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Clarissa the Donkey. Photo by Hans Roth to the Calaveras Enterprise.

It’s a funny thing what people take to their hearts, what they listen to.

Children and animals seem to always have the ability to melt people’s hearts into a puddle of sweetness as they gaze on a sleeping golden retriever puppy, or a child laughing over a purple, black and pink butterfly flying away.

But, a donkey? Or a burro? At first glance, this little gray coated creature with its braying voice seems hard pressed to capture anyone’s attention and melt their heart.

In my little corner of the world where fact is very often stranger than fiction, that’s just what happened many years ago. A burro named Clarissa was born to her mother in Murphys and became the town donkey, or burro, depending on who you ask.

She’s lived across the street from me for the last two and a half years. I didn’t take into account that she was going to be one of my neighbors until I actually moved into my little shoebox and heard her every morning, every afternoon and every evening. My son and I heard her pretty much all the time except in the middle of the night when she was sleeping, which we were very happy about because that meant we could get sleep too.

She was literally the town burro, or donkey depending on whom you ask, because who her owners were, what land she resided on, and a few other factoids were a little fuzzy as tends to happen in a small town, where local lore grows like mushrooms in a fairy tale and it’s very hard to decipher fact from fiction.

Many people would come and feed her carrots and other tidbits that she liked, with some stopping in town just to see her on their way up, or down, the hill to their vacation spots.

She was well cared for and loved, melting people’s hearts with her course braying and insatiable appetite for carrots. An unlikely object of affection.

Clarissa passed away just recently. It was her time, she was over 25 years old, but still, this event made the front page of the local newspaper – above the fold  – and was talked about in local schools.

But, in my little shoebox, it’s the sound that’s off because it’s too quiet. In a rural county where people go to get away from the noise, Clarissa’s braying became a constant backdrop to my little families’ existence, not truly noticed until it was gone.

Isn’t that what it’s like with so many objects of our affection? Obvious or not? They are comfortable backdrops in our lives, not gaining our full attention until the silence in the wake of their leaving becomes all too loud, and sometimes that’s when we really start to listen.

“After the earthquake there was a fire, but the LORD was not in the fire. And after the fire there was a voice, a soft whisper.”

1 Kings 19:12

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