• My Journey to Compassionate Living: A Tribute to Animals

    PLEASE NOTE: This blog/essay is a therapeutic reflection on the soulful and mindful changes I’ve experienced over the past year and a half. It is not meant to be offensive or preachy, not intended to spark anger or arguments, but rather meant to express the questions and realizations I’ve been dealing with in a level, articulate way. Writing is soothing for me, and I’ve been longing to get these thoughts down for some time now. If you feel you will be angered or offended by my discussion of my choice to go vegan, please abstain from reading. This is not a discussion of what it means for YOU, but rather a reflection of what living compassionately means for ME. What it means for me cannot be argued. If you’d like to come with me to journey through the questions I’ve asked myself, and are open to asking questions of yourself, please read on. I’m happy to participate in a non-judgmental, open and honest discussion if anyone wishes to ask questions. I do not wish to start a war or argument. Thank you for being respectful!

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    Every morning, I wake up to the few soft mews of my giant, fluffy and handsome cat Oliver, coaxing me awake. He paws over the terrain of blankets and pillows to position himself on my chest (sometimes my head) and promptly begin a rumbling purr.  Kneading his big soft paws into my throat, I have no choice but to acknowledge him, greet the day and spend several minutes lovingly stroking his silky coat.

    Once out of bed, my cottony and gorgeous cat Nina heralds me that it’s time to be fed. She dances around lightly on her white paws, and won’t let me love her up until duties have been taken care of. Her loud meow and sassy swishing of her tail let me know that her needs must be met promptly. She is a queenly and demanding girl.

    Slippers on, jacket zipped over pajamas, I return to the bedroom to greet my anxious puppy in her kennel at the foot of my bed. She’s been waiting patiently for me to return and let her out to start the day. Upon my greeting her, Elenore begins wagging her tail rapidly and wiggling around, pawing at the crate door. I sit on the floor and let her out, and after a biiiiiiiiig downward doggie-stretch, she drunkenly hobbles out of her kennel and collapses into my lap. The silly girl makes snorting and whimpering sounds, little puppy murmurs of love, while mauling my arms, my legs, and flicking light kisses up to my nose. She snorts around my ears, and then bites my earlobe, gently suckling as if to say, “I love you, mama!” After our love-fest on the floor, with lots of petting and nuzzling, she follows me straight to the door and we head outside for her morning chores.

    My animals mean the world to me. Each day starts brightly because of them, and each time I enter our home I’m greeted with their presence. For me, being in the presence of animals is a magical and humbling experience. It reminds me of how alike we all are in this world, how they too experience emotions and communicate not only with each other but between species and to us human animals. Their personalities amaze and delight me, and I marvel at how they grow and change, how they express love and hurt. We are not so different.

    I have always considered myself an “animal lover.” From the natural inclination toward compassion as a child, up through delighting in witnessing animals around me and in nature as an adult, I’ve always been tender toward and fascinated by them. Growing up, we always had pets. I liked to refer to them as the “family pack,” generally filled with a menagerie of shelter-pets: dogs, cats, rabbits, rats, and/or hamsters. Though I grew up in a city, I was always in awe when we’d visit my aunt’s farm. I would go over to where the cows were penned and reach out to stroke their noses, feeling solemn over their captivity in a muddy rink.

    I remember my delight as a child when a robin built her nest in a wreath on the front porch. I was so excited to see little blue eggs in the nest and be able to witness– up close and personal—as the robin flew back and forth right at eye level. I remember when, to my horror and dismay, my parent decided the nest was too messy (and the droppings, particularly) and tossed it out. I cried and cried over the little nest and the little blue eggs.

    Occasionally in my childhood, my dad would go hunting with my uncle, a self-proclaimed “sportsman” who, to this day, prides himself in his “game.” I have always refused to eat deer, most likely out of my association with the children’s movie Bambi, and was nauseated by the smell of grinding raw flesh in our home. One of these times, when I was probably around age eight, my dad brought home a deer. I went outside to play and opened the garage door, only to be confronted by an upside down, bloody and skinned dead deer. His tongue was hanging out, eyes bulging, and blood pooling on the garage floor. I screamed in horror and ran away crying. The memory haunts me still today.

    Another particular instance stands out in my mind—a dinner with family. My mom cooked Cornish game hens for dinner, and had a mini headless bird on each plate. This was a “special fancy” meal. I think I was in middle school around this time, so I knew that the chicken we eat is the same feathered bird I knew from farms and children’s books, but even still I couldn’t handle seeing the bird “in its body form” and eat it. The sight of this mini “chicken” on my plate had me an emotional mess. I couldn’t cut it up, break apart the bones, or tear off the skin. It was too barbaric (and I do believe I used that same word to my mom when I refused). My mom laughed, amused my childish refusal. Now, had the bird been torn apart and shredded into pieces, unrecognizable from the feathered animal I knew, I would have had no problem eating it (and did not, at any other time until recently).

    It amazes me now, as I look back and reflect on all these vivid experiences and associations I had as a child (and even as a young woman – a similar experience to the Cornish hen dinner, when I started crying as my mom tried to show me how to cut up a whole baked chicken), that I didn’t make the connection earlier. I can see how all these experiences have shaped me into who I am now, and how illogical it was for me to stay closed to what I intuitively knew all along. I was known to say things like, “I don’t want to know where my meat comes from” and “If I had to actually kill the chicken/cow/pig myself, I don’t think I could eat it.” Acknowledging that the food on my plate came from the carcass of a formerly live being was an unhappy and disturbing thought for me. I would prefer to think that “chicken breasts” were altogether just a separate thing from the chicken (after all, they come sold separately in big frozen bags, right?), and that “steak” is just its own delightfully delicious food, not the severed muscle from a doe-eyed gentle cow.

    What I’ve realized over the past year and a half, and truly awakened to over the past month, is that I was blinded by selective compassion. Our society has taught us that after a certain age, usually the “naïve child” age, only certain animals are worthy of compassion. The others are not. Their “purpose” (as defined by human animals) is to be eaten. That is it. And why is this their “purpose”? Because we’ve developed a taste for their flesh. We like how they taste. That’s it.

    Why do we love cats and dogs and (some) rabbits as family members, while consuming other animals – not so different from the same ones we love—on our dinner plates each day? How can we balk at the notion of some cultures eating the very animals we love (namely, cats and dogs in Asian countries), while not stir a bit as we shovel the flesh of cows, chickens, and pigs into our gullets daily? Are they not worthy because we do not find them enjoyable household companions? Is that really what “worth” comes down to?

    The animals we artificially bring into this world only for the sole purpose of killing and consuming them are valuable as animals in their unique ways. How is forcefully breeding and slaughtering and eating cows and steer any different than, let’s say, doing the same to horses? Or zebras? Or moose? Or… dogs?

    Well, you might say, horses are for working, and riding, and they help us in so many ways. That’s why it’s not okay to eat them. But… wild horses… who exist only because they exist and have a right to their lives… what about them? Do they “help” us? Is that where their worth comes from?

    I’m seeing the hypocrisy in my own ways of thinking for so many years. Believing that we, as humans, have the power to define the worth and “purpose” of the animals we’ve named and dominated. It’s just so wrong to me now. Each of these animals, be they wild or unnaturally bred for our appetites, do not exist here “just for us.” They have their own right to life, and unique characteristics and personalities and social interactions that make them not so unlike us human animals. I am sure that if I cared for a chicken, pig, or calf with the same tender love and attention I give to my cats and dog, I would see that they too have personalities, value, and unique social interactions.

    I know there are so many rebuttals that pop up when I enter this discussion, and I don’t have the time or energy to attempt to cover all ruffled arguments against compassion in one breath. And that’s not what I’m trying to do. I can’t change anyone but me. But what has been so life-changing for me over the past month have been these few realizations:

    I don’t want to contribute to violence against any beings in this world, to the best of my ability. I can’t be perfect, but I do know the biggest step I can make on a daily basis (and the simplest) is to choose to leave animals and their secretions off my plate.

    I do wish to live a compassionate and awakened life. In being compassionate, and a Christian and believer in God, I don’t see it as “our place” to “dominate” and use other creatures cruelly and violently just to satisfy our palates. God gives us minds to discern options, and souls to seek moral and ethical choices. I see the most compassionate and loving Christ-like choice is to abstain from the system of inherent cruelty that is bringing animals into the world only to slaughter and eat them.This is wrong to me.

    We are blessed with a bounty of plants to nourish our bodies. In the Garden of Eden, we were given the plants to feast upon. (Plants do not, to our knowledge, have nervous systems or experience pain; they are not sentient.) There was not killing and slaughter. It was a peaceful place, where animals likely existed before man. We do not need animal flesh to live healthy, nourished and full lives. We can exist healthily (and much more so, might I add) without consuming them. So why continue to perpetuate a cruel and violent system because we have a “taste” for their flesh?

    For these reasons, I have chosen to live vegan. And I have never felt more at peace and filled with joy over how I am eating! Choosing to live vegan is about aligning my values and beliefs with my daily choices. I believe it is right to live with compassion, to not knowingly participate in violence toward humans or non-human animals. I believe in treating my body, and the bodies of other live, sentient and feeling beings, with respect and honor. I believe in eating healthfully and mindfully. I believe in doing what I can, even if it’s not everything perfectly, to change the world and the systems of violence in it. And I believe that if we desire world peace and hope for violence to end between human races and countries, we also need to cease violence against are non-human animals with whom we share this earth.

    I cannot personally stop a war between peoples. I cannot personally change the terrorism of nations. I cannot ensure the peace and safety of all animals.

    But I can choose a veggie burger over eating a dead cow. I can cook delicious, nourishing and satisfying veggie meals. I can choose not continue to support the slaughter of animals by what I put on my dinner plate and the items I buy for my body and home.

    So I think I’ll start there.

    Thanks for reading, and being respectful.

    Wishing you deepest love and compassion,

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