Having a heart-to-heart with my ride

There is a Yiddish proverb about this:

If one man calleth thee a donkey, pay him no mind;

If two men calleth thee a donkey, get thee a saddle.

 OK, point taken. But these days people don’t use the word “donkey” anymore in reference to their fellow human beings. If you accidentally cut someone off in traffic or otherwise become an object of contempt, you are likely to be called the King James equivalent instead. (Quaint, isn’t it, how people quote scripture unawares.)

Here’s what I’m wondering: where did donkeys get such a bad reputation? I grew up on a farm, but I never got up close and personal with a donkey until I came to Greece.

The evening before our floating classroom returned to port in Athens, we made our final stop at the fabled island of Santorini. By the time all the passengers on the Aquamarine disembarked and were transported by tenders to shore, we only had two hours to explore the island. Just enough time to get to the top of the awesome volcanic cliffs of Fira, marvel at the incredible view, and come back down.

There are two options for quickly reaching Fira from the dock: cable-car or donkey-back. The first sounded much too tame, so despite the ship’s disclaimer that Travel-by-Donkey could be dangerous, Mike and I chose the latter.

It was the best five Euros we’ve spent on this trip. You simply cannot take yourself too seriously while hanging on for dear life to a bored beast responsible for getting you nearly a thousand feet straight up the side of a cliff.

Here’s what I learned from my Santorini donkey-rental:

(1)   Donkeys deserve their reputation for stubbornness. No matter how many times I tried to sweet-talk or swat mine to direct him away from the edge or the herd descending downhill, it was useless. He got this, well, mulish look on his face as if to say, “You tourists are all alike. If you don’t like it then take the darn cable-car next time.”

Ascending Santorini the old-fashioned way

(2)   Donkeys are aware of their position in the pack. My ride refused to pass the animal in front of him even when the leader took his not-so-sweet time answering nature’s call while the beasts behind us played Donkey- Pile-Up.

(3)   Donkeys are strong for their modest size; I saw them carrying 250 lb. men without a whinny of complaint.

(4)   Donkeys are significant enough to be mentioned multiple times in the biblical record. Jesus himself traveled on donkey’s back at least twice: the first time in the womb of his mother on the way to Bethlehem, and 33 years later entering Jerusalem on what we call Palm Sunday. And God opened the mouth of a donkey to bring a word of warning to the prophet Balaam as recorded in Numbers 22.

So is being a stubborn mule who follows the rules really so bad when God clearly has a purpose for you?

The next time someone calls you a “donkey,” maybe you should consider it a compliment.

View from the top with our ship in the harbor