It comes and it goes: violence, peace, hatred, love. I can and I can’t live without it, the television news, I mean. I shut it off and I feel alienated from the outside world, from all those things I can do something about to make this place better than the way I’ve found it. But I leave it on and it turns my stomach, breaks my heart and shatters my spirit. I would have made a perfect anthropologist or archaeologist: I love the puzzle of our past, of Earth’s past, of the great cosmos — where and why did it all begin? — and of what lies beyond the present. So I’m fascinated by black holes and the speed of light. I’m awed by that brilliant light in the sky, the moon, and I marvel at how an elephant herd changes the entire African landscape, providing the elements for other life forms to exist.
But I am truly puzzled by this great ape, Homo sap. It has lost its way. Or never had one. Perhaps we were dropped off here by a superior intelligence, now enjoying what was once our home planet because we are just plainly unable to coexist anywhere. A mutated, malfunctioning life form, something from off the pages of the science fiction thriller. The Andromeda Strain.
It’s a felony for a man to beat up his neighbor’s wife, but only a misdemeanor if he beats up his own. Change the channel: millions of young girls in African countries are physically mutilated, their entire sexuality stolen from them, they are raped the ultimate rape for a patriarchal ideal. Next station: CNN anchors laugh at the awkward ostrich while innuendos abound of their demise as a “new meat” in the United States. “These birds can’t hide their heads in the sand any longer.” I fax CNN headquarters: It isn’t enough that animals give their bodily secretions, their young, and their very lives for an unnecessary industry that feeds on animal flesh, but we’ve got to make fun of their grisly fates along the way. What’s the matter with us?
We are sick, some of us. Most of us. Somewhere along the way, our priorities got turned inside out and upside down. Or maybe, and this is where I try to give us the benefit of the doubt, we never had them straight to begin with. I have to believe we haven’t. It’s the only way I can turn out the light at night and put my head onto a soft pillow without losing my mind.
I know, I know, turn off the television. Let it go. These atrocities have been practiced for eons. You do what you can and you’ve got one life to live so don’t waste it on the misery of others.
But for the life of me, I can’t. I can’t let it go. I had something to say about the lobster who was mutilated and fried in a pan while it was still alive to entertain viewers of The Today Show. I had something to say about the dogs being bludgeoned and electrocuted and eaten in South Korea and about the horses who are cruelly tripped in Charro rodeos and then slaughtered for eaters of horse in Japan and France and about that new commercial for the alcoholic beverage Zima in which more human beings poke more fun at dead and dying animals by pretending to give their drink to a dead fish on the barbecue grill. Ha. Ha. Everybody laughs. Well, almost everybody.
Last year, I rescued a horse from the killers. He’d been abused and physically scarred for life in the Charro rodeo ring, a five-year-old Arabian gelding I named Shilo after a Neil Diamond song by the same name, one he wrote about his only dependable friend. Shilo was less than 24 hours away from being loaded onto a cattle truck bound for a Texas slaughtering plant. He bucked in his stall that night I brought him home. He slammed the door repeatedly with his chest until I thought either one would bust wide open.
I cried for him. His heart was broken and his spirit was shattered. The way mine were. I promised that, if I could do anything with my life, I would help him heal. I sang songs to him, his song, and we took long walks and I gave him big horse hugs, and now when I walk into the stable, you can tell Shilo’s voice from the other horses because he whinnies a greeting so loud and so piercing it chokes me up to this day, a year later, whenever I hear him. He gives me back what I have needed to heal: liberated moments, those momentary escapes into beauty and poignancy and love, the ones my mentor, Ed Duvin, described to me, and they are so powerful that, although they come so few and far between admist the violence and the hatred and the suffering, they are inspiring to us enough to pick up the pen and fight another day.
Yesterday, I turned off the news and I shut off the computer and I exhaled a long and draining day and took a ride out to the stable. Shilo was waiting for me, at the edge of his paddock, staring in my direction from quite a distance until I was close enough to be recognized as me and not just another visitor and his cry of welcome rang through the growing dusky afternoon. I forgot about mutilated girls and suffering Rwandans and brutally killed lobsters and I felt love press so hard from inside my chest I thought it would burst.
We communed for a while and then I let him out to graze, just outside the open gate to his paddock, while I cleaned his stall and scrubbed his water bucket. He loves to eat grass, you see, and because he’s a horse, I think that’s something he should do whenever possible, wouldn’t you agree? I washed his dessert dish, the one I fill with alfalfa meal and molasses, with sweet grain and carrots, and with apples. He’s grazing nearby, ignoring me, lost in his horse world.
Or I think he’s ignoring me. I place his dish back in the stall and go into the feed room for his can of grain. I find the carrot bag and the apples and I put them all into a bucket to carry to his dish. When I emerge from the room, he’s no longer grazing outside his paddock — the way he loves to do. He’s gone back through the gate, into the rear of his stall, and he’s standing now at its front, just inside the door which is wide open, his head sticking out and his gaze patiently on me. He’s waiting like a little boy in a candy store. He makes me laugh, from way down deep, this boy who used to buck in his stall, thinking of it as home now, a place of safety and love and warmth.
I helped him find that place. A liberated moment.
It is nighttime now and I’m closing yet another issue of The Animals Voice Magazine — thanks to all of you: what we can all do for bears pitted against dogs, cats butchered for the dissection trade, pregnant mares tethered in stalls like calves raised for veal, the rapid disappearance of species in the rainforests, and I’m aware again of suffering animals in laboratories and livestock yards and steel-jawed leghold traps, of human babies mutilated by man-made wars, of cancer taking its toll. I dim the lights, my lap top computer screen and a dozen candles burning away the darkness. Singer Tracy Chapman low on the stereo: “Hunger only for a taste of justice. Hunger only for a world of truth. Because all that you have is your soul.” Amen.
I lift my gaze. An eight-week-old kitten I have rescued is lying in the middle of the carpet. She unexpectedly returns my gaze, the most blue and innocent eyes I have ever seen. I look at her untroubled expression, study the way she is pondering me, the way the orange candlelight reflects on her long creamy colored fur. She has the tiniest paws, her little tail curled around her frail body. A liberated moment, given to me by the essence of innocence, right here, right there, in this room with me, the whole big wide world out there without her knowing, and she is simply wondering about me.
But it is only a moment.
A powerful one.
Enough of one to keep going, to keep fighting the good fight.