Thursday, September 5, 2013

The New Year, Truth and the Leghorn

Photo by Lainie Fefferman
              Last night was the beginning of the year 5774 among the people I grew up with. As a child the very air felt different on the High Holy days, as though awe had reached us from a far place. I can still experience that specialness, and though I left that community for a different kind of life, I can still appreciate certain traditions. One of them is the practice known as Tikkun Midot - choosing a quality to pursue during the year.  Ever the rebel, I chose two - Truth and Authenticity - because I find it difficult to separate them.

         The lack of both truth and authenticity occur when we take on protective coloration, put on camouflage -when we behave like others in order to fit in. We may express opinions that aren’t really ours, or withhold them. Sometimes when I’m aware of that dishonest impulse I ask myself how far I’ve come from the conformity of high school during the 1950s.  I believe deeply in individuation - in developing one’s own Self, and there's the old To Thine Own Self Be True, which never loses its meaning - yet…..

       This morning I experienced that impulse.  On the front page of the Chronicle there was an article headed Animal Welfare. It's about an anonymous donation that allowed 1200 chickens that were about to be killed to be flown to the safety of sanctuary on the East Coast. What I learned in that article deeply effected me, and I immediately wanted to write about it - but my first thought was:
      “Chickens! Some of your readers are going to think 

       that’s really weird. And those people who run chicken
       sanctuaries are probably considered weird as well - 
       they probably don’t have Important Positions or Iphones, 
       or dress well......"
I was rather disgusted with my first thoughts, and I finally remembered Truth and Authenticity, so....

       The Facts of Factory Farmed Eggs:  Laying chickens are kept in tight wire cages with 8 other birds where they can’t lie down or turn around. Artificial lights are kept on 24 hours a day so they'll produce more 'jumbo' eggs. The feet of the leghorns are frayed from the wire cage bottoms, their wings torn from beating against wire. They are exhausted after 2 or 3 years, and no longer able to lay jumbo eggs, so they are gassed. It is not “economical” to keep them. 
       The truth is that I can’t bear to have any living being treated that way. I feel for them. I don’t care that they aren’t cute, like baby seals,  or capable of  inventing a better smart phone. I imagine someone, a voice from the community of my childhood,  saying "1500 humans were gassed in Syria, and you’re worrying about chickens?"

       I think about my former students who were very concerned with animal welfare. They seemed to have given up on humans - but I have not. It is true that my focus is often on the welfare of the entire planet, but I don’t think the plight of the chickens is separate from our own. I think that when we lack empathy  - when we make a person or an animal Other - we not only do them harm, but we harm ourselves. We are diminished.  We lose the ability to be  open-hearted. We lose the ability to feel how all life is connected, and  the pleasure that comes from that realization.  And that for me - that Open Heart - is the highest truth. Ibn al-Arabi said it best: 

"My heart has become capable of every form: A pasture 
for gazelles, a monastery for monks, a temple for sculptures, 
the Kabah for pilgrims, the scroll of the Torah, the book of the
Koran. I follow the religion of Love: whatever direction             Love's camels take is my religion; my faith. "    

Happy New Year!

1 comment:

  1. Leah, thank you for this post. I think you are right: When we come to view the life of a chicken as worthy as the life of a human, then we have come to be ethical citizens of the world. It would not be possible then to treat a chicken as a nonentity. And we could no longer tolerate "collateral damage" in our use of force with other nations. Sometimes I wonder if our sentimentalizing the domestic animals we keep for food (and this is a complicated subject) is an unconscious reaction to this mass exploitation of farm animals and the need to remember the divinity of all life. Perhaps only when we confront our violent attitudes toward animals witnessed by inhumane husbandry practices (and by our extractive attitudes toward the planet) will we be able to heal our relationships with each other.