Monday, December 15, 2014

I haven't consumed meat in 14 days. Here's why.

Spoiler alert:  My cat, Molly, passed away on December 1, 2014.

This face.  I miss it.

She'd become gravely ill back in October, while I was writing poems for Tupelo Press's 30/30 Project.  I took her to the vet, and he wasn't able to offer much hope.  He told me to take her home and keep her warm.  He wasn't sure she would make it through the night, and we agreed that she shouldn't spend what might possibly be her last hours in a vet hospital, alone. 

I took her home, tried to keep her warm, put out small plates of food everywhere, and bowls of water everywhere else.  She stumbled around, weak but pacing the floor like a dizzy old panther. 

Somehow, she recovered.

Over the next several weeks, I nervously administered something called "sub-q fluids" from a bag that hung from a wire clothes hanger that hung from the generically fancy light fixture that hangs in the dining room area of pretty much every apartment complex I've ever lived. I made near daily trips for cans of wet cat food, trying different flavors, different consistencies. I made trips to the vet for more bags of fluid, more tiny needles. I willed her better with my whole heart.  I ground my mind down to a fine dust thinking about her, her needs, her comfort every day. I consulted Facebook.  I consulted the entire Internet.  I consulted the vet over the phone.  I learned that recovery and improvement was not necessarily a sign for hope; it might just be something that happens over what can be a long, drawn out process of dying. 

Still, I hoped.  My own heart recovered when she did.  I delighted when she ate, and ate more. 

Then, suddenly, she stopped eating.  She replaced eating with mournful, hungry howls I'd never heard before.  That lasted over the weekend until Monday arrived and I called the vet.  I made an appointment, but ended up picking her up from the floor in a towel and rushing her to the vet early, where he assisted her in passing so that she wouldn't continue to struggle in pain for the half hour or so he estimated she had.  That's a kinder way of putting euthanized. 

On the way over, I kissed her and told her I loved her, so when the vet offered time alone with her, I didn't take it, I couldn't take it - I didn't want to see her as the product of a veterinary practice.  I wanted to remember her in the towel, in my arms. 

After coming face to face in a very personal, profound way, with an animal suffering - with my sweet Molly's suffering, and passing - I very suddenly became very clear about some things.

I no longer wanted, in any way - either directly or passively, through consumption - to participate in any animal's suffering. 

This is a personal conviction.  I am aware of and guarded about how personal it is. I believe that convictions are as diverse as skin color and language and habitat. I believe that all convictions are, and should be, personal. I believe that's the only way they really work.  I don't believe you can catch convictions from someone else, like you can catch a cold. 

Case in point, this isn't the first time I've put vegetarianism into practice.  Way back when I was in my senior year of high school, I stopped eating meat.  I'd been spending a lot of time with my cousin, who's only older than me by a few months, but my dynamic with her has always felt like that of big sister/kid sister.  She'd become a world-wise vegetarian-then-vegan activist who, through the sheer force of her own spirit and conviction, had first stunned then terrified then converted her entire nuclear family.  And me.  Probably several others.  She would be a very effective cult leader. 

With me, though, it didn't last beyond a few years.  The joke I've told people has been, "I got hungry."

I wasn't really vegetating vegetarianism.  My nutritional intake, if you can call it that, consisted primarily of carbohydrates and dairy.  Pasta, cheese, sugar.  All the good stuff.

I was thin. I was gaunt.  I was not healthy.

You can't maintain that for very long with the scent of iron-rich food sources wafting in the air around you. 

At the time, I really did feel very strongly about vegetarianism.  I felt so strongly that I was horrible about it.  I was one of those vegetarians.  You know the ones.  The passionate, self-sanctified ones with wildly fluctuating blood sugar levels and iron deficiency.  A nightmare.  (I'm sorry, Katie, for The Hot Dog Incident.  How could I have friends back then?  Thank goodness I have an otherwise winning personality.)

So it didn't last.  Eating meat felt like becoming human again.  And it was just so much easier.  And I could participate in mainstream culture again.  And I could better hide my "picky eating," which, I've learned, may be the result of a problem called Sensory Processing Disorder, a disorder linked to ADD and autism, not a deficit of character that makes me a worthless woman-child who deserves to be scolded by peers she barely even knows.  (Hey Jane, who's probably not reading this.  Before you consider bleating out like some horrid goat to a table of birthday celebrants that another person's diet reminds you of a four-year-old's, perhaps you should take a moment to consider your huge, loud mouth and how it might remind someone of a massive pie hole that needs to be shut. Thanks.)

I've always struggled with food, due also in no small part to the fact that I was not raised in a home where meals were cooked - from scratch or otherwise - and served.  My single mother did the best she could, which meant canned ravioli and fast food.  It doesn't exactly expand the palette, but I survived.  I'm alive.  I can't cook, but I'm alive. 

The evening of the day that Molly passed, I stopped at a Burger King on my way to an Al-Anon meeting.  That was the last time I consumed meat. 

I lay on the couch that night, tears rolling down my face and into my ears.  I was going over everything I had done wrong, everything I hadn't done right, every decision, every lack that might've cut Molly's life even one second shorter than it had to be. 

Here's something I've realized: I've never really bought into the idea of heaven. Certainly not the concept of streets paved with gold or milk and honey or forty virgins or everyone's very own mansion or restored youth and vitality and the return of lost limbs.  That's all ranked pretty high on my bullshit meter, right along with a bearded God and a blond Jesus and naked angel babies. 

So coming up with what heaven might be instead has been difficult for me. 

That night after Molly passed, however, something struck, and struck hard.

Perfection.  The idea of becoming perfected, a perfected spirit, and of what that means.

Do you know what that means?

That means no more guilt.  That means no more time spent roiling, wondering, worrying if you've done the right thing, if you're capable of doing the right thing, even if you know what the right thing is. 

No more guilt.  No more regret.  No more worry.

After weeks (let's be honest, after a lifetime) of nothing but the above trifecta, the idea of perfection, of no longer bearing the weight of guilt, of wrongness, suddenly dawned on me and I began to weep for the joy of what heaven might be even as the tears I'd cried for Molly and my worry over her were settling probably somewhere deep in the canal of my inner ear along with the funk of a whole life spent highly allergic to All Things. 

What relief.

Still, I'm here, on this earth, and I'm not perfect. 

Major.  Bummer.

Yet I can follow my convictions to the best of my ability.  I can follow my own personal path to the best of my ability.  That's about me and my soul, none other.

It's not about hot dog shaming your friend.  I've learned that now.

The conviction is personal this time.  Does that mean it will last forever, or even for longer than a few years?

I don't know.

The other day, I saw some vultures picking at a carcass on the road.  They were shooed away by passing cars only briefly before they flocked back and began using their beaks to pick up bits of flesh, of innards, of intestines.  It was vile and disgusting and disturbing and disrespectful. 

And it was nature.

In addition to the flippant "I got hungry" line, I've also used the carnivores of the animal kingdom to justify my own diet to myself.  Carnivores of the animal kingdom are merciless, and I cannot even watch the nature shows on PBS.  It's horrible.  Yet somehow my eating a hamburger was innocuous.  And related.  And justified. I'm an omnivore, that's all.  My molars say so, or something.  Evolution.  Hunters and gatherers.  Google it. 

Yet I am not a hunter.  I am not of the era where food, particularly protein, was scarce.  If I needed to hunt or slaughter or vulture my own meat, I doubt that I could do it.  I know I could not. 

That's conviction. 

Not everyone has that same conviction.  There are some who could, and do, slaughter an animal and consume the products of that slaughter and sleep at night. They are the tigers of this world.  Like Charlie Sheen, but with meat, not drugs.

Forgive this next statement:

I have no beef with them.

Again, this is a personal conviction. 

I've been benefiting from others' value system.  I've been allowing others to do the dirty work, work that I couldn't do from a mental and emotional standpoint, so that I can eat a nice, tidy burger.

I've come to believe two things:

1.) If I cannot slaughter it, I shouldn't eat it.  I am not a tiger.

* Note: I realize that it makes sense to rely on others to do things for you that you cannot do - I cannot possibly do everything - but I believe there is a difference in relying on others with more knowledge and/or greater physical competency than you to do things for you and having someone do something for you that your own mind/emotions/spirit/convictions will not allow you to do.

2.) Slaughter aside, animals are not being treated humanely in the current state of mass production, so even if I were okay with slaughtering an animal, or allowing someone to slaughter it for me, I am definitely not okay with animals living horrific, tortured, cramped lives.

In removing meat from my diet, I'm trying to be healthier about it this time around.  Removing meat from my diet has had the added benefit of giving me encouragement and courage to try new foods, new flavors.  I put spinach in my eggs this morning. (I'm not removing eggs from my diet - I am however choosing to purchase "free range" eggs.) I have plans to construct a bean burrito at some point. A bean burrito!

I miss Molly every day.  I thank her for the laughter she brought me, and the joy, and the thoughts about heaven, and the conviction.


Melanie said...

love you cuz. beautiful post. very sorry about Molly...yet proud to have made an appearance in your blog. ;-)

Amber said...

Thank you for reading! And thank you for having an influence on my life.