Thursday, May 22, 2008

On the Preservation of Life

Psychedelic non-Asian religious art
"Gimme a break, Dalai Lama," squeaked my co-worker as I captured the spider in the Styrofoam cup and whisked it towards the door, towards freedom and safety.

The co-worker and I had both recently seen Brad Pitt as Heinrich Harrer in
Seven Years in Tibet--let's get the monks to do zomezing induztriouz und blonde, like digging a ditch! But--nooooo, the pajama boys work in slo-mo lest their spades bisect a worm. That's the stereotypical Buddhist ethic, and though I am not a Buddhist I'm often confused with one since I follow one of Those Eastern Religions Where They Chant, Worship Psychedelic Posters, and Don't Kill Anything.

And I do try not to kill anything...though I am too literal-minded to be a vegetarian:
I didn't snuff the chicken (nugget) or imprison the (veal) calf. My non-killing includes spiders and all manner of bugs and, yes-- worms, even the maggot that crawled out of the bird that Sophia, her son, and I buried after it had, a couple of days earlier, collided with a shed window. I mourned for the little fly larva's dislocation into a harsh new world of non-bird-innards; I worried that it would starve.

My non-killing is arguably not even a religious tic, since I've always been this way. I felt bad for bugs even as a kid--but no, not
always--since I do remember a time when, armed with my clear plastic bug-catcher, I scoured the grasses and shrubs in search of the velvet ant, the eyed elater, the wheel bug, only to clap the lid on when I found them and leave them in not-so-benign neglect until they perished.

How old was I then? 4, 5, 6--yet at some point in my childhood I remember a thought-tide that soaked me:
the old ways are wrong (was I 8?)... the bugs have to go free, and that the older kids who stomped on puffer fish they pulled up from crab traps were another, savage species. And that non-violent me has become "me," has replaced and superseded and overwritten all previous Kalibhaktas--and has made me feel pretty good about myself. I don't have to bear the guilt of the killers, but don't have to bear the silliness of the Vegans, either.

But becoming a part of Sophia's family is changing this. Her son, James, is 6 and at that bug-catching, stone-turning, frog-adopting age, the age of discovery. As his accomplice in many of his expeditions I've found myself faced with a choice: tell James to leave the caterpillar or the spider or the frog or the turtle alone (and interrupt his discovery of the world, his own search for the Mind underlying nature, and for his own Mind) or let him catch and maybe kill a worm or bug (and feel the guilt--but also feel the perspective, so speciesist but so irresistible: what is the life of one worm for a moment in the awakening of one boy?).

To embrace God is to embrace death, as part of the Plan, and for me it is also to embrace the awakening Self within everyone... the Self that stumbles over its alphabet until one day it can read
Five Little Ducks with no help; the Self that wonders why we must die; the self in whose inner Smithsonian resides a discarded chicken bone found in the Target parking lot...the Self who grows beyond childish things to see the Light beyond its inner horizon, the opening Eye in the triangle of the heart.

I don't mean to romanticize childhood (or death...or God...)...not that they need romanticizing... but James is my teacher in his approach to the creation, which he approaches
as a creation: why this? why that? --as if there are whys, which the 25-year-old me scoffed at but the 44-year-old me knows to be true. There are whys, and we're here to find them and because them, to discover and inhabit them. Chaos theory tells us that you can't unscramble an egg, and common sense tells us that to make an omelette you have to break a few eggs... and the dead face a better, evolutionary future, the Gita and other scriptures tell us... the dead bug and the dead Myanmar flood victim...and this may not make death any happier an occasion, but it shows us death's true role: Creator, Mother of beauty... James's awakening to his place in the world can only take place in the world, and the world, famously, notoriously, is soaked in death, soaked in the twinned essences of its bursting and withering blossoms, its knowing and unknowing leaves, its red and black, and sun and moon, and sex and death flowers...its cocoons and webs.

But who can know any of this? Who can know a cosmos without touching, without catching, without imprisoning or capturing some part of it, some part to compare to one's heart, some speck to press to the cheek of our intuition and feel its pulse, its kinship? We should let it go, lest it die, but our lives depend on the deaths of others, our histories as species or individuals rest upon mountains of dead...and we want to live and so we try to care for the worms, the spiders...the black widow Sophia let alone, that one that dwells in the water-meter cave in her front yard--she ordered Jim to steer clear and surely he will (the meter's also guarded by fire ants)... the web of danger, of mystery: our longing to embrace the world, our fear of being embraced...our deep sense that our life, our dear, close heartbeat, is but a brief breeze in some limitless sky.

(P.S. And now Sophia tells me that the meter reader will kill the black widow the next time he comes...and that she almost went out and got it... oh my god, the humanity-- or arachnidity, I guess... I'm reminded of the time--surely I blogged about this?? --
early one morning driving through north Texas, a not-yet-fully-launched radio station playing "Feliz Navidad" over and over and over though it was June, and the mist rising over the highway, and as far as the eye could see: turtles, turtles in their dozens and hundreds, each creeping across the road that was filling up with more and more cars, and thus more and more potentially crushed and suffering reptiles. I wanted to save every last turtle, and I squirmed in my seat as the car rushed on, but there was literally a turtle every few feet, and the road stretched for miles... there was no saving them even for a squadron of do-gooders. Eventually my Al-Anon kicked in and I understood: I am not responsible for every turtle in Texas; each of them has its own fate, as do I, each of us a star with its own path, twinkling in life or in death in the body of our great Mother Sky... )