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Issue 06 – Corpus Christi 2021


Sunday School for Donkeys

On stubbornness.


My family’s genome is a complicated one, strung together by ancestors whose only common trait seems to have been their determination to live unusual lives. We have a Norwegian strain (thanks to an adolescent who ran away to America, illegally entered the armed forces, and eventually became a brigadier general). We have a Cuban strain (from the terrifying five-foot-tall wife of said Norwegian adolescent, who met him while she spied for the United States during the Spanish-American War). We have an Irish strain (on which side of the family there was an uncle who broke a promise, became a priest, and died in Reno, Nevada, after which event the lilies in his garden bloomed out of season). These folks are all gone now—they died before I was born—but from the insistent oddness of their lives, I think they must have shared what I call the “mule gene,” else it could not have been passed to my siblings and me. 

The mule gene is just what it sounds like: an unrelenting stubbornness found in many pack animals and some humans. I think, unfortunately, it is dominant. Yet it isn’t always a showy, tantrum-throwing obstinacy; it can be subtler than that, the way a donkey might simply ignore your instructions without bellowing or biting. It’s a trait that means when you’re pointing a certain direction, you’re going to continue in that direction, regardless of whether you know where you’re going. If you ever have the misfortune to drive with a mule-dominant person, you’ll watch in bafflement as he or she ignores the pleas of the G.P.S.

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About the author

Adriana Watkins