Jan 7, 2012

On Killing and Suffering


We killed an elk.  Well, we didn't kill it - we paid a farmer for a member of his elk herd and he shot it for us.  But we were responsible for its death, and we watched it die.  It was exciting.  It was stressful.  It was heart breaking.  A large animal does not always die instantly, even when shot point blank in the head.  I know from my own experience that a gutted, headless smallmouth bass can still wiggle in the frying pan, so I shouldn't have been surprised.  But I had recently documented the killing of a lamb, and he went with nary a twitch when shot, so I had imagined the elk cow would go the same way.  She did not.  

I was emotional after the elk slaughter, and I woke up in the middle of the night thinking about it.  I wondered what Kahlil Gibran would have to say on suffering.  (I thought there was a passage in The Prophet titled On Suffering - there is not.)  What I did find in the passage titled On Eating and Drinking was this:  When you kill a beast, say to him in your heart, "By the same power that slays you, I too am slain; and I too shall be consumed."  And consumed I was.  Not with the guilt of having slain another living being, but with the guilt of having caused suffering in another living being.  I wondered how long and how much did the elk cow suffer between the time she was shot and when she took her last breath?  A moment?  A few minutes?  It's impossible to know, but I believe that I observed some suffering.  And what of it?  No life is without suffering, so why did it bother me so much?  Because I caused it.  I tossed a few coins on the suffering and misery side of the life-on-this-planet scales.  I am guilty.  

Idealistic as it may sound, the primary reason I seek out meat from unconventional sources is to help reduce the amount of suffering in the world.  Many of the poor beasts you buy in a super market know nothing but cruelty and misery from the moment they are born until the moment they're slaughtered.  When I buy meat from the farm where I volunteer, I know exactly what quality of life the animals experience (very high) and in many cases, I know exactly how they die (quickly, and with the greatest respect).  I didn't know exactly what I was getting into when a friend and I decided to purchase a live elk, though I had the impression that we would kill the animal ourselves.  Not that it necessarily would have made a difference.  But then again, it might have.  My confidence in Mark and Mary as benevolent "dispatchers" of animals for meat could not be higher.  Because like me, they really care about the non-human members of our planet.  

But things don't always turn out as in our naive fantasies, and suffering and guilt are unavoidable consequences in life.  I'll accept and endure my feelings of guilt and remorse, and be thankful that this peculiar form of suffering is what compels me to greater conscientiousness.  

6 comments:

  1. It would be disrespectful to the animal if you didn't have this feeling.

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  2. This is beautifully and thoughtfully written, Frankie.

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  3. Incisive and compassionate, Frankie. Well said and finely felt. I had a conversation with a dear friend today about the difference in killing a simple-minded animal (cow) versus killing an apparently smart one like a horse. Perhaps a different feeling for us, but no less suffering for either animal. Interesting and compelling are these discussions. Thanks. Josh Foster

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  4. Thanks, Josh! And I agree that it would show a lack of respect for animals - and for life - if I didn't experience these difficult feelings.

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  5. strangely when I start going down that path of thought, it makes the "Jesus dying for our sins" thing start to make sense (as a metaphor). I still don't know what that means to most christians. what would have happened if he didn't die? got to read that book someday. anyway, the sacrifice (and suffering) of another being so that you may live has this spiritual twist I wouldn't have expected. you are connected to that animal and thus connected to the cycle of life. the universe has this brief clarity. and then its time to do dishes and it all goes away. you don't get that from the cellophane package at Safeway.

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  6. I live for those fleeting moments of clarity - wherever they may fall along the spectrum of joy and sorrow!

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