August 1, 2014

Another Death in the Family

It’s an unending, relentless grief.

And its triggers come in very obvious, sometimes subtle, sometimes out-of-the-blue ways. Literally. They leave me with a bottomless depth of crippling sadness. You know the one I mean.

The obvious: the pig factory I quietly got into. I wanted to try out my new video camera in such a din of a place. It picked up the light well, exposing the spots of pigmentation in the sow’s skin just beneath the brush of almost translucent hair. The pink tongue as she opened her mouth and bit incessantly at the bars of her prison. The white rim outlining her eye as she rolled it carefully in my direction, wary, helpless. Pleading, may I say? And at my mercy. At the mercy of human beings — creatures who, obviously, aren’t capable of mercy — or she wouldn’t have been there in that coffin-sized crate, living out her life in the barren, clinical, stench-filled warehouse into which she herself had been born. An existence we wouldn’t sentence even upon psychopaths whose crimes are too hideous to revisit.

Through the viewfinder, from the whites of her eyes, into my soul she grabs me. And I know in that second, in that awfully tragic glimpse of a moment in which she connects with me, from a loneliness surpassed only by her perpetual frustration, that she will never let me go. Like that harp seal pup of my youth, squirming in the bloody throes of dying. Like the bull in the inescapable arena, down on his knees, coughing up blood to a cheering crowd. Like that bludgeoned, boiled-alive white cat still trying to escape the skinning.

The dead are never buried for those of us who work to defend the weak against the strong. For they die over and again, every day in obvious ways, leaving us with this unending, relentless grief. You know the one I mean.

The subtle triggers: “So you’ve been inside a slaughterhouse? How gruesome. Still, I don’t think it would affect me the way it’s affected you. It’s probably really unpleasant, but I could handle it better than you could, I think.” They are stronger, in other words, not weak, too sensitive, or so easily moved by their emotions.

A volume of dialogue swims in my mind. The grief has me in its grip and I’m unable to articulate. Why am I left so impotent? It is hours later that the answer emerges. I realize it is incredibly easy to imagine the inside of a slaughterhouse and not be so affected by it — for the human grasp is limited. It can’t hear the sound of a large animal pushed against its will into a kill chute, its frantic struggles, the reverberating pop of the captive-bolt pistol, the heavy thump to the floor, the kicking against metal, the groaning of the dying, the screech of pulleys and chains, the hydraulic release hiss, the splashing blood, like water from a garden hose hitting cement. It can’t smell the stench of manure and sweat, blood and putrefying flesh and organs. It can’t feel the absolute fear, panic, terror. It can’t know the absolute will of each and every life to desperately, frantically, vainly hold on.

The human mind can’t imagine the inside of a slaughterhouse; it is something one can only experience — and it is utterly shocking. The so-called strong also can’t understand that the dead are never buried. Only the soul, not the mind, connects with those who have gone and are still passing from this world into the next in unbelievably — and unimaginably — horrendous ways. They die over and again, every day, in subtle, hidden ways, leaving those who are true to their hearts with an unending, relentless grief. You know the one I mean.

From out-of-the-blue: The crying honks of geese overhead, in formation, headed north. Hundreds of them wing homebound as I stare spellbound into a perfectly crisp blue sky. They are the reminder of a force greater than any human ambition or weapon. The powers that are. The birds take me with them on a journey that transcends miles, and I am filled with the most pristine joy, conceived by the immaculate connection to all that is, has been, will be, right there, from out-of-the-blue.

And, then, just like that, I begin to sob, and the winged formation blurs behind the tears in my eyes. For they are there, all around us, in the fields and the sky and the oceans, crying out their souls, answering — unheard — that age-old question that we’re not alone. And I think we will only be satisfied with that answer when the very last one of them has been blasted every which way into extinction: the passenger pigeons and dodo birds, the rhinos and elephants, the big cats and snail darters, the Dusky Seaside Sparrow, who left — forever — in my lifetime, not long ago.

The dead are never buried.

They die over and again, every day, in out-of-the-blue ways, leaving me with this unending, relentless grief.

You know the one I mean.

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