I was familiar with the stories of the Pig Barn. How the pigs had been slaughtered there, the cauldron in the corner used to scald them, and how their cries could be heard throughout the town. But I never really believed it. Everything I’ve read and heard about the use of pig barns was different. Traditionally a pig barn has a walkway down the middle with the pig pens on either side. There’s a side door for ventilation and a penned in outdoor area. The cauldron or set kettle is used to cook up the mash for the pigs to eat.
So when I decided to make the pig barn into a gallery, I didn’t think much about the pigs who once lived and perhaps died there. But as the opening of the Pig Barn Gallery got closer, I started to get nervous. Then the nervousness turned to a fear that seemed out of proportion to the prospect of an art exhibit. At the same time Jon and I were deciding whether or not to adopt a donkey that had been neglected by it’s owner and was near death.
In seeking help for my fear, I came to realize that the idea of the pigs being slaughtered on the farm, whether it was done humanely or not, and seeing Simon, the donkey, and how much he seemed to be suffering, was disturbing to me in a way that I had not acknowledged.
I was not being honest with myself about how upsetting it really was. I found myself making excuses to avoid my feelings. I denied the slaughter of the pigs. I told myself that people and animals die all the time, and maybe it would be best if we put Simon down. He seemed to have suffered so much and looking at him brought up emotions in me I was afraid to deal with. I just wanted him and the dead pigs to go away.
I came to see that in the past I had closed off a part of myself to avoid these feelings, and with this realization I found that part of myself which I had lost a long time ago. Before I faced my fears, I wasn’t sure if I was capable of taking care of Simon and was afraid of such a daunting responsibility. Now I trust myself to be able to do what’s best for him and to know that it’s okay to feel sad for the pigs who died so long ago.
So I’m grateful to Simon and the slaughtered pigs. One morning, before the Pig Barn Gallery opens, Mary Muncil and I will perform a cleansing ceremony in the barn, blessing and releasing whatever may be there. And Simon will continue to get lots of nourishing food and care and love, healing us both at the same time.