though. It’s kind of weird now that you mention it.

    But not as weird as getting a kick out of your own poops.

    SeptimusH — June 2, 2005 @ 2:40am
  12. Septimus. My friend I love you like a brother. But the word of the Lord is that it is not good for man to be alone.

    Sometimes people are called upon to be lonely. Many single sisters like Jenn are in this predicament. As in your examples sometimes this is prophets whose calling demands it. President Hinckley is another example. In the last conference he mentioned how lonely he is since his wife died. Why he hasn’t taken another yet I know not. Perhaps someone should tell him about Jenn.

    But the point is that for them lonliness is an avoidable trial, the will of the Lord. Whereas you seem to embrace it as an alternative lifestyle. One among many Satan has spread abroad in the world designed to thwart the Lord’s purpose to multiply and replenish the earth.

    My friend the command to be of one flesh with your eternal companion is not burdinsome it is a delight. A great blessing indeed, the purpose of life. Will Dale comfort you after a long day? Or keep you warm at night? Or give you a large posterity that will rise up and call you blessed and give you eternal dominions and glory? Wake up to the great blessings revealed in our day.

    Aaron B. Cox — June 2, 2005 @ 6:32am
  13. Septimush,

    Let me suggest, given your tender sensibilities, that you not check out Feminist Mormon Housewives or Mormon Mommy Wars. Those two sites can more-or-less be characterized as “all poop, all the time.” Or at least most of the time.

    Kaimi — June 2, 2005 @ 8:16am
  14. Am I the only one who did a triple take while reading Rosalynde’s post? This has got to be a DKL trick.

    NFlanders — June 2, 2005 @ 8:34am
  15. Don’t be surprised if it’s Rosalynde for real. Like most of us, she’s more earthy than you might guess from seeing her dressed up on Sunday, or deploying her brilliant mind and golden tongue over at Times and Seasons, where pretension is the order of the day and the pressure is high to strut your stuff.

    I suppose that’s an upside to a blog like this by and for “real people.” As Rosalynde has demonstrated, it’s comfortable to have a place where you can just sit back and relax your sphincter. In fact, it might be argued that the onset of spontaneous flatulence was the mark of a missionary companionship achieving the comfort level necessary to do the work. How long after getting a new companion did it take you all to start letting ‘em rip?

    Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) — June 2, 2005 @ 9:26am
  16. TSM writes:

    As Rosalynde has demonstrated, it’s comfortable to have a place where you can just sit back and relax your sphincter.

    That place is known as a toilet.

    Or a latrine, if you’re in the military. Or a smelly little hole in the ground in your back yard, if you’re on a mission in Central America. Or a little hole in the tile floor, if you’re in Korea. Or the side of the trail and hope that no one’s watching and really hope that there aren’t any thorn bushes around, if you’re a gringo missionary dealing with Quetzalcoatl’s revenge.

    But on a blog, in a public place? Only if you want your blog to become known as the toilet of the bloggernacle. (Or the latrine. Or the smelly little hole in the ground. Or the . . . ).

    You don’t poop in the parlor, guys.

    Kaimi — June 2, 2005 @ 9:39am
  17. No fair editing Rosalynde’s post!
    She dropped the S-bomb! I swear!

    NFlanders — June 2, 2005 @ 9:39am
  18. Your title is apt, man alone. I think men get more lonely than women. Women do so much caretaking and are so busy that it’s fun for us to be alone, which is why I think men do not do so well if their wives die first.

    I personally just kick up my heels when my husband goes out of town.

    annegb — June 2, 2005 @ 10:15am
  19. Kaimi, Ned, c’mon. Poop happens. If you’re lucky, that is. It’s ridiculous to get all worked up about it. I, for one, am proud of Rosalynde for admitting that poop is a pleasure; I agree that being able to poop in private is an infrequent treat for a mom with young kids. Too often our needs are postponed or sacrificed. Sometimes being able to sit down, much less sit down long enough to poop, is a dream deferred. It’s too bad y’all have to contribute to society’s silly prudery and shame about healthy bodily functions.

    Great post, by the way. This blog is only the second in the bloggernaccle to link to mine, so I’m an instant fan.

    Allison — June 2, 2005 @ 10:24am
  20. Allison,

    Sometimes being able to sit down, much less sit down long enough to poop, is a dream deferred.

    Does it then make the pooping person dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Ewwww.

    Kaimi — June 2, 2005 @ 11:44am
  21. Kaimi, drying up like a raisin may be unpleasant, but note the rest of the words in the poem. Could be much, much worse (aside: good heavens, mothehood’s warped me! this is proof if anything is). I particularly like the “sagging load” metaphor, but the explosion is probably the most dramatic consequence.

    Allison — June 2, 2005 @ 11:59am
  22. We haven’t blogrolled you yet, Alli? Well strip my gears and call me shiftless!

    Kaimi — June 2, 2005 @ 12:57pm
  23. I think you’re onto something about aloneness, Sep. There is some scriptural support for it in Isaiah 5:8. I think too about how lonely Mormon felt after he was told to stop preaching, though he was still a leader of his people. And there’s Ether, Elijah and later John in the desert, and Moses on the wrong side of Jordan. Still, wouldn’t it be kind of self-defeating for a church to praise loneliness? Not in the sense of undermining the church; I mean in the sense that the praise would be self-defeating, wouldn’t it? I actually think the church does a lot to encourage loneliness and aloneness, but in sly, indirect ways.

    Ben H — June 2, 2005 @ 3:20pm
  24. You young people, never take your bowels for granted. Rosalynde has her priorities in place.

    annegb — June 2, 2005 @ 5:49pm
  25. Allison, Anne, Christian, Kaimi, it’s good to know I’m not the only one who moves my bowels on occasion. Septimus, Ned, sorry to disabuse you of some sort of dearly-held notion, though I’m not exactly sure what, and frankly the opposite seems rather more horrifying.

    Allison and Kaimi, that was the funniest exchange on pooping poetry I’ve ever read; dear old Langston is probably giggling uncontrollably in his grave. Still, though, it must be admitted that the definitive literary poop-dream is surely Bottom’s Dream, from A Midsummer Night’s Dream :

    I have had a most rare vision. I have had a dream, past the wit of man to say what dream it was: man is but an ass, if he go about to expound this dream. Methought I was—there is no man can tell what. Methought I was,—and methought I had,—but man is but a patched fool, if he will offer to say what methought I had. The eye of man hath not heard, the ear of man hath not seen, man’s hand is not able to taste, his tongue to conceive, nor his heart to report, what my dream was. I will get Peter Quince to write a ballad of this dream: it shall be called Bottom’s Dream, because it hath no bottom; and I will sing it in the latter end of a play, before the duke: peradventure, to make it the more gracious, I shall sing it at her death.

    Rosalynde — June 3, 2005 @ 12:21am
  26. Ms. Rosalynde,

    Please stop. I don’t want to have to nickname you poop-dream girl or something. I know that’s Shakepeare, but c’mon now.

    Let me just clarify my position, I’m not saying women don’t defecate. Of course, they do. I’m saying the thought of defecation being pleasing, particularly to women, is freaky weird to me. Furthermore, the fact a woman highly thought of in Mormon blogging circles would publically proclaim this as one of her favorite things to do when she’s alone—well, it just turns my brain into scrambled eggs quite frankly.

    To be honest, and I know I shouldn’t say this, if you had confessed another common, albeit generally frowned upon alone-time activity to be your type of thing, I would have been a lot less shocked.

    I mean, I pooh, right, okay, but it’s not particularly enjoyable. If I didn’t have to do it, I wouldn’t miss it. It just doesn’t make sense to me. I could go as far as to say, yeah, sure when you crap there’s a certain release of pressure and discomfort. Hence, the term relieving yourself. But with that kind of logic you could say I find having a steaming hot iron taken off the skin of my face a great joy. You follow me?

    You got my mind so twisted up now that I’m beginning to wonder if I might be missing out on something. Am I doing something wrong? Is it my technique?

    And let me just point out that even though one of my co-bloggers here changed your terminology, when I first read your post your language was pretty damn crude. You go from dropping the s-bomb to quoting Shakespeare. Help me understand you!

    SeptimusH — June 3, 2005 @ 1:43am
  27. Aaron, about your comment #12, I gotta assume you’re joking. Your humor is hard to place. You might want to write JOKE at the beginning of your comments when they’re intended to be funny and SERIOUS when you want to be taken seriously.

    Kaimi, I’ve been to Feminist Mormon Housewives lots of times and I like it, but to me there’s a difference between a feminist Mormon housewife cleaning up a kid’s bum and a feminist Mormon housewife getting a cheap thrill out of dropping a dookie.

    I’m sorry, but to me at least the distinction is clear.

    Christian, I appreciate your comment #15. I think you’ve captured the vision of what this blog can be all about quite nicely.

    Anne and Ben H, I want to thank you both for trying tin vain to return this thread to the original topic. I mean this has got to be the mother of all threadjacks. Forget Langston Hughes, my poor neighbor’s cow is the one rolling over in its grave.

    SeptimusH — June 3, 2005 @ 1:55am
  28. You go from dropping the s-bomb to quoting Shakespeare. Help me understand you!

    SeptimusH, just sit back and enjoy the ride. Rosalynde’s mind has an incredible conceptual dynamic range, matched only by the speed and agility with which she can traverse it.

    Someday, when literary studies turns its attention to the increasingly influential medium of blogging, her exploits will be the stuff of legend. In fact, I can envision her performance here as worthy of an academic article all its own: Superwoman on shit and Shakespeare: from s-bomb to S-bomb in a single bound, to be published in the proceedings of a conference devoted to her lifelong work: Rosalynde’s Recontsruction: How Women Bloggers Rebuilt a Sustainable Society from the Deconstructed Detritus of the 20th Century.

    Christian Y. Cardall (TSM) — June 3, 2005 @ 6:58am
  29. I think I”m going to be sick.

    SeptimusH — June 3, 2005 @ 9:12am
  30. Maybe you need to sit on the toilet for awhile, Septimus.

    Justin H — June 3, 2005 @ 9:46am
  31. I already confessed this in the comments to Aaron’s aplogy post, but I edited Rosalynde’s choice of words, which she regretted, and I would appreciate it if everyone would try to be respectful of each other and our blog. It would be sad to drive away people who might have good comments to make but don’t like the atmosphere over here.

    Mari — June 3, 2005 @ 10:22am
  32. Dang, found this blog yesterday and liked it. Seemed real and genuine. Came back this morning and the vulgarity and profanity is a turn-off. Not taking issue with the “poop is pleasure” thing — actually made me chuckle a little, but there are more artful ways to express ideas than words that offend and can’t be said on daytime TV.

    Daniel — June 3, 2005 @ 10:37am
  33. I know, Daniel. Give us another chance.

    SeptimusH — June 3, 2005 @ 10:46am
  34. This blog’s been up for less than a week, and already one of my comments has been deleted. I suppose that the countdown to my getting banned has begun.

    DKL — June 3, 2005 @ 10:54am
  35. It’s just the beginning! :)

    Jenn — June 3, 2005 @ 11:10am
  36. Incidentally, I just heard about two more cows found dead here in the same county.

    SeptimusH — June 13, 2005 @ 11:47pm
  37. That’s awful, Septimus. More coyotes?

    Miranda PJ — June 14, 2005 @ 6:58am
  38. I got ideas.

    SeptimusH — June 23, 2005 @ 2:57am
  39. […] “> Point the first. On spilling seed and divorce. In the comments to Sep’s post A Man Alone one reader who I will not name, expressed pleasure in crapping. Which disgusted Septimus […]

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