A Celebration Of Life: The World According To James Herriot
Music: the opening theme of the original Dear Kuya Cesar radio show. Images: blue sky, white clouds, rolling countryside, verdant meadows, flowing streams and majestic mountains.
Cut to: sunshine filtering through the swaying leaves of a tree. The camera pans to the distant moorland road where a small figure is pushing a baby carriage.
Cut to: the top of the upward bend of the road. The baby carriage appears first, then the young man pushing it. As they head towards the camera, the “baby” moves and is revealed to be a large greyhound dog.
If writing is acting, then James Herriot is the male version of Meryl Streep. Possessing the spark, the flawless instincts and above all, the humanity, the unforgettable veterinary surgeon from
The world’s most beloved author celebrates life with his immortal classics All Creatures Big and Small; All Things Bright and Beautiful; and the book that most closely mirrors my semi-charmed kind of life: All Things Wise and Wonderful.
How? Let me count the ways.
Did you ever experience talking to two people about two different subjects at the same time? I have. So did James Herriot. He was examining Nellie the cow’s swollen hoof as her owner Mr. Birtwhistle was suggesting remedies while his son Len was gushing about the village football team.
“I always think it is polite to look at a person when they are talking to you,” recalls James, “but it is different when they are both talking at once, especially when one of them is bent double and the other one is standing behind you.”
When I feel down, I always find healing in solitude. So did James. When he was worrying about Mr. Mount’s sick horse, he left his car on the road and went into the woods.
“Here there was a silence that was absolute,” he writes. “The farm lay in one of the soft places in a harsh countryside; lush flat fields where cattle grazed in comfort and the cut hay lay in long even swathes. It was a placid scene, but it was here in the airy heights that you found true serenity.”
Like Ted Failon, I always thank the Lord for the blessings of life. But in all honesty, I would rather die than lose my freedom. I deeply admire Rodney Traver’s lifestyle: traveling the north
“He gave me his gentle smile and again I had the impression of physical and mental purity,” marvels James. “No drinking, no smoking, a life of constant movement in the open air without material possessions or ambitions – it showed in the unclouded eyes, the fresh skin and the hard muscular frame. He wasn’t very big but he looked indestructible.”
When I was a teenager, I learned the hard way that people are not always what they seem. I’ve lost count of those whose PR are as true as election documents thumb-marked by cats. Take Paul Cotterel, the devil-may-care bachelor whom James and I both admire:
“That attractive casualness, the nonchalant good manners, the imperturbability – they all had their roots in the fact that nothing touched him very deeply.”
Paul was dignified even when his beloved dog Theo had to be put to sleep because of Hodgkin’s disease. “He had been able to do the right thing,” says James, “because he was not at the mercy of his emotions.”
So it was a great shock for both me and James when Paul committed suicide. It turns out that he’s been under medication for chronic depression for years. “He had an unhappy childhood from what I made out,” his landlady told James. “Maybe that’s why he was so fond of his dog. He got too attached to him, really.”
One of my most cherished dreams is a world without bureaucrats. If Dante had seen those ER doctors who fuss like government clerks, he would have built another bolgia in hell. But my heart is still filled with thanksgiving because I have also seen a lot of physicians who have risen above themselves to help save lives.
Two of them are James and his boss Siegfried Farnon. One night, a mangled sheepdog (details are too gruesome) was reported in by Police Constable Phelps. James and Siegfried were already dressed for the much-anticipated Hunt Ball, but when they saw the dog, they immediately did a operation that lasted way past midnight – although they both knew that the dog was just a stray.
I treasure the companionship of elderly folks who radiate wisdom and grace. When James takes a stroll by the river with his beagle Sam, they always encounter Mr. Potts with his sheepdog Nip. Mr. Potts is a retired farmer, and they would always talk shop brimming with warm memories.
“They were good days, Mr. Herriot, weren’t they?” he reminisced stoically the day before he died. “Aye, aye. Ah’ve a lot of them days. Hard but good. And awd Nip shared ’em with me, didn’t ye, lad?”
Although I try to see beauty everywhere like in the Tavares song Hardcore Poetry, I love communing with nature more than anyone can imagine. When James was going home after vaccinating Mr. Daggett’s calves in the Yorkshire Dales, it was pure serendipity:
“As I drove away, the somber beauty of the place overwhelmed me. The lowering hillsides burst magically into life as a shaft of sunshine stabbed though the clouds, flooding the bare flanks with warm gold.”
Music: the closing theme of the Dos Por Dos radio-TV show
All dogs go to heaven unlike their masters who keep returning like vote-shavers. For thousands of years I have roamed the world through various lives but it is my adventures in the present sojourn that made me who I am inside, and for that, I am grateful.
Always remember: as long as the world still turns, and as sure as God made rainbows, life is a miracle – beautiful, captivating and magical.
As the poet Cecil Frances Alexander (1818-1895) wrote: “All things bright and beautiful,/ All creatures great and small,/ All things wise and wonderful,/ The Lord God made them all.”
James Herriot photo courtesy of TodayInLiterature.com. This story originally appeared in the 2007 My Favorite Book Contest, Lifestyle Section, The Philippine Star, July 1, 2007
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