By Karen Davis, PhD,
President of United Poultry Concerns
Teaching English at the University of Maryland some years ago, I launched a magazine of student writings called Impetus. Two autobiographical essays in particular are etched in my memory. “My Last Visit to the Circus” describes a child’s delight in the circus – “a fantasy land come true to me.” The story told by Wai Lee is of fantasy land transformed to a horror show that she as a child of seven stumbles upon by accident. Though she misses seeing the miserable life of elephants and tigers chained out of sight, she catches a traumatizing glimpse of meanness and squalor in one of the tents, just feet away from the glamour. Explaining her feelings of shock and betrayal, she writes that for her, “The circus was no longer a paradise; it was a nightmare.”
“Crossing the Line” is about a 13-year-old boy’s confrontation with a challenge he’s been dreading for weeks. “For generations,” Brian Kehoe writes, “it had been a tradition on my father’s side of the family to take the male children on their first hunting trip when they reached the age of thirteen.” He describes the anguish he feels at the thought of having to aim a gun at an animal, mixed with his fear of disappointing his father if he refuses to kill.
When the dreaded moment comes, at his father’s behest, Brian aims his rifle at a large brown rabbit. In a split-second decision in a turmoil of emotions, instead of hitting the rabbit, he misses and the rabbit runs into the woods. On their way home that evening, his father hits another rabbit with his jeep and keeps driving, but Brian, seeing the wounded rabbit on the road and perceiving that “his eyes were still full of life,” screams at his father, “Stop the jeep! Stop it! He’s still alive.” The boy jumps out of the moving jeep, and looks down: “The rabbit was there, lying on its side, its back broken. I stared in horror as it pawed weakly at the air with all four feet. Its eyes were wide with terror and agony.” Brian mercifully kills the rabbit and heads back to the jeep, “crying my brains out,” he wrote.
A transformative moment in our lives is when a romantic, idyllic, pleasurable occasion that we have loved or taken for granted as good, normal and necessary is revealed as ugly, needless, brutal and bad. Another inimitable moment is when something that we dread and know to be wrong puts us to the test: Will we succumb to the pressure to do a bad act in order to please our friends, family and community? Will we conform to a pattern cut out for us by others in order to avoid the hassle of social conflict? When the moment to decide arrives, will we rebel against convention and take our stand?
Growing up in a Pennsylvania town, I went happily to the circus with my family never dreaming that the costumed elephants balancing on their heads was a scene of profound animal cruelty, degradation and misery. Even less aware was I then that the hotdogs I ate at the circus and at picnics were made out of animals, and that a hotdog – like the circus itself and the typical daily dinner plate – is a form of hell hidden in plain sight. Later joining the animal rights movement, I discovered many atrocities behind the scenes that required me to make radical changes in my life.
As far back as I can remember I have always loved birds, dogs, rabbits and all animals. I have always hated the suffering of a helpless creature. When our neighbor’s pet duck was hit by a car in front of our house, I literally got sick over it. Learning about the Nazi concentration camps and Stalin’s death camps in college, I became so ill that I dropped out of school. A few years later, I naively visited the Gulf of St Lawrence to see the newborn harp seals on the ice with their mothers only to encounter seal clubbing going on. So terrible was the experience that for ten years I stayed away from any hint of animals being tortured by humans.
But compassion without courage doesn’t count. To count, we have to do something about what we learn and how we feel about it. We have to say No to the circus and to shooting a pigeon or a rabbit to please our dad. We have to reject a system that says “God” is against gay marriage and racial mingling and single mothers and showing other creatures the love and respect that all beings with feelings deserve. We have to stop treating the natural world like our personal garbage disposal. We have to put life affirming decisions and loving gestures in place of hurtful and destructive ones, once we become aware and realize that we care.
The Interconnectedness of Life by Michael Lanfield that you are about to read will strengthen your resolve to make brave choices, including a decision to be and remain vegan. Increasingly we are learning that being vegan will benefit the earth, other animals, and millions of people who are starving and sick in part because their land is being used for purposes that our species needs to shun if we truly cherish life and our planet. The Interconnectedness of Life offers opportunities for growth and joy that stand ready for revelation, sharing and affirmative action. Let there be change and let it begin with me. Now is the perfect moment to take a Giant Step.
Purchase The Interconnectedness of Life as an e-book or in paperback at www.weareinterconnected.com
A perfect gift for the holidays and all days.