‘Said the night wind to the little lamb …’

As a city child connecting with nature, animals, and the bigger picture of Christmas, “Do You Hear What I Hear?” became a favorite. The story behind the song, which I learned only recently, deepens its meaning for me.

But first, the story in the song: The night wind speaks to a little lamb of a brilliant star. The lamb tells a shepherd boy of music high above the trees. The shepherd boy tells a king about a child shivering in the cold of a humble stable and worthy of riches. The king tells the people this child is the bearer of goodness and light … and exhorts all to pray for peace.

Each being tells another about what they see, hear, and know. They’re all experiencing a different aspect of what is happening. None of them are wrong.

“Do You Hear What I Hear?” was written during the Cuban Missile Crisis by an American husband-and-wife team. According to this Franciscan Media account, French-born lyricist Noel Regney endured horrible trauma during World War II after being drafted to fight for the Nazis. The threat of catastrophic war in 1962 brought it all back as he faced the task of writing a Christmas song for a record producer.

Then Regney saw two babies in strollers smile at each other on a New York street. Their innocence reminded him of lambs … and there was the beginning of the song. At home, he wrote down the lyrics and asked his then-wife, pianist and composer Gloria Shayne, to write the music. Neither could get through the song without crying, Shayne recalled later.

That was the light they found and shared during during a dark time. We can share our light, too — through a smile, a prayer, a gentle pet, an ear scratch, a bag of food to an animal shelter or rescue. It doesn’t matter how small, stupid, or pointless we might think it is. That bag of food might help a lonely veteran keep his dog. Your smile at the woman at the grocery store may be the only kindness she experiences that day. That prayer may turn on a light for you.

“Pray for peace, people everywhere,” indeed.

Bing Crosby’s 1963 rendition of “Do You Hear What I Hear?” is probably the best known. I grew up with the Andy Williams version from the 1966 Great Songs of Christmas album. For this tribute to the animals I’ve worked with this year in my animal communication and animal Reiki practice — and their wonderful people — I chose Mannheim Steamroller’s instrumental version.

Just like the little lamb, the animals of our time tell brilliant stories of hope. I’ve heard a cat’s deep love for her person as she is ready to cross, a draft horse’s amazement at being able to choose, a deaf and blind duck giving life a chance, and more. For each one, I am grateful.

(Photo by Allison Wheaton)

The naming of horses

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I caught Dolly in the middle of lunch with hay on her face, but her star quality shines through.

There are many rules for naming racehorses, but none for your average equine citizen. From what I’ve observed, horses often get new names when they get new people, new homes, new jobs, a second chance, or any combination of these. Some retired racehorses, like my friends Beau and Pirate, go by shorter versions of their racing names.

This isn’t unique to horses. Look at the way we humans take on and drop nicknames, take spouses’ names, reclaim family names, hyphenate, and depending on who’s talking, go by names like Mom.

One horse I know chose a name his new person wouldn’t have picked in a million years. Another came by hers through blonde star synchronicity. Yet another, when given the choice, kept the name she had.

Duke

I felt the sadness of the 17-year-old shire as soon as Allison Wheaton, director of Summit Equestrian Center, sent me his photo. After years as an Amish farm horse, and apparently not the best of situations, he was to become Summit’s newest resident late last year.

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This is Duke a few months after his arrival at Summit Equestrian Center. He still wasn’t out with the herd, but he’d decided he liked Reiki.

Allison asked me to communicate with him before he arrived and find out what he needed in the transition, and what he might like to do. And would he like a new name, or would he prefer to keep the one he had (Angmar)?

The notion that he had a choice about anything was a strange concept to this heavy-hearted soul. Yet when I asked him what he wanted to be called, I heard: “Just call me Duke.”

I passed that along. Since most school/sports rivalries are not on my radar, it didn’t occur to me that Allison, a University of North Carolina grad, might wince at the name of her alma mater’s chief rival. As I learned later, she had vowed never to name a dog, horse, or anything else Duke. But Duke it was.

As fall deepened into winter, Duke acclimated and found his footing as a therapy horse. He found he appreciated being listened to and liked Reiki, especially once he realized it was his choice. Getting him to the point where he could join the rest of the horses in the pasture took months, many introductions, and a few scuffles.

Then one day this spring, Duke caught my eye from across the pasture. He was standing up straight, ears forward, with the rest of the crew.

“Do you see where I am? Do. You. See. Where. I. Am?” I heard.

Yes, Duke … I see you.

Dolly

Malibu, a Tennessee Walker-Belgian cross, had a few different homes by the time she joined the Summit herd. No one seemed to have time for her, and now she had no idea where she belonged.

Three or four days later, “Hello, Dolly!” — from the musical of the same name — got stuck in my head. I listened to the album over and over as a child and saw Carol Channing in what many consider her signature role as Dolly. But I hadn’t heard it recently or thought of it much.

The day after that, I received a text from Allison that the newcomer had settled in a bit, but Malibu didn’t seem like the right name. “Dolly? There’s got to be a sassy blonde star name that fits better,” she said.

I told her about the musical and sent a video link to the song. It includes the lyric “Tomorrow will be brighter than the good old days.”

Allison was thinking of Dolly Parton and I was thinking of the fictional Dolly Levi — but both seemed to fit. So Dolly it was, and she’s already shed stardust on a couple of participants in Summit’s veterans program.

Lulu

Some horses keep their names. Lulu, a beautiful paint mare, was rescued from a horrible neglect situation. As Lulu began a new chapter at Summit, Allison asked me to see if she wanted a new name as well … like Cheyenne?

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Lulu has been learning to trust again.

When I asked Lulu, she told me she knew who she was and it didn’t matter what the humans called her. Cheyenne was fine, but she was also fine with sticking with Lulu, so that’s what we did.

Recovery is all about ups and downs, and less than two years later, Lulu’s is no exception. She has a good buddy in Pirate, one of the aforementioned retired racehorses, and she’s helped some of Summit’s human clients heal their own wounds. Every time I check in with her, even if she is struggling with the effects of her past, I see her choose to give her new life — still as Lulu — a chance.

You tell me …

How did your horse friends get their names … or new names?

The music we carry

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Music can engage and soothe animals, including those in shelters. (Image by Mirko Kaminski from Pixabay)

When my father-in-law was at St. Anne’s Home here in Fort Wayne, I noticed how the birds in the lobby aviary responded to music coming from the dining room. Sometimes they seemed unaffected and kept flitting around and chattering.

During a selection of piano oldies, though, they perched quietly, cocking their heads now and then. The human audience, whether transported to another time and place or enjoying the present moment, seemed equally content.

Since then, I’ve seen videos and heard accounts of grieving whales soothed by violins, a sanctuary elephant next to a piano while a man played “Ave Maria,” and shelter dogs chilling to live cello music. Like the care center birds, the animals were responding not only to the music, but to those making it and the others hearing it.

Science has demonstrated the effects of music on the brain, and music therapy is part of many human health and wellness settings. But I don’t think the benefits end with the last note of the song. There is something about music that keeps healing even in the silence, even amid the noise in the world. It might even replace the noise in our heads.

And how many of us have had songs stuck in our heads? More on that in a moment.

A few months ago, I dug Chant, the popular 1994 album by the Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo, out of the CD cabinet and loaded it into my iTunes. Gregorian chant is prayer sung in Latin, generally without accompaniment. Its development is attributed to Pope Gregory the Great during medieval times, but there is some scholarly uncertainty about that. Regardless, to listen to it is to step into the eternal. You don’t have to understand a word of Latin to know that each chant is about God’s presence in any circumstance.

I began to include the chants in my personal meditation and in my work as an animal communicator and animal Reiki practitioner. Sometimes I have the music playing softly from my stereo or the phone in my pocket when I need to focus, or refocus.

My teacher, Kathleen Prasad, says chanting unites breath with sound in a way that calms and heals. Where fear and sadness constrict, chanting expands. “The more expansive you become, the more easily you can feel emotions without being knocked over by them,” she says in her Animal Reiki Source blog. Animals will feel this expansiveness, she continues, and want to share your strong, balanced space. I am finding this to be true.

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Mildred and I shared Reiki and a bit of Gregorian chant. (Photo by Nancy Crowe)

On my rounds at Summit Equestrian Center recently, I sat down in the shade, pulled up iTunes on my phone, and clicked on one of the chants — I believe it was Kyrie Fons Bonitatis (Lord, fountain of mercy). Mildred, a goat who has seen a lot of living, had been lounging on the grass nearby — but now her head swiveled around, ears alert. It wasn’t her “What is that infernal noise?” look (I know that one). Mildred recognized what she was hearing. She listened with me as we shared Reiki, and soon she closed her eyes and lifted her face to the sun.

I wondered if, in her storied life, she ever spent time in the pasture of a Benedictine monastery. Or, on this day, did she simply tune into a sound and energy connecting her to her creator? The particulars didn’t seem to matter much to Mildred. All I got from her was that she liked hearing it again and it made an already beautiful day — moment, really — even better.

Even though I wasn’t doing the chanting myself, allowing that expansiveness to move from God through the monks through me and Mildred was truly a gift.

I can’t carry a tune in a bucket or any other receptacle. So when I don’t have the actual music playing, I try to carry the energy of the music with me. You could say I keep it “stuck” in my head and heart to share with the animals, however it may benefit them the most.

Think about this … and feel free to share:

  • If you leave a radio on for your animal friends when you leave the house, what music do you choose?
  • If you sing or play an instrument, how do they respond?
  • How does having a song (or chant, or other music) stuck in your head make you feel and respond to others?