From my bedroom window, I can see several hundred yards to the neighboring field and barnyard of a small farm. In this field, a horse, pony, donkey, goat, and llama wane away their time grazing and sharing time together. While getting dressed in the morning, I watch this sampling of Noah's Ark. However, it is the llama that attracts most of my attention. He struts about the field with his head held high as if he were better than all the rest of the animals. In fact, I was so intrigued by this animal's behavior that I went over to the fence to get a closer look. Surprisingly, the llama came over to me and started talking:

Lorenzo: What can I do to help you?

Al: Nothing. I was just curious about how a llama ever wound-up living next to me. After all, aren't all llamas from South America?
Lorenzo: Well, that's only partially true. By the way, my name is Lorenzo Llama. It's just like Lorenzo Lamas but spelled differently-just a llama joke.

Al: Well, my name is Al Campbell-like the camel but spelled differently.
Lorenzo: I like your sense of humor but back to my explanation about llamas. Ironically, llamas are a part of the camel family-like your name but spelled differently. The camels, with which you are familiar, whether with one or two humps, are my distant relatives. However, in the New World, there are four additional camelids: the llama, alpaca, guanaco, and vicuna. They have discovered fossils of llamas in California over 15,000 years ago. I bet you didn't know that.

Al: No, I didn't. If you and camels are related, do you spit like they do?

Lorenzo: Well, we aren't as bad as our camel cousins. We don't spit at humans unless we are mistreated. Spitting is reserved for other llamas. Sometimes, llamas will spit in another llama's food. The idea is to make the other llama move on to another supply of food leaving the spitting llama to eat the other's meal.

Al: Speaking of eating, what do you eat?
Lorenzo: We are content with the simple foods. If we get a daily supply of hay and water, we are happy. However, there are lots of foods that llamas can't eat. We have to watch what we eat around Christmas time. We have to stay away from holly, mistletoe, and poinsettias. In addition, most houseplants are deadly for us.

Al: What kind of temperament do llamas have?

Lorenzo: We are pretty laid-back-perhaps an influence from our time in California many millennia ago. We are gentle and rather friendly. That's why I came over when I saw you at the fence. In addition, we make good pets especially for little children.

Al: That's interesting. You certainly know a lot about your past. Since we both have camels in our background, maybe we are also related somehow.
Lorenzo: I don't know, but I do know that llamas have been around human beings for over 5000 years. The South Americans domesticated us as beasts of burden. In addition to being pack animals, we provided fiber and meat. South Americans even use our dung for fuel. On the darker side of things, white llamas like me were often used for sacrifices to the sun god.

Al: I had no idea of your history.

Lorenzo: The ancient ancestors of the llamas are called procamelus. I bet that you didn't know that my forebears originated in North America during the Miocene Era, which was around twenty million years ago. About two millions years ago, some of us migrated west across the Bering land bridge and in time became the camels of Arabia and the Mongolian Deserts. The other camelids migrated to South America and settled in what you call Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, and Chile.

Al: Did any of your relatives wind-up in Tibet?

Lorenzo: No, why do you ask?

Al: Well, I was just wondering about the Dalia Lama who is the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhists. What is your relationship with him?
Lorenzo: None. Besides, the Dalia Lama is spelled differently. Also, the yak that lives in Tibet isn't a camelid either. There is no llama tie to Tibet.

Al: I didn't know that. Tell me more about llamas.
Lorenzo: We can get as tall as six feet and some of us who don't exercise and watch our diets can weigh in at over four hundreds pounds. The gestation time for a baby llama is 350 days. Females can breed again within two weeks of delivery. This ensures that the babies are born at the same time every year. We call baby llamas "crias" which is a term for "offspring" in South America.

Al: How did you get to Valpo?

Lorenzo: Well, that's a long and romantic story. My owner's name is Jackie. She fell in love with a guy from Bolivia. They visited his homeland and Jackie fell in love with not only the country, but she met and fell in love with me. So, I am a South American import and pleasant reminder for both of them of Bolivia. While Jackie loves her husband, she is particularly fond of me. It is easy to get attached to a llama. If you don't mind me asking, what do you do when you aren't befriending a llama?

Al: I am a psychotherapist, writer, and adjunct professor at the University of St. Francis. When I am not counseling, I spend a lot of my time working on my computer. I write a self-help column for the Dixon Telegraph and human-interest articles for various magazines. I also teach an online college class over the Internet. My computer is essential to my livelihood.

Lorenzo: I've heard about computers-what a marvelous tool! I guess that you really rely upon it for your work.

Al: I sure do. I went out of town over New Year's and was concerned about my computer working when I returned. What have you heard about Y2K and all the worries associated with the millenium change?

Lorenzo: I have heard Jackie and her husband talking about it, and it really seemed to concern you human beings a lot. However, Y2K was low on the level of llama concerns.

Al: Well, there was a lot of fear associated with the turn of the millenium. It was a milestone. I actually got into the excitement and celebration. It was fun to usher in the new millenium.

Lorenzo: New Year's didn't interest me or other llamas very much. Y2K wasn't a big deal either. We aren't heavy into computers. Two thousand years is a drop in the bucket for us. Llamas and humans have been dealing with each other for at least Y5K.

Al: What did you do on New Year's Eve?

Lorenzo: Not much. In addition to my regular diet: hay, a special grain mix, and my worm medication, Jackie gave me some peppermint treats. I snarfed them right down, but after I finished, I lay down and went to sleep only to be awakened several hours later by firecrackers and noise from revelers. Speaking of food and Jackie, here she comes to feed me now. Allow me to introduce you to her. Jackie, this is a new friend of mine. His name is Al.

Jackie: It is nice to meet you. It seems that you and Lorenzo have gotten acquainted. I don't want to interrupt your conversation. I need to get the feed out for Lorenzo, so I'm going to have to get to work. If I can help you, just give me a call.

Al: It was nice to meet you, Jackie. Your llama has been very friendly and quite informative. Thank you for allowing me to talk with your very special part of your family.I hope that we will meet again.

Jackie: I hope so.

Al: So Lorenzo, you didn't party at all on New Year's Eve?
Lorenzo: No. You know as well as I do that the date you celebrate was both arbitrary and incorrect. Besides, the Christian calendar dating isn't universally used. In addition, the end of the world didn't come like some of the doomsayers predicted. Llamas and humans will be around for a lot longer here on earth.

Al: With your perspective on life, what is the meaning of our existence? Life seems to me to be such a major effort and then we die. In a couple of generations, most of us will be forgotten. It just seems to me that we put an awful lot of effort into living this life but for what?

Lorenzo: Don't you see that life is a grand experiment and needs each of us to do our part in the great scheme of things?

Al: I don't understand the scheme. We put in our time, which is filled with struggles and hardships, and then it's over. That just seems like such a waste of time and effort.

Lorenzo: Come a little closer; I want you to understand this. The beginning of understanding the meaning of life is to understand that there is no meaning to life.

Al: What?
Lorenzo: It is we and only we that put meaning in life. Life doesn't carry intrinsic meaning. So we have a choice: to live out our time here on earth complaining about the meaninglessness of life or we can affirm that since there is no meaning, we can put meaning into life.

Al: That sounds great, but if life doesn't have meaning, what do we put into life to make it meaningful?
Lorenzo: We put meaning into the meaninglessness of life when we love another. Everything else that we do seems to pale in comparison. Loving and experiencing love is our reason for being. In less than a couple of weeks, you people will be celebrating Valentine's Day. This should be a reminder to us all why we are here. Life can be very meaningful if we take seriously our ability to love one another. You people need to broaden your understanding of love. You think that it merely means that you should love other people. However, you need to understand that you are not the only creatures that desire and deserve love. In fact, all nature needs to be treated with love. If you don't learn this, both you and the environment will suffer.

Al: That's good advice. In addition to loving, what advice can you give me about living life?
Lorenzo: Never give up; never surrender to the problems that you face in life. Llamas and people have a shared perspective that is unmatched by most other arrivals that cover many millennia. Those humans that succeed are almost always those that face their problems with determination and perseverance.

Al: From my perspective covering 57 years, life often isn't fair with its distribution of problems and setbacks.
Lorenzo: Well, I have discovered that problems are vital to success. Without problems, you won't succeed at anything important. Success is grown in the terrain of trouble. Without the problems to make you great, achievement won't happen.

Therefore, instead of doing what humans all too often do when facing a problem, trying to avoid it by denial-embrace it. Look at the problems of your life as opportunities given to you as a gift. Make the gift work for you and not against you. For example, assume that all problems have the potential for disguised blessings. If you do, you will look for opportunities to solve the problem. While we are talking, would you like to come inside the barn and see my digs?

Al: You have a really nice place here, Lorenzo. What will happen to you when you die? Do you think that there is life after death for llamas and people?

Lorenzo: I don't know about life after death. I've heard people talking about it and other llamas have been aware of rumors about living after death. I personally don't know what to think about life after death. I would like to think that there is something after this life. However, I don't want to dwell on heaven too much for it takes away from living this life here and now. Perhaps there will be something for all of us when we die, but let's enjoy life now. Your new millennium awaits.