A few weeks ago, I went to a friend of a friend's birthday party in Washington D.C.. I didn't know anyone and ended up talking to a nice young man who had just been accepted to an Ivy League architecture school. He was excited and earnest, and eventually got around to asking me what I do.
This may sound like a simple question but for some reason, it makes me uncomfortable. Sometimes I say, "I'm a farmer" which is perfectly true, but it doesn't ring very true to me. I think because it brings to mind crops, or cattle or something. I have a huge amount of respect for farmers, but I don't really identify myself as one.
Sometimes I just say something vague about being in the yarn business. Non-knitters don't really have anywhere to go with this, which is fine, and knitters look at me like I'm made of cake, also fine. I'm happy to answer questions about my flock, my farm, and my lifestyle. But, in all honesty, the 'business' part of "yarn business" doesn't ring altogether true, either.
What I want to say when people ask me what I do, what I like to say and what feels like the truest answer is, "I'm a shepherd." And the only reason I don't usually say it is because every time I say it to a man - and I mean every single time - the gentleman smirks a bit and asks, "Do you have a crook?" To which I reply, "Yes. I do." It's annoying.
Most people have never met a shepherd and the idea seems sort of silly or precious. But shepherding is a noble and serious profession dating back more than 6000 years. Being a shepherd means being responsible for the care of a flock and being a good steward of the lands they graze. It's about surrendering yourself to the rhythms of the seasons, slowing your life down to match the pace of the animals and being ever watchful, ever vigilant. It's about putting the needs of flock first, doing your absolute best for them and then worrying all the time anyway.
I've never felt like I became a shepherd when I got my sheep. It was more like I always was a shepherd and I didn't know it until the sheep found me. They instantly gave my life a purpose and they've continued to do so every day since then. I am a shepherd to my boots. It isn't glamorous or sexy or easy to explain, but it's all I want to be.
So, when the earnest architect-to-be asked me what I do for living, I looked him in the eye and said, "I'm a shepherd." And he surprised me. He smiled sweetly and said, "That's really great. You should have business cards made and put 'shepherd' on them."
I didn't say anything. I just pulled one out of my wallet and gave it to him.