Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Taking Life

There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under heaven:

a time to be born, and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot
a time to kill and a time to heal.
               (Ecclesiastes 3:1-3a)

This week, the first of David's dairy goats birthed three kids: two bucklings and one doeling. They are as adorable as such things can be: cuddly, curious, pick-upable tender young things. Soft, curly-haired, small-faced and big-eyed. Tentative-moving, wide-stanced, toddling and learning fast.

David will keep the doeling, but the young males he will turn into goat-veal, so to milk their share of their mother's milk out for the humans here.

One of the things I've noticed about rural life is the euphemisms for killing animals.

We rarely say "kill," or "die." Most commonly, folks use that most euphemisable of verbs: "do."

"We're going to do our chickens Saturday."

"When are you going to do your hogs?"

"I like rabbits because if I have less than an hour, I can still do two or three."

Other, more honest terms are "butcher" and "slaughter." Then there is "process" - more specific than "do," and nice and clean and sterile.

But we don't like to say "kill."

Why not? Is it our shyness of Death? The same motivation that makes us say, "the dearly departed," "the deceased," "those who have passed on," but never "the dead?"

Or is it the human tendency to veil our violence? Is it like the double-speak of war? "Friendly fire," "casualty," "collateral damage" -  never acknowledging the victim with a name, a face and a voice.

I suspect both these tendencies have something to do with it, but there is something else in that halt, that pause we make when we verbalize our carnivorous ways.

In that delicate transition from animal to meat, we are touching a mystery. We care for these creatures we kill. Good farmers have genuine affection, real empathy for their animals. We must care for our animals in order to do the work of husbandry justice. 

And at some point, we kill them, to make way for the young they sire, and, more essentially, so that we can eat. To farm well, we care, and we kill.

This caring-killing stretches our language, even though the ritual is ancient.

I think I am going to start saying: "taking life." For that is exactly what I do. I take the life of living things into myself, where their life becomes my life. I take the life of rabbits, of trees, of potatoes and of pigs, of carrots and of cows, and their energy becomes my energy. It is life, and I do take it. They do not choose. I choose. I take.

I take lives; thus I live.


1 comment:

  1. Very thought provoking, Marcus. Such a tension to live within.