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Giving thanks

As a child, saying grace meant reciting (without really understanding) the typical child’s prayer, “God is Great, God is Good; Let us thank Him for our food.” It was usually reserved for special occasions like Christmas or Thanksgiving when company was over. Otherwise, despite my mother being very much a Christian, saying grace did not figure much into our day-to-day lives.

My paternal grandmother, on the other hand, said grace with every meal. When we visited with her, we were included in the ritual, holding hands around the dinner table as she recited her ever-changing and heart-felt thanks. I was impressed with my grandmother’s ability to give thanks without resorting to a rhyming child’s prayer, but I never quite understood the point of thanking a god (your God) for your food, as though it/he was the only reason you had food in the first place. When I was little, saying grace was just something you did by rote, like reciting the Lord’s Prayer. After I began my spiritual search as a teenager, it was just a reminder that I had put Christianity aside.

I never really thought of the concept of giving thank again until just a few years ago when I began considering veganism.

I was (and still am somewhat) conflicted about veganism as a lifestyle choice. On the one hand, I’m just not a big meat eater and I never have been. On the other hand, veganism tends to be somewhat unbalanced — all-or-nothing, black-or-white, rather than shades of grey — and I am more and more about the grey as I get older. I found it hard to reconcile the idea that meat-eating was somehow unnatural with the fact that carnivores abound in Nature itself. And if it’s wrong to eat a living creature, why is it then OK to eat living plants? Isn’t that using the same judgement that makes people think that animals are less than us to make plants less than animals?

As I was trying to work out the inconsistencies in my head, I came across a July 2008 blog post by Amber the Donkey at Spring Farm Cares that answered the very questions I had. I’m going to reproduce the post here in its entirety simply because it’s hard to link directly to it on the Spring Farms site. (It predates the Blogspot blog and I really want you to read it; and whatever you may or may not think about the idea that animals can communicate with us, I urge you to visit the Spring Farm Cares site and its blog and read the posts ascribed to Amber in particular — regardless of their origin, they are incredibly profound yet accessible and may well answer questions you didn’t even know you had.) Any highlighting/emphasis is mine.

Q: I am wondering if being a vegetarian is most appropriate for an animal lover like me. I have done this before, but currently I eat meat. I certainly do not like supporting the cruelty of the meat industry — especially the factory farms. At the same time, I look at the animal world, and see meat eaters everywhere. So, what say you?

Amber Donkey: This is a question for which each and every one of you must answer for yourselves. Your choices that you make for your well-being and your body are yours alone to make. That basic guideline being stated, I can give you my opinion and the opinion of the animals I live with, some of whom would be eaten if they were not here. This is a question that immediately raises lots of emotion and judgment for many people. I would like to say emphatically, that whatever your choice, it should never be judged by anyone. Many feel they do not want to eat meat to honor the animals, and then they condemn and judge those who have made different choices. This does not honor the animals at all. Your question is actually 2 separate issues however. And I will answer it in two parts to make it more clear.

The first issue is to eat meat or not and how do animals feel about it. I can tell you this. Animals understand being eaten. Animals understand the predator/prey relationship. Humans do not understand this. Many look to animals and say that they eat each other so it must be ok to be eaten. But what you fail to see is that those animals who eat other animals to live, do so in relationship to those other animals. In that relationship there is respect, honor, appreciation, and love of Life that is passed between the animal being eaten and the one eating of it’s flesh. Every animal eaten by another animal is taken with regards to their spiritual connection with all of Life. It is never taken unjustly. It is never taken lightly. It is never taken for granted. And no life is ever wasted. That is the essence of the predator/prey relationship. It is based on honor and respect. Animals are not upset that humans eat meat. In fact, in our own barn we have heard visitors say that those who eat meat are not spiritual. We believe this is not correct. These are not mutually exclusive.

However, most humans are not even aware of what they are eating. They do not eat with spiritual awareness. If you did, you would be in relationship to all you eat, plant and animal alike. You would be conscious of the fact that for you to live, something lends it’s life to you to nourish you. You would thank each and every thing that nourishes you. And in that respect, that life would live on through you. When you are out of relationship with what you eat, then you do not honor what is being given to you. That is equally true for plant life as well as animal life. There is no difference. Life is life. Plants do have conscious awareness. It just looks different to you. Herbivores are in relationship to what they eat. I am always thankful to the grasses and grains that have given their lives for me. That thankfulness is a part of who I am, as it is for each and every one of the beings who live with me on this farm. We have a relationship with grass and plants.

What we see in humans is a lot of ingratitude for what you are given. Do you ever thank your food? Do you thank the apple for the nourishment it brings you? Do you thank the leaf of lettuce? The tomato? The chicken or the cow? So many people do not even have awareness of what kind of animal they are eating. So the travesty is the lack of awareness and relationship with what nourishes you. Animals understand that in the end we all are eaten. Our bodies are consumed by another or insects or earth. It is part of the cycle. Humans have removed themselves completely from that cycle. You may be on the top of the food chain, but you have no understanding of the relationship of every living thing around you. And while you may not be eaten by other animals, you are certainly eaten by your own misgivings.

The second part of your question is actually about factory farming. Because while animals understand being eaten and that relationship, it doesn’t mean we understand living lives of hell and dying in panic and pain. That also is not part of the natural way of things. And it is a direct product of humans not being in relationship with their food. If you were in relationship with all you ate, you would never mistreat an animal in the food chain. You would never kill your vegetables with poisons. You would treat ALL living things with love, respect, and honor. Because you would understand that the life you treat well will nourish you. Instead, you have walled off all relationship with your food and thus have treated the living beings who give their lives to you with complete disrespect, dishonor, and total lack of compassion. And this you then feed to yourselves and your children. If humans for one minute felt the anguish and pain of the animals you hold captive and kill for your food, the practice you call factory farming would come to a screeching halt. Yet you blindly consume that anguish daily. What you do to them goes into you.

Is it possible then to eat meat and be spiritual? Absolutely yes. To do so you simply need to make your choice to be aware and thankful of each and every thing you eat and that nourishes you. When you have done that, you will have honored the life of that being who will then live on through your flesh. This is true for the grass I eat. It is true for the carrots and apples people bring me. It is true for the chickens and ducks who live with me. All of us understand this as such a basic and simple truth.

With those words, I understood the point of saying grace. It’s not about thanking some nebulous, singular higher power; it’s about thanking your fellow living entities for their contributions to your survival.  It’s something many cultures (particularly cultures that live closer to the land) have long understood, but unfortunately something that many people have lost touch with.

Note: This post has been languishing in my Drafts folder for years, but comes to mind now after Kate wrote about meeting two rats. In her post, she describes what one of the rats, Ohna, passed onto her; and it echoes Amber’s words so much that it reminds me of how poorly I’ve followed the advice I read four years ago:

Please tell the other humans to take a moment to connect with the souls of the animals who have died for them. (Shows me humans eating chicken off of a plate.) You don’t have to feel sad for them or guilty – these emotions will only make you sick in your heart, and they will not help the animals. Just take a moment to thank the animals who have touched your life and your body (shows me leather belts and shoes.) Animals are all around humans all the time. Their bodies are everywhere and so their spirit consciousness is everywhere too. Thank your animals (the ones you eat, the ones you wear) and it will do your soul good.

The cremains of the day

Forgive me if I’m wallowing a little today.

I finally decided to open the box containing Maci’s “ashes” to extract a small amount of them to place into a simple urn pendant that I’ve had for several weeks. It was far more emotional than I thought it would be.

At the time that I had to make the decision to euthanize Maci, there was no room in my head for anything except the most basic of decisions. First, the Big Decision. (No, no more suffering; let him go.) Do you want some time to say goodbye? (No, I want you to wake him up so I can take him home and never let him go again, but that’s not really one of my choices, is it.) Do you want his ashes returned? (Of course. Duh.) Yes, please. Would you like a wooden box or a ceramic urn? (Oh, god, a ceramic urn is going to lead to me Dust Bustering Maci up off the carpet at some point in the near future.) Wooden. Most definitely wooden. Nameplate? What? Yeah, whatever. Do you want to take the carrier home? (Oh, god, no. No, I don’t. I have to leave, before I give into the urge to run back in, scoop him up, and spirit him away.)

It was all over so quickly and in such a haze. In hindsight, I’d wished I’d asked for a clipping of hair, or a paw print. Something recognizable of him. But it was too late when I thought of that. Hell, there are a lot of things I wish I’d done that day that I can’t go back and do over.

I was touched, when I picked up his remains a few weeks later, to discover that the crematorium thought of what a grieving pet owner would want without even being asked. The box itself was placed in a lovely black velvet bag embroidered with the words “Until We Meet Again at the Rainbow Bridge”, and then placed in a white “Thinking of you” gift bag with blue tissue paper.

"Gift" bags from crematorium

The velvet bag also contained a little card with Maci’s name on the front. Inside the card was a paw print and a little bag of clipped hair fastened to the card with a heart-shaped pin.

It all made a potentially difficult moment so much easier than it could have been.

Several days after I picked up the package, I opened up the bottom of the box for the first time. I’d never seen cremains before. All I knew is what I’d seen on TV shows and in movies, where you see some hapless person knock over the urn containing Aunt Martha’s ashes and they scatter all over the floor. They always look like cigarette ashes — grey and fine — and so that’s what I was expecting. I didn’t expect (though I probably should have if I had really thought about the process) them to look like large-grained sand, like the sand you put at the bottom of an aquarium. Only a few non-white speckles, no ash at all. Just the ground up remains of the bones and other hard elements of the body. Everything else, it would seem, pretty much vaporizes.

I don’t look at them too closely, though, in case there is still something there that is recognizable. I’m not sure I could handle that right now.

Such a small amount of remains to mark the huge hole in my life left by his absence. Should be…more.

He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.

The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.

(W.H. Auden, “Funeral Blues”, 1938)

 

Maci's pendant urn

Tear-stained thoughts from a broken heart

Maci, my feline companion of 15 years, died on Saturday morning, just two days after my 46th birthday. He’s left an enormous hole in my heart, bigger than you would think such a little guy could leave. It was a sudden decision I had to make without prior preparation. He’d been losing weight and was little more than skin and bones, but I still never thought cancer. Maybe I was too wrapped up in grieving for my mother, and that’s something I can’t make up for.

On Wednesday, he had a brief moment where he couldn’t stand up — his back legs just wouldn’t support him — and I finally made an appointment with the vet. The back end problem went away, but he still wasn’t eating much. And he was just, well, “off”. I had reiki healing done on him on my birthday — to support him until our appointment on Saturday — and he spent pretty much the entire session in my arms or on my shoulder. It seemed odd at the time, but I think he knew by then what was going to happen to him. Me, I was firmly in denial. He was supposed to be around for at least a few more years, damn it.

On Saturday morning, as I was getting ready to go, he actually came out of the bedroom where he was sleeping, climbed up on a box of cat litter, and started nosing at his cat carrier, which was sitting on top of my laundry cart. He got into the carrier with little fuss. That should have been enough to warn me something was going on, but I brushed it off. At the clinic, he was less vocal and upset than he usually is and I had the thought that I should take him out of the carrier and hold him…but I didn’t want to stress him. I will always regret that I didn’t heed that impulse, because, looking back, I would have braved any amount of biting or scratching to have one last cuddle with him.

I’ve been reading Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s book “On Grief and Grieving” lately, trying to come to grips with the ongoing grief from my mother’s death in August. I was reading the book in the examination room while we were waiting for the vet to finish up with an emergency patient. I talked to Maci — he was mostly lying quietly, though he hissed when I moved anywhere near the carrier door. (I’d brought a blanket with me for him, but that really upset him for some reason, so I tucked it into my purse, out of sight.) I told him we were going to make him feel better….and I suppose we did, though it wasn’t at all the way I’d expected us to. In hindsight, I should be thankful for that long wait in the examination room as it was the last time I got to spend with my sweet boy while he was conscious.

The vet finally came and took him into the back for his examination. After several minutes, she came and brought me into the back with her. That’s when I knew things were going badly. Maci has to be — had to be — masked in order to minimize the trauma of vet visits and he was still masked and lying on the table. The vet had me feel the mass in his intestine — it was so long, but hadn’t been there in January at our previous visit. She recommended letting him go. It was like a punch in the stomach. It wasn’t a decision I’d expected to have to make that day and it broke me to make it. I stayed there until it was over — I’ll be getting his ashes in a wooden box with a name plaque on it later — and then left. I cried at the clinic and then managed to hold it back in until I got home and into my apartment. Then I started hyperventilating and I’ve been doing that pretty much ever since. It is unbelievably empty here without him.

A heavy thread of guilt underlies my grief for Maci that doesn’t exist under the continuing grief for my mother. Guilt because I was responsible for his care and quality of life: I should have noticed how serious things were sooner, I should have had my own shit together enough to have been able to afford regular vet care, I should have been a better companion. My mother controlled her own life and environment, but I alone am responsible for what Maci ate and what his environment was like.

He’d been sick for some time, but I had lots of reasons for not taking him to the vet when it all first started: unemployment and lack of money, not believing in the seriousness of the situation, putting it all down to getting older, not wanting to stress him out more with a vet visit, my own personal emotional issues…lots of excuses, but it all comes down to a failure of my responsibilities and, for that, I don’t think there is or can be forgiveness, certainly not from me.

Right now, I’m precariously balanced on a precipice. Do I use this powerful grief as a catalyst for change and growth, to honour the memories of this most beloved creature and my mother who preceded him? Do I just fall fully into the darkness? Or do I just continue to teeter forever in this sorrowful, apathetic limbo?

I know what my answer *should* be, but it’s too soon to say how it will actually play out.

Trying animals on for size

My sister has a lovely, fluffy cat and a boisterous golden retriever that are very much loved members of her family. Two of her children have (finally!) left home, leaving just one behind, and all three are making noises about wanting to take the cat with them. (They’d take the dog, too, but he’s harder to accommodate in an apartment.)

Presumably my sister said the cat wasn’t going anywhere because the two oldest suddenly decided within the last week that they were going to get their own cats.

The oldest adopted a full-grown part Himalayan on November 2. Life was all love and mushiness that first day. Less than a week later, she’d decided he was badness and Hell personified and had given him away without a single regret. And now she’s talking about getting a kitten instead, because, you know, kittens are so much less work. (Interestingly, the reverse was the reason she’d initially decided to go with a grown cat.)

The other adopted a nine-week-old male kitten on November 4. He’s already frantically talking about how insane the kitten is and hoping that getting the kitten fixed will calm the little guy down.

*sigh*

I love both of those kids to pieces, but I find myself getting quite angry — at them for not taking the concept of animal stewardship seriously, at the people physically around them — family and friends alike — who didn’t tell them to step back and think before adopting another living creature, at my brother-in-law so many years ago for treating the lives of the two kittens they used to have so cavalierly and setting a very bad precedent. (Yeah, I’m never letting that one go.) Today, that brother-in-law’s sister told my niece that, hey, at least she cared enough to try. Bullshit. Six days is not trying and, no, you don’t get karma points for making a half-assed effort.

Too many people make the decision lightly, like buying a new piece of clothing. Cute little bunnies at Easter, puppies and kittens under the Christmas tree. Try them on for size. If they don’t fit or they mess up your carpet, just return them for a refund or give them away to someone else. It won’t matter to them, after all. They’re just dumb animals. They’ll adjust to being passed around.

Cats are such partypoopers

Ottawa Citizen, February 25, 2010: Small pets may be excluded from airline cabins

Small pets could soon be banished from passenger cabins in Canada after the government agency overseeing consumer complaints ruled Thursday that some customers suffering from a cat allergy are disabled and must be accommodated.

The Canadian Transportation Agency ruled that three complainants are in effect persons with disabilities because the pet policies at Air Canada and WestJet allowing cats in aircraft cabins impact on their ability to travel by air.

That’s right, it’s all fun and games for the dogs until the cats ruin the party.

I’m allergic to cats. Extremely allergic to cats. But that doesn’t stop me from being owned by one.  My mother is even more allergic to cats. She has to dose up on antihistamines whenever I visit because I bring the cat hair fiesta with me, however much I try to remove it before visiting. Banishing cats from the cabins of airplanes really isn’t going to be all that helpful. How many planes have you been on where someone brought an animal on board with them? How about where someone who had a cat (or five) at home came on board? You don’t know (unless you’re really hyper vigilant) but I’d be willing to bet that it is significantly more. Are the airlines to ban cat owners from just being on flights? It’s the only way to guarantee an allergy-free flight for the allergic.

What I want to know is when they’re going to make the flights scent-free. Environmental allergies are an issue, too.  Can you picture the mandatory sniff inspection as you’re coming through security? Now, that I’d like to see.

Purring dogs

I met an absolutely sweet little dog in the elevator today.

The impeccably groomed 7-year-old Shih Tzu and her 3-year-old daughter were kitted out in matching plaid coats and were just coming in from their morning constitutional. The daughter would have nothing to do with me, but the mother was very friendly, in a genteel sort of way, an elegant canine ambassador.

And she purred.

I know. Dogs supposedly don’t purr — other animals besides cats do, but dogs aren’t supposed to. But this dog did…and a quick Google search on “do dogs purr” will show you comments from a number of people who are acquainted with purring dogs.

Do you know a purring dog?

Random thoughts

I seem to have the attention span of a squirrel these days so long posts are out of the question. So, instead, here are some bite-sized nugget, twitter-like posts. (I have some “real” posts partially completed but just don’t feel like finishing any of them right now.)

  • For the second time in my life, someone actually balked at calling me by my usual name (a fairly common and very benign diminutive form of my proper name) because it seemed too informal — the first person who balked (a potential writing client last year) said his wife wouldn’t like it if he put that name in his phone address book; this time, it was likened to calling someone “sweet potato” or “cutie pie”. What’s weirder is that they didn’t object to calling me by the preferred name when talking to me, but writing it down somewhere made it unprofessional. What planet am I living on?
  • I hate price-gouging international couriers. A friend sent a package to me from the US (a heavyish package, with some moderately rare items in it) priority mail and, because it had to go through a customs broker, cost me $50 plus the GST charges (instead of the $6 plus GST that Canada Post would have charged). It’s my own fault, but I’m still really pissed off.
  • Puking is more infectious — across all species — than almost anything else. Got woken up at about 1am last night (after only having been asleep for about an hour or so so I was all jittery and shaky when I woke up) to the sounds of a cat throwing up. Trying to cough up a hairball but only managing to barf up watery stomach contents. I still had to clean it up and it still smells like puke, even when there isn’t much of it. I was already feeling a little blech and that didn’t help. So I ended up having to fight my own stomach contents for the next half hour until I fell back asleep.

I created a monster

Letting my cat out to wander the hallways last week was a huge mistake. HUGE.

He now thinks he should be let out on demand, which is ALL the time. He used to do that years ago but I out-stubborned him on it and he gave up. Now I’ve gone and ruined everything.

I’ve had to barricade the bottom of the door — he’s already taken a piece out of it trying to claw the door open — but I don’t have anything that would block the entire door. So now he sits on the barricade, crying to be let out and trying to peel away the side of the door.

breaching_the_barricade

So the battle begins again.

Where is the line that you won’t cross?

Caught up in the fervor surrounding planned protests against the upcoming annual Atlantic seal hunt, an American friend of mine pinged me on IM tonight to tell me (among other things) that he was boycotting my (meaning Canadian, presumably, since I don’t personally have any) seafood. Me, I’m boycotting seafood because I don’t like it, which apparently wasn’t the right answer since he’s boycotting it in solidarity with animal rights activists. (What can I say? I gave up trying to protest the seal hunt years ago. I did try to organize a campaign while I was in high school to save the acrylics — Save Our Synthetics — but it didn’t  take off either.)

Now, understand. I’m not *for* the annual seal hunt by any stretch of the imagination. And I support animal activist organizations like IFAW, PETA, and even Greenpeace that protest all animal cruelty specifically because they protest it all. If I were a less lazy human being (or if I could find myself a nice vegan man who would be the keeper of my vegan conscience), I would be a vegan. Instead, I’m a hypocrite, protesting animal cruelty and exploitation while still consuming animal products in one form or another.

Tonight, though, I’m questioning why seals are more deserving of such massive global outrage when clearly the culling, hunting, slaughtering, and butchering of other animals isn’t. It can’t be because of the cuteness — lambs, calves, and bunnies are cute, too, but people don’t stop eating  them to protest. And it can’t be because of the numbers. What is 270,000 of any species when compared to the millions of individuals of countless species of animals across the planet that are culled annually because they become too plentiful and begin to encroach on human habitation? Abatoirs across the world drown in the blood of livestock bred, raised, and  slaughtered to feed and pamper us. I could go on: elephants slaughtered for ivory, bears killed for their gall bladders, so many species hunted to extinction or endangered status simply because some human society somewhere decided they were either lucrative or a pest.

Why does none of that garner the same attention, the same widespread righteous indignation that the seal hunt does? Why this one species, this one hunt? Why aren’t we as the so-called dominant species on the planet more horrified at our mistreatment of all living creatures, not just the photogenic ones? Slavery used be considered OK by many because some races of humans were deemed lesser creations than others. We know better now. What is our excuse when it comes to the other lives with which we share this planet?