Originally posted on May 30, 2015…
I admit it. I have a visceral fear of creepy, crawly, slimy, slithery, many-legged, or unusually-shaped body things. I’m talking centipedes, spiders, snakes, scorpions, eels, squid, octopi. It probably didn’t help that my brother, joking around one day, pretended to drop a ten inch long earthworm down the back of my dress. I felt it writhing down my back. But I never found the worm, despite a frenzied dance to shake it out. I was ten. Before that, earthworms fascinated me; I would dig them out of the ground and have a good long look at their amazing strangeness. I wondered about them. After that day, they repulsed me.
The goings-on at Girl Scout camp each summer probably didn’t help either. The black widow spiders in the latrines we had to clean. Some mischievous girls putting centipedes in the sleeping bags of other girls. I don’t recall counselors ever helping us appreciate the creatures we were co-existing with. The counselors were 18-ish, and as former campers, were probably squeamishly averse as well.
I remember finding a spider in my bedroom when I was about 15. I screamed, in that over-the-top-girly way I’d taken on, for my father to come and kill it. He did come in my room and killed it, but also called me an “idiot” for my dramatic expression of fear. He might have said some other things, but “idiot” is all I heard.
I always wished I wasn’t afraid. It’s a visceral thing for me, ever since the earthworm incident. But even before that I was deeply afraid of spiders. I do love animals. It’s not like I can’t see their beauty and worth, even in the ones I would consider terrifying in a one-on-one encounter.
I’m a great admirer of the late Steve Irwin, who was such a great, if unusual, example of how we might be in relationship with animals. How we might love, value, appreciate them, work on their behalf. I follow with interest his daughter Bindi’s lack of fear and real affection for wildlife, her blossoming into a young woman with a strong sense of interconnectedness, kindness and respect for living things, her confidence and ease in the world, her desire to serve.
The U.S. kills over 10 billion land animals every year to feed people, and another 20 billion marine animals. World-wide, close to 59 billion animals are killed in slaughter houses each year.(This doesn’t include animals killed in laboratory experiments (100 million/year), the fashion industry (50 million/year), and the list goes on. The numbers are so large, so appalling, I can’t really fathom the concept, let alone the reality under which these animals live and die. I’m a vegan wannabe. It was my daughter, Anna, who got me thinking about animals as sentient beings we shouldn’t kill. She was a vegetarian for twenty years (starting at age 14) before becoming a vegan a couple of years ago.
I’m a pescatarian. This morning I discovered that Maria Popova of the very wonderful “Brain Pickings” is also a pescatarian. That made me happy. I felt in good company. She did a little piece on octopi. In it she wrote about the octopus: “More than one of our planet’s most breathtaking creatures, it is a life form a biologist [said]… is ‘probably the closest we’ll get to meeting an intelligent alien’ — and yet… one we murder with such devastating inhumanity that I couldn’t help but cringe at the very thought of having once considered it a favorite food.” See the whole Brain Picking post here.
And this article in the New Yorker, which is both fascinating and, induced in me the “ethical heartburn” it mentions.
There was an awesome short video on Facebook last week (which sadly I can’t find now). The octopus was walking on the beach, not slithering, walking! And carrying a little coconut shell boat that when he reached the water, he set down and climbed in. The video was amazing, and if I can find it, I’ll post it here. Seeing the octopus walk blew me away. I mean, who knew? It makes me want to take another look at all my assumptions, of which I’m sure there are many. Even though I’m 67, I still have my “issues” — personal and political, foremost of which is worry about how people treat each other (and the other animals) and the planet.
Still it seems I have hope. Hope that I can become a vegan, hope that I can be more curious and brave than I am fearful, hope that we humans can treat each other and the animals so much better than we too often have. This is a lot of hope to hold in the face of a lot of odds. I feed myself inspiration as often as I can to nurture that hope (and its manifested results) along. Some of that inspiration comes from people I don’t know. Some of it comes from people I do. Friends, who inspire me with their care and love for this world.
In the late 60s, in the Women’s Liberation Movement, we used to say that “the personal is political”. What I’m talking about here is personal; it’s also political. How we treat octopi, each other, and ourselves. How we might do it all creatively, respectfully, compassionately. Every bit of all of it, down to the last earthworm. It would probably be a good idea to re-consider many of our long-held assumptions ~ about earthworms, octopi, all of the various “others” we fear.