(Hear the story about Chance the Bull, and beyond, on NPR's "This American Life," before reading onward.)
They are like a breath; their days are like a passing shadow."
I normally am a regular listener to NPR's "This American Life" so I am not sure how I missed this one in 2005...but I did. Luckily, though, Lisa of My Manner of Life, told me of it recently.
Without doing a plot spoiler, the story was basically about a very, VERY tame Brahma bull named Chance, and his owner. The bull lived to be 19 years old, and, as you can see in the picture above, was perfectly happy doing a lot of things very few bulls of any sort would want to do. After Chance died, it turned out that his owner, thinking ahead of Champ's eventual demise, had saved tissue and cloned another bull. You heard me right--cloned.
The owner named the new calf Second Chance, hoping, of course that he would be in all respects, a second Chance. Turns out that genetically, yes, he was--temperament, uh, not so much.
The first thing that popped into my head was, although it is very soft and squooshy evidence, it made me wonder about the existence of souls--even in bulls.
Now, in all fairness, Chance and Second Chance were not raised the same in their formative months. We don't know how Chance was raised. His owner bought him at a livestock sale at age 7. But I'm sure Second Chance was raised in a loving environment. Nothing his owner did would have been construed as mean. But Second Chance was, although in many ways "exactly the same bull," in other ways he definitely was NOT the same bull. The story focused on the owner's reticence to give up thinking Second Chance could also learn to do the things Chance did.
But it makes me think of the possibility of the existence of souls. Something made Second Chance "not Chance." The owner discovered in some very painful ways that what he wanted (literally "another Chance") and this bull was NOT the sweet, loving, trustworthy Chance he had before. It makes me think about how each of us is truly as unique as a snowflake. Genetics, in this story, was taken out of the picture. Environment was still a wild card, but there were so many things that Second Chance did in mannerisms, etc. that made it clear to me that Second Chance seemed ready made to respond to the cues of his owner's love. Obviously, any atheist worth his or her salt would attribute it to this. I attribute some, but not all. I choose to believe it's a very soft window into whatever that stuff we call the soul is.
There's another good lesson in this story--a lesson about expectations. It's a reminder that our second chances are not to be lived in exactly the same way as the first. The owner in this story obviously wanted to literally live this experience with his bull over in exactly the same way. He had exactly the same expectations for Second Chance that he had with Chance. It's a mistake to do that, I think--live our do-overs exactly the same way, good OR bad. We miss out on new opportunities. It's why as much as I love my dogs, I never wish for them twice. I believe I am called to learn to love in a new way with each new dog in my life, and when they are gone, it is their uniqueness that holds me to their memories fondly. I don't think they would hold the same kind of power in my life to change how I love, if they were all the same dog over and over.
I think of all those things in my life which I sorely wish for do-overs, and they almost never involve career choices but relationships. It's a reminder that, should those windows ever open again, for me not to jump through with the same old attitude and the same old expectations of the other person. We can choose to explore new territory in our do-overs, and I do believe that God will show us how if we only stay awake to the possibility.
So the question is: Can we learn to love the breath of life in each person we meet? Can we live our second chances at broken relationships differently? Perhaps, but it appears part of it is to always be mindful that second chances are callings to newness, not sameness.