When my wife asked what I was reading this morning, my answer was “Donkeys.” She grinned curiously, prompting me to justify my choice of reading material.
“Equus asinus,” I told her, “have a rich history in art and literature, stemming back to drawings on cave walls to Biblical references in which they played key roles such as carrying pregnant Mary and Jesus.”
Although she simply kept smiling, mentioning Jesus seemed to drive my point home.
Donkey: The Mystique of Equus Asinus is a small book. Conveying its depth and power in a few paragraphs, however, is impossible. In it, Michael Tobias and Jane Morrison pose two questions almost as old as humanity itself.
“What can we really know about animals? What can we say with accuracy about ourselves? When the great eternal question about life plague us with self-doubt and uncertainty, animals can still invoke mystery and constant surprise.”
Focusing on humankind’s ancient relationship with humble donkeys, the two animal-rights activists describeStone-Age paintings of the animals on the cave walls at Lascaux and Bedeilhac, France.
“These early descriptions collectively suggest a mystique that was deeply felt by our predecessors when they first took to painting reindeer, bulls, equines. These were the animals that took priority over all the others, even man.”
While donkeys have long been called stupid and stubborn, Tobias and Morrison attribute that portrayal to human misconception.
“The word stupid is a human invention, inapplicable to the living world. No creature suffers for the lack of intelligence. All beings confirm their brilliance by their very existence.”
Unfortunately, this “misconception” has long forced these lovable creatures to endure terrible abuse at their captors’ hands. “Yet everywhere,” the authors write, “even under the most horrible of circumstances, the souls of donkeys speak when spoken to, grateful for the slightest gesture of sincerity and kindness.”
Today, profiteers often target the few remaining wild donkeys (and horses) and sell them to be slaughtered for dog food or ship their meat abroad for human consumption.
Donkey: The Mystique of Equus Asinus encourages us instead to embrace the world with a donkey’s peace-loving perspective:
“We believe that most donkeys, if given the chance, would fashion a world without violence. Like St. Francis of Assisi, they would re-make the natural world into a proverbial Garden of Eden, wherein the lion and the lamb lay side by side.”
Thanks to this book, I will never look at these wonderful creatures the same way. And a visit to a donkey sanctuary is definitely in my future!