Who exactly is it out there that ponders a question like this in their spare time…Is it me…or you? Or is it many people being paid lots and lots of money to come up with a definitive answer as to what…exactly…constitutes “life”? Not exactly the “meaning of life”, a topic that Monty Python’s group had some fun with …but “life” …what IS living…itself. Perhaps it’s the poets waxing poetically about rebirth and new growth, the kind that happens in Spring? Maybe THEY are the ones who ask repeatedly…”What IS Life”? The flowers are alive again in Spring…some come back from deep under the ground where they’ve lay dormant all Winter, while others must be newly planted from seeds and then grow from seedlings once again. Animals get the urge to mate…Mother Nature makes sure that there will be a lot of procreation going on…enough so that a species need not die out…ever. Birds rush around gathering all sorts of odds and ends to make their nests…and then make them in every nook and cranny they can find? On top of my air conditioner, for instance? Not the most comfortable nesting ground at first glance…and yet…it is high up and away from predators …four legged “egg stealers” and “young baby bird” eaters. It is under the ledge that juts out from the roof…protected from rain and close enough to the house to be protected from extreme wind as well. It is sunny for a good part of the day…and the woman who lives in the house (me) provides water and bird seed in the back yard…just a hop, skip and a direct two second flight straight down. So maybe it is a pretty smart choice, isn’t it? Birds are like that…they figure things out. They make the best of whatever circumstances they have and then…make a nest!
Sea creatures like crabs and lobsters, scallops, clams and all the varieties of fish…they procreate too. Driven by the same urge that Mother Nature instills…to keep life going and growing. But there are predators that scoop up the young of these sea creatures in huge nets…because…of course…we humans love to dine on these delicacies…that are…in fact…”life” itself. We don’t really think of these creatures as “life” though…to “us” they fall under the much larger heading of “food”. Chickens, cows, lambs, pigs, tuna, salmon, and so many more examples of living entities…fall under our heading of “food”. We humans dine on such a variety of “life”, don’t we? But this blog is not a discussion on “meat eaters” versus “vegetarians” …NO…that is a whole other issue that deserves much more time…because it is complicated. What I do want to “discuss” here, is the sanctity of all life and living things….but I DO want to discuss “life” and “living things”.
We are taught, (most of us?), as children to have a certain respect for living creatures. We are taught by our parents (hopefully?), NOT to abuse animals, or torture other living creatures, because it is “wrong”. Of course, it might follow that those same parents will have to explain why… if it’s wrong to torture them, then how on earth could it be right to kill them and eat them? The answer, most people will revert to, is simply that “eating meat” is done for survival of the human species…and yet…that isn’t quite right, is it? Yes, there are certain things our human bodies need to remain healthy and functioning at maximum capacity, protein, for instance. Many folks argue that they eat animal meat for the proteins. Guess what? But I suspect that you already know this…proteins can be derived from a host of other sources that do not at all, involve animals. There are plants that have protein, like Kale and Broccoli. Beans also have proteins, as do peanuts. We can obtain any manner of fruit or vegetable, in this day and age, that our diet or palate craves. We can import (out of season) fruits and vegetables (and nuts) fro(almost) any part of the world…and we do just that! But we still don’t seem satisfied…we get bored eating the same things and are always looking for “something new” (and exciting?) to eat. People starving in third world countries don’t really have that problem…they could feast on what we throw out as garbage, on any given day.
It is our habits, that keep many of us eating diets that are very similar to those we ate growing up. Ingrained behaviors from when we were small to when we grew tall…these habits are hard to break (much like smoking), they are so much a part of us, that something just feels “off” when we try to reprogram ourselves. Then there is of course the attitude that we feel entitled in our society to eat whatever the damn hell we want to! As long as we can afford to eat what we want, where we want and how we want…who has the right to “preach to us” what we should (in good or bad conscience) eat or not eat? In fact, those of us who have “made it” in the world, and are successful with so much money that money has become no object? Those of us may even develop an appetite for the exotic…to please our newly refined (and spoiled) palates…we desire things like antelope meat, or Imu, or Giraffe? We want to experience the taste of eggs from fish that are so rare…that it may cost thousands of dollars to obtain them for us…to eat. Since money is no object…there will always be someone, somewhere, willing to undertake the task of getting to us…that which we want to deliciously savor in our eagerly anticipating mouths. Is this wrong?
I have, in the past few years, been finding much to be taken to heart in Buddhist teachings. The very concept of “Be kind…harm none”, has actually made my heart a little softer and my mind a little calmer. It also makes me view with different eyes…the human consumption of food…that is life…that is…for all purposes…defenseless against us. I somehow find it hard to believe that “we humans” were put here on this earth…and given permission to eat any other form of life that we choose to. It makes me laugh a little, when so called Science Fiction writers, write tales of alien beings coming to “our” earth, with the sole intent of feasting on our brains. What a delightful reversal of “they hunter becoming the hunted”. Why not? Why can’t that happen? If we can hunt any other living thing…and excuse ourselves with saying we “were hungry”? Or we “desired to taste a different kind of meat, or fish, or fowl…or whatever”, why shouldn’t an alien species say the same about us?
I won’t even try to suggest that there is an easy solution to the problem here. The problem being that so many of the earth’s creatures are being hunted to extinction. Those whose “meat” we are not shoving down our throats…we hunt for their horns of ivory or their mystical paws that have healing qualities, leaving the rest to rot like garbage on the plains, in the forest and in the oceans. If we had a collective conscience…could we do that? Shouldn’t more people be screaming STOP? Not just the poorly funded environmentalists? Not just World Wildlife Federation? The Audubon Society?…The Humane Societies that have the additional burden of tracking down humans who make a sport for amusement and profit…of having animals tearing each other apart. There are hundreds of Internet, non -profit organizations requesting signatures on petitions to stop all forms of “human madness”. Stop the exploitation of animals everywhere…and yes…even to stop the exploitation of “human animals”…for we are a unique race…in that we are even predators to our own species. Maybe there are voices screaming STOP…but there have to be more…because it is not LOUD enough! In order to preserve the LIFE/Lives being needlessly squandered… there has to be more volume to that collective “SCREAM”…or else…we will go the way of “lost civilizations” before us. The imprint we leave on a desiccated planet…will be an ugly one indeed.
Teaching our children about life…is where it starts. They need to know that all they see going on around them, isn’t necessarily good and right. They need our voices (parental voices, teachers voices) telling them what is right and/or wrong!
Take for instance this scenario…
A family goes on vacation…they have two young boys. It is a seaside vacation and the boys play in the surf and discover…of all beautiful miracles…a “fry” of seahorses…babies…floating in the surf. How wonderful to share this beautiful example of life with a child. The youngest boy, about three years old, exclaims…”pretty” seahorses! But the older boy, about six years old, wants to “catch them” in a bucket. He is so excited, that the father allows him to do that. The boy is mesmerized by the tiny seahorses, each intricately detailed and delightful to look upon. When it is time to leave the beach…the young boy does not want to let the fry go…he refuses to put them back in to the ocean. (Now, you are probably thinking…the damage was done when the seahorses were taken out of the water, for whatever parental units were standing by…were long gone. But actually, seahorses are left to fend for themselves from pretty early on. Many of them DO become “fish food” for larger fish. However, ….returning them to the ocean…would have been the right lesson to teach on this day). The family goes back to their hotel room, the boy, with bucket in hand…now has two tiny “fry” pets to care for. We all know that babies…of any species…need to eat…don’t they? So what do the baby seahorses eat? Do you know? I don’t…and neither did this child’s parents. The fry floated around in the bucket for all of two whole days. The young boy played with them and watched them…and as young boys do…fell a little bit in love with HIS baby seahorses…and then they died. You knew that was coming…didn’t you? The parents HAD to know that was coming as well…but they did not want to disillusion their little boy or ruin his pleasure with such facts of LIFE.
The young boy was very sad when HIS seahorses stopped moving. He cried and he asked his parents, “Why did they die, even though I loved them?” The father explained that the seahorses probably missed their mommy and daddy so much…that they did not want to live without them. The child replied, “Did they go to heaven?” The father replied, yes, the baby seahorses went to heaven to be with God and all the other baby seahorses that didn’t make it here on earth. The child then wanted to know…”If I go to heaven, will I be able to see the seahorses again?” The father told him yes…but that probably won’t happen for a very long time. Sounds like a pretty deep conversation about “life” and “death”, doesn’t it? It also proves that children can understand a lot more than we sometimes give them credit for. Had that same child, been told “no”, when he wanted to fish those sea horses out of the surf…perhaps the conversation would have…could have(?) been more positive. The father could have told him…”Son…those baby seahorses have a mommy and daddy, and sisters and brothers…just like you do. If you take them and put them into the bucket…you are taking them away from their family and away from their home. Those little seahorses can’t live right now, without their parents…they are like you and your brother…they need help finding things to eat, they need to be protected and they need to be loved by their family. So we will leave them where they belong…because they do not belong to US. Maybe the boy would have been disappointed…maybe he would have cried…even caused a scene? But the larger picture would have been a lesson of LIFE that perhaps, he would never forget?
What of the butterflies we let the children catch in their nets and then keep in glass jars till they suffocate? The beauty of butterflies can be appreciated from a distance as can the delight of fireflies…they don’t have to be “caught” to bring us pleasure. They should not be caught at all since they are really not “ours” to own. Ant farms trapped under glass? Earthworms in cardboard boxes? Most of these critters have short lives when our “little darlings” forget that their new pets need air and food and water. Why not just teach our children the beauty of nature and observing rather than “capturing” life?
ALL LIFE DESERVES TO LIVE. We do not have sole dominion over others…we seem to want to and need to be the superior race. We claim our intelligence and our souls set us apart from other life forms…and yet…it makes me wonder when I see what is going on in this world of ours? Intelligent beings do not act like we act…compassionate beings do not commit the atrocities that we must view in the News every day, read about in the newspapers and have flung at us over the internet. Something HAS gone wrong in “our” programming…and there are days that this thought weighs heavy on my own mind and soul. I can only hope (and pray) that their is a Divine Plan…and things are going according to it. Perhaps each life that is lost, here on earth, is a lesson that we must learn. Those of us that are able to understand the lesson…we move a bit further toward enlightenment? I just hope that the lives that are “chosen” for suffering, pain, abuse, torture and death by all means of horrible…I hope those “souls” are rewarded righteously when they arrive at their destination. I hope the pain is erased from their “being” and that they are like “flashes of beautiful energy in the sky”…shooting stars that have “passed the test of endurance above and beyond the call of duty” and are now eternal forms of a “different” life…up there in that wide expanse of universe…
WHAT IS LIFE?
Good question indeed.