If I think I am supposed to be doing anything but what I am doing now, I’m insane.
Byron Katie, A Thousand Names for Joy
Yesterday I watched a 2 hour documentary called What a way to go: life at the end of Empire. It was impressive and upon finishing it my thought was ‘I should be doing something, but what can I do?’ I followed an impulse and sent it off to several people amongst who was my daughter, daughter-in-law, four eldest grandchildren (they can do something) and a dear cousin. My cousin wrote back: “Just like what the bearded man with a sign standing on the street corner says in fewer words: REPENT, THE END IS NEAR.” She also said that she preferred optimism reminding me that I do too. My daughter-in-law wasn’t much more grateful: “Now I won’t sleep tonight” was her comment. Great! As for my grandchildren, hopefully they took one look at the length of the documentary and decided not to watch it because if not I might have just ruined their lives and thrown them into the arms of the drug cartels. Why, I ask myself, did I not question my decision to do something before doing it? So today, as a way of mending the roof after the rain has poured in, I will question.
According to the documentary, the whole problem began when we stopped being hunter-gatherers and began exploitation agriculture (that isn’t what it was called in the documentary, but it will serve) which promoted population growth which required cheap energy to transport food which stimulated technological solutions which favored more and more agricultural production and food distribution and population growth… anyway, you get the picture. So… I should do something, is that true?
I look around. I am writing this on a computer (a big one) to which I have connected an I-phone (charging), a home phone, a printer and, of course, a mouse and keyboard (wireless). I am sitting at a glass and aluminum desk made in China on a chair that probably comes from Korea. Nothing I am wearing was made in Salies-de-Béarn, and although some of the alimentary products I consume today supposedly come from local producers, they still arrived in the market in a vehicle propelled by gasoline or, at best, diesel fuel. Oh yes, two things! Wow! Today I will eat some “verdolagas” (purslane) picked in a field behind my apartment building and yesterday I gathered some figs (before I used to steal them but I met the owner and he invited me to take all I wanted in the future) from a tree at a nearby house (the branches stretch out over the street, so I presumed it was an offering) and had them for dessert. I often pick blackberries from the brambles along the road. All this pertains to the “hunting-gathering” possibilities in my life, which are –in my case- only gathering. I am absolutely conscious of the fact that if I had to kill anything myself, I would have become a vegetarian long ago. I’ve known this since I was thirteen and went hunting with my father. He used to hunt duck at the Tres Palos Lagoon near Acapulco and when I had been duly trained in the use of a small (20 gauge) shotgun, he invited me to go with him. I was so excited. At five a.m., dressed in shorts, a blouse and sneakers I jumped aboard our jeep and off we went to the Lagoon. Even standing in knee-deep water among the rushes and the cattails feeling little somethings crawling up my legs (probably bubbles from the sneakers) was acceptable when I shot my first duck and was warmly congratulated by my father. But then I shot another one almost right above my head, and when it fell to the water I saw it was wounded by still alive. I knew from experience what I had to do: grab the duck by its head, swing it around brusquely and break its neck. I understood this was to stop its suffering and actually the most humane thing to do seeing that I was the cause of said suffering. So, I bravely strode through the marsh water, grabbed the poor duck by the head and… it was warm, moving, its eyes were open, its feathers still beautiful. I tried lamely to swing it the way I had seen my father do, but the horror of hurting the animal wouldn’t allow me to do it forcefully enough to actually kill it. The duck was suffering, I had no doubt and, by that time, so was I. I did the only thing that occurred to me, dunking the poor bird under the water and placing my heavy aluminum shell box on top to drown it. I was miserable; there was no joy, no victory, no pride in what I had just done. I have never again gone hunting, never again shot an animal, although none of this ever stopped me from eating duck dinner from my father’s cache.
Come to think of it, fishing is about the same. I used to go fishing with my father and that was fun. Later, we’d take the fish home and my mother would cook it or make “ceviche” and I could eat that without any qualms. Fish are cold and even though their desperate flapping around in the bottom of the boat would sometimes make me uncomfortable, I really didn’t feel the way I had upon grabbing the duck’s warm, pulsing neck. And then something happened that ruined fishing for me too. We were doing deep-sea off the Acapulco coast, and my father hooked a beautiful Dorado (mahi-mahi), a golden green fish that can weigh 20 kilos or more, and makes for delicious eating.
Up to that moment, the saddest thing about hooking a Dorado had been to watch its beautiful coloring turn dull brown as the creature died, but that day there was something else. While my father was taking the hook from the fish’s jaw, I looked over the edge of the boat. Three or four meters below us another Dorado was circling. I pointed it out to my father.
“Oh, yes,” he said, clubbing the prize on deck to kill it quickly, “they frequently swim in pairs; this is the female and that must be her mate looking for her.”
The pain of what we had just done squeezed my heart into a tight knot. On board the opaque eyes and browning skin announced the female was dead; below, the beautiful greenish-golden male circled still in his innocence. I have never gone fishing again and actually only eat fish in restaurants where someone else has taken off all the parts that identify it as a living breathing creature, possibly someone’s mate.
As a matter of fact, after my experience with live lobsters, nothing even vaguely reminiscent of a living creature has ever again entered my kitchen. The lobsters were also in Acapulco. I was on the beach while my husband played with our two kids in the water, when the fisherman pulled his canoe up and extracted a net filled with lobsters. I asked how much and was given an extraordinarily cheap price in comparison to what lobster tails were going for at the nearby restaurant, so I bought all eight of them. The lobsters were placed in the shower stall while I heated up the small rice pot full of water that was for cooking them. It was the biggest pot I had and nowhere near the depth of a lobster pot, but I was oblivious to the problem that this was going to cause. When the water was boiling my husband produced the first lobster which I promptly plopped into the pot. The lobster, obviously, was not pleased, grabbed onto the rim with his claws and squeaked-squealed in the most horrifying manner. My two children looked at me and began crying: “You’re a murderer” my son yelled in no uncertain terms. And indeed I was. My husband took the children to a nearby hamburger place, while I assassinated the seven remaining lobsters one by squealing one; that day no one ate lobster. However, the following day, with the grueling experience behind me, I chopped up the lobster meat and made a delicious salad which we all enjoyed thoroughly. But those were the last living creatures that ever entered my kitchen to be eaten.
So, the hunter-fisher part is out for me. I will definitely continue buying my non-vegetarian consumption at the nearest market as long as I remain non-vegetarian. And considering that the “gathering” is constricted to purslane and a few fruit products, the best I can do is try and buy the rest at the open market on Thursdays where it has been transported, hopefully from some place nearby.
If I don’t score very high on the alimentary scale, I could be seen to be doing much better on the addiction-evasion one. I don’t drink, I don’t smoke, I don’t have sex or do porn and I do not watch television in spite of the fact that I broke down and bought one just in case. I am not addicted to the news, although occasionally I read the local paper thanks to Kiwi-san who brings a copy every morning to coffee, and when something big happens such as a Tsunami or a massive gathering of protesters in Madrid I do look up the latest on BBC internet. However, I do play internet games and perhaps my visits to the supermarket are more frequent than necessary to fill up empty time. Then there are the movies which I watch on internet or from rented DVD’s… and I am definitely addicted to the popcorn consumed during the watching as frequently I am not sure whether I eat the popcorn to watch the movie or watch the movie just to eat the popcorn. Ok, so no kudos for me on that account.
Oh, here is one: I hardly ever drive my car anymore and even then only for short distances except to go to Madrid usually to take a plane (uh, oh) across the Atlantic (double uh,oh)… which makes me one of these long-distance fliers that are destroying the ozone layer. And the reason that I do this is because modern technology allows me to live very far away from my children but I still love to see them in the flesh once in a while (Skype is definitely not a substitute for the lovey, huggy, squishy, kissy kind of love one needs from time to time.) But then again, are not jet planes and Skype all part of the technology that is doing the planet in not so slowly but very surely?
I don’t know; I am confused. Here is this undoubtedly well-meaning man who produces a documentary telling us we are living in a way that will soon end the world and the only reason I can see and resend that video is precisely the technology that he fingers as one of the causes. And then I look at my life, look around my house and ask “What can I change that would be useful?” In as far as values go mine definitely changed a long time ago. I have never considered myself a typical “consumer” and each day I consume less and live a more heart-centered existence. From the inside-out I am doing the planet a lot more good than I was 20 years ago… or not. How am I to know?
Let’s see: I only had two children, but not because of planetary consciousness, but rather because raising even two was hard enough for me. Of course, then they went and had four and three respectively, so if my husband and I simply replaced our own lives (which we didn’t because we did not die), the two of us have now produced 5.5 human beings or 2.75 each and it is very possible that some of our grandchildren will have children before we die. So much for not contributing to the population explosion. And I don’t even want to think back. My mother’s side of the family seems to have kept it very low: my grandmother was an only child, she had two, my mother had two and I had two. But my father had six, and his parents had fourteen, and if we start adding up what his 11 surviving siblings had, the sum will be close to a hundred without even grazing my generation of cousins on that side. So my family has contributed its share to population growth. Nothing to celebrate in that sector.
I could look at all the things I don’t do or haven’t done, like not using air conditioning even when living in Madrid in the summer, or not driving to places that I can walk to, not leaving lights on, or washing my dishes under running water, or using a dishwasher, but none of that makes a positive contribution to the future because I have not given back anything, I just haven’t consumed it. I am kind to animals (letting others do my dirty work when I ingest animal products), I waste very little of what is acquired for consumption to the point of almost killing my family once with food poisoning so as not to throw out good food (after all, with a waste-not-want-not-grandmother, what would you expect?). I compost (yea!!!) and am even the person that insisted on a composter being put on the apartment building grounds so that we all could do it. Ok, that is putting back. Wow, something at long last. Ahh, I have a water filter that would waste all the water it discards if I didn’t use it to water the plants in my house; but then again, if I didn’t have house plants which are actually not contributing to the ecological balance of natural systems, I wouldn’t have to waste even that water on them and could use it for washing dishes perhaps. Sigh…..
It feels like a losing battle. My greatest contribution to society and the world is picking up the dog poo left by Salomé and sometimes that left by other dogs. But dog poo is actually fertilizer if left in the proper place, and I put it in a plastic bag (even though it says biodegradable, I have my doubts) and place it in the garbage container where it must be carted away (more fossil fuel burning) for landfill or worse. Useless, it seems to be useless. Looking around my apartment, I find that everything is unnatural and there is no way on earth (and that is where I live) that I could make it natural again. So we are condemned… or not. All I know is that I am doing my best, and deep down inside I do believe that the changes we need are to be made inside ourselves and not outside, and that is something that I have been doing for quite some time now. So, as Katie says: if I believe I should be doing other than I am doing, I am crazy. Thank you, and please, all those people that I love and mistakenly mailed that documentary to, please forgive me.