On taking a life

Would you take a life?

The wind gusted as I arrived home, violently shaking the lermucia and eucalypt alike. The day had been still, hot and I had not been gone long, yet the atmosphere was vastly different to the one I left. I walked through my room, change a light bulb, and headed out onto the deck of the pool. The owner has thrown a lot of chlorine in there today and I want to check that it has dissipated. Actually I have no real reason to go out there, I have no end of other tasks to do, but this one seems to call to me, just as it had yesterday.

Yesterday, in the same scenario, I came out to find a black snake caught in some netting that hangs over the rocks by the pools edge. I sat with the snake for two hours, on and off, and then assisted the snake handler to remove him. My senses, although usually pretty keen, are particularly wary in this space today.

It doesn’t take long to see it. A rat. It is still and leaning against a hose. It is wet. My guess is it has fallen into the pool, the chlorine level being lethal to a beast this small. One of its eyes is black and swollen out of its head. Ants are swarming around it and I can see flies crawling on its belly. It has been here for some time I think. Suddenly its body convulses and settles into a slow regular breath. It is not dead, not yet. 

I sigh heavily as i know what must be done. There’s a knot in my stomach. To leave it now, to turn my back and walk away, pretend I never saw it, is simply not possible. It would be an insult to the animal yes, but it would be a far greater insult to myself. An insult to who I am and who I wish to be, to my ancestors and to the future generations. 

I dig a small hole under the lemon tree. I push the rat onto the shovel, it’s blind and beaten body still protests against the unseen hand of his Grim Reaper. His limbs, clearly in pain, still react to fend off the inevitable. Lofted on this chariot he is gently guided into the cool hole prepared for him and him only. He huddles there. I wonder if he has found comfort or perhaps is now wanting it. It will come to him. 

“From the day we are born until the day our bodies pack it in and we shuffle off this mortal coil, we are involved in a struggle. The great struggle of life. Your struggle is now at an end, little friend. Your pain will pass. There will be no more suffering.”

With that I stand, take a breath and then bring down the scythe that is the edge of the shovel onto the rats neck. And again. And again. And again. There will be no more suffering. 

And just like when I hunt an animal, a little part of me dies with it. Were the words I spoke for the rat or for myself? Was the comfort I sensed just a part of my psyche, dawning with the awareness that it will be severed from its pain soon enough?

I bury it and pack the earth. No being deserves to suffer like that. I cant help but draw the analogy between the rat and us. Of all the pain we cause ourselves as humans when we near the end of our lives, when we are in pain from the burning chemicals of our world. The Dr Frankenstein of modern medical science, re animating corpses, bringing back those who are ready to leave. We have created our own purgurtory in which we must linger, and suffer. Robbed of our power to exit this existence in our own time, with our own dignity. It begs the question of me: Had I the choice, with a human, would I? Could I? A question I’ll not be able to answer.

But I can answer it with animals. It appears with increasing frequency in fact that I must answer this with animals. Over the past few months I have encountered many animals in various stages of distress. Some I’ve had to help, some I’ve had to leave to their own fate, some I was too late for and some I had to end their lives. All of them though I did not turn away from. All of them I stopped the car for, sat in sun or rain for, sometimes even risked my life for. I know I’m not alone, there are others who stop and help animals. I wonder though, how many of us are willing to take an animals life. 

I understand the reluctance, I mean it’s not an easy thing to do. It’s emotionally traumatic. In fact if you don’t find it hard I feel you should perhaps go have a chat with a psych. But it’s also an integral part of life. Avoidance of the pain around death will not alleviate it. It will not make death go away. In our culture, with our obsession with looking young and our treatment of our elders as lepers, all stemming from an avoidance of death, it is still there. It still binds us all with a common thread. It truly may be the only ‘oneness’ that is absolutely common to all life. 

There is a level of intimacy that is formed around death. A bonding of those involved, differing from yet similar to the intimate bonds created around birth, sex and many other formal or informal rites of passage. Yet we are still so very avoidant of anything to do with death that we miss out on this. Perhaps this is a place were we can ‘leap forwards’ as a society. Our culture has seen many revolutions in the recent past: Sexual and gender based liberation, equality movements and revolutions, so perhaps our next step is to open up the conversation about death. Perhaps we need a Death liberation. 

So, how comfortable are you with thought of taking a life? If you’re uncomfortable, why are you? What is your relationship with death?