Each spring, my rancher friend Lisa regales us with stories of lambing season. It never ceases to amaze me how these tiny, wet, vulnerable new beings nevertheless manage to tough out the shock of being born, latch onto their mother, and thrive. Sometimes it’s touch and go. More often it’s go. Tough little suckers, they are.
I find this same irony in cemetery lambs. Soft animals—made of rock. Young animals—enduring the ages. Cute animals—often goggle-eyed and misshapen. Vulnerable animals—surviving hundreds of years, longer than we ever will.
Each time I spot a cemetery lamb from afar, I feel a tiny rush of hope that this time, I’ll find one that’s undamaged. Statistically, the odds are against it. Weather, vandals, errant tree branches and other ravages of time shear off ears, faces, entire heads, entire bodies. Sometimes, it’s only a meatloaf-shaped lump on top of a tombstone that indicates a child was buried there. Yet, I hope.
A child’s death is heartbreaking already. For their eternal memory to be savaged and destroyed seems some last, unnecessary insult. I hope the child’s mother died before she could see how the lamb lost its ears, its head, its personality.
Lambs that sit unprotected atop a tombstone generally fare the worst.
Lambs that sit against a backdrop of some kind generally fare a little better, but not always. This one has lost its ears, but is growing a replacement coat of wooly moss.
Lambs on zinkers tend to survive with all of their details intact, down to their eyes, ears, wooly coats, cloven hooves and hay bedding. This makes me happy.
I have come to appreciate the subtlety and gentleness of the lambs carved into the surface of a stone, in the shallow shelter of an arch. These generally survive intact, like Edna’s lamb.
Rarely—too rarely—I do find an undamaged lamb. This one, of soft marble, has weathered gently, and even its ears are intact.
None of us make it through adult life undamaged. Some of us don’t make it through childhood undamaged. It seems unfair somehow that we can’t even make it through death undamaged.
In death, as in life, protected lambs fare the best. So I think of what I can do for the lambs in my life.
Stump and Lamb explores personal growth and meaning via travels to pioneer cemeteries of the West. Posts may contain affiliate links.
This post was originally published at michellerau.com.