Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Human Condition

"If you could kick the person in the pants responsible for most of your trouble, you wouldn't sit for a month."

This quote is often attributed to Theodore Roosevelt, but I'm a little skeptical that he said it.  Regardless, there's an awful lot of truth in that humorous little sentence.

We could all do with taking a little more accountability for our actions.  I've met too many people who seem to think that the world is responsible for their problems, without instead looking inward and doing a little self-reflection.  No doubt I'm guilty, too.

Some people are born into dire circumstances, and some are blessed with an exalted station in life from birth onward.  But despite this inequality, we all face adversity at one point or another.  Realizing this, and failing to fall into the victim trap, is key to not only survival, but also personal growth and satisfaction, in my experience.  For if we are responsible for our own failures, we are also responsible for our own successes, and we can take pride in our perseverance.

Every choice we make sets in action a chain of events that extends eternally forward.  Nothing we do is without consequence.  It's like the old adage of the stone tossed into the water, and the ripples continually flowing toward the bank.  We may not be able to foresee the future, but the choices we make today impact it all the choose wisely.

I've met people who are appalled at my lifestyle, wondering how I can toil away day after day, rarely stopping to enjoy life's simpler pleasures.  They don't understand the concept of delayed gratification, and I've watched over the years as some of their lives have turned out drastically differently than they had hoped and planned.  And then, without fail, they raise their fists to the sky and blame the heavens for their misfortune.  Yet, if their younger selves had only been a little more willing to put their noses to the grindstone and work towards the goals they desired, their situations might have turned out much differently.

I'm certainly not suggesting that everyone pursue an ascetic lifestyle and forego all joy in the present day.  That is no way to live, either.  However, if people would pause to consider the ripples they are sending out, and where these may eventually land, they might achieve an even better life in the future--one for which they can be proud, because they earned it through their hard work.

We are our own worst adversaries, but we also have the potential to be our own best supporters.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

A Baptism of Blood

Some things are indescribable.  Some things, though for the greater good, are hideous in their execution.  Some things are absurd.

I've made a friend amongst the university faculty; I'll call him Dr. Canters for the sake of privacy.  He's been looking, I think, for a student to help him implement some new ideas, and I've been looking for an outlet to experience more hands-on learning.  With a mutual interest in equine medicine and welfare, we are a lucky match, each able to assist with the other's goals.  Canters is a strange man, though.  Unnervingly brilliant, he never stops or stands still, always rushing off to new projects and experiments, always pushing the envelope.  He expects the same of students, and though he is not strictly speaking a professor (but rather a clinician who assists with answering questions in the Anatomy laboratory), he devotes untold hours to studying the material so that he can better help us, and he sticks around after class or on weekends, completely uncompensated, to tutor struggling students.  He has a practically unnatural burning desire to teach and learn and continuously improve.

And so that is how last week I found myself a slave to one of Canters' whims, and how I ended up in the most godforsaken dungeon, covered in blood and tightly gripping a knife while I stood above my new mentor, watching him furiously saw the head off of a horse.

To give much background might needlessly complicate the story.  To grossly summarize, let me just say that when large animals are euthanized for whatever reason, they tend to pile up in the freezer to await either incineration or the rendering truck.  

Canters and I had the idea to make like American Indians and preserve as much of the animal as we could, so that little would go to waste.  We intended to cut the legs from the corpses of the deceased horses to take back to my classmates for a hands-on laboratory session.  He would then teach us how to inject joints and block nerves, something we'll all have to do in our eventual practices.  That way, the horses' deaths could come to additional good by being used to train budding veterinarians, and we students would gain some much-needed practical applications to drive the points from Anatomy more solidly into our thick skulls.

This wasn't what I'd had in mind, so many years prior.  When a little girl who loves animals sets her heart on becoming a veterinarian, she first imagines the happy images of healing her patients and setting right the world's wrongs.  Later on, if she sticks with her dream, she'll come to appreciate the scientific aspect, and perhaps begin to come to terms with some of the more unsavory aspects of the profession, such as belligerent clients or the eventual euthanasia of beloved animals.  But I assure you that she's not anticipating climbing that quivering mound of cooling flesh that now lay before me, a knife in one hand, a saw in the other, and black congealed blood splashed across her oversized coveralls.  This, however, was where I stood, and I gritted my teeth with determination.  I held the equines' legs at awkward angles while Canters hacked away, periodically pausing to quiz me on whatever structures now lay exposed beneath his blade.  Occasionally this blade would open up a major blood vessel, and thick dark blood would come bubbling out to splatter on the floor.  Bones snapped, fascia tore, and at one point, the horse on the top of the stack began to slide off and nearly fell on top of us, which would have smashed us into the pile of dead calves that lay just to the side.  Across the way, garbage bags and biohazard barrels full of body part soup steamed with the fading warmth of their unspeakable contents.  The stench of death and decay and feces was overpowering.  The scene was so morbid and grotesque that it was laughable. 

In the end, we dragged 10 stumps of cadaver limbs out of the cooler.  We packaged them in plastic bags, and I thought that our work was done.  I soon learned that Canters had an ulterior motive, however.  After we'd severed limbs from the large horse who lay out in the middle of the floor, he said that he wanted to save the head, as well.  I found nothing odd about this, as we are currently learning about the skull and cranial organs in the lab, so I presumed he intended to show it to students.  He knelt down and began to make deft cuts through the neck, then paused for a moment of contemplation, finally saying, to no one in particular, "Bay Sissy."  I looked at him, confused, so he explained:  "That was her name.  Bay Sissy."  He returned to his work, but then I understood.  He'd known and loved the mare, and he later told me a little more about her, and how he had worked with her, and how when he'd found out she was set to be euthanized, he had gone and told her goodbye, and then he had not gone back.  He now sawed through her cervical vertebrae, and with his knife completed the severance of head and neck.  "There.  I'll preserve her skull.  Her soul can stay there--" and he trailed off. 

We cut another head, next, this time from an unnamed horse.  This individual was not treated with such reverence, but instead as the expected specimen for our lab.  Canters carefully sliced it into cross sections so that we could see the hidden structures:  the larynx, the frontal sinuses, the gutteral pouches, the brain vesicles.  As the mechanical saw cut through the long hard cheek teeth, heat built up and smoke billowed from the horse's nostrils like a cartoon dragon.  We laughed, nervously.

Three hours of this, and finally everything was prepared.  Dr. Canters washed the equipment, and I rinsed the blood from our specimens.  Bay Sissy's mane was matted with dried crusts, and I carefully cleaned its coils.  Her head still looked eerily alive.  Her ears drooped to the side, as a relaxing horse's will, and her soft open eyes gazed off into nothing.  "Does this bother you," I asked when Canters returned, "having to work this way on a horse that you knew and liked?"

"Before, when I heard she was going to be euthanized, yes.  But, now....well, she had a good life."

Yes, this is the contradiction of the veterinarian.  This is the paradox.  To give life, and to take it away.  To love all creatures, and to irreverently stack their remains in a corner to await the renderer.  To heal the living, and the hack the dead to bits.  To do work seemingly both for the glory of God and the delight of the Devil.

I feel I must end by saying that I typed these words simply to get the images that sear my brain out of my head.  I share them now, too, just so that others may hear and appreciate the sometimes unsavory work that goes into the educating of a veterinarian.  And I must add that the joint injection lab was a rousing success, so our work was by no means in vain.  All in attendance had a good time, and we all learned valuable lessons that we will be able to put into practice at some point in the not-too-distant future.  Most importantly, I do not wish to cast blame on anyone or any institution.  What was and is done is ugly, but it is a necessary evil.  Life is neither pretty nor fair, and the people who try to temper that with always-new efforts to learn and explore are the good guys in the equation, or at least not the bad ones, though the implications require death and decay. 

I may have washed some of the innocence of infancy down the drain along with the horse blood, but I emerged from the experience somehow cleansed.  I've learned a lot in the past week; I'm growing.  The sacrifices made by the experimental animals were not in vain.  My classmates and I appreciate their gift, and we will carry it forward with us into our lives beyond these doors.

So beyond that, all I have left to say is this:

Rest in peace, Bay Sissy, and thank you.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

So this is it?

I sold my soul for this?
There's a halo around the moon tonight, and though it's a distant orb, it still causes the sky to seep its navy ink, faintly glowing on the grass below.

I washed my hands of that for this?

I have a rash on my back from sitting too close to the fire; the raised welts, as I examine them in the mirror, overlie my scapulae and resemble the buds of an angel's wing tattoo.

I miss my mom and dad for this?

I went outside after midnight on the winter solstice, the longest night of the year.  It was a clear night, and dark, and ice crystals crunched beneath my feet as I wandered out into the middle pasture.  I could hear a faint breeze blowing, and far-off dogs barking, and the hum of the distant highway.  I shivered and returned to bed.

No.   When I see stars--

Procrastination culminates in cramming, and panicking, and pressure, and a week of sleepless nights, and stress, and then a hellish finals week at school, and then, as Eliot says, it ends with a whimper.  For three weeks, my classmates and I part ways, and I return to my home for the holidays, and the old lethargy resumes.  But I can't let it consume me.   For in the apathy there is a hidden restlessness, a yearning for something greater, some unknown spark that can illuminate my path more plainly.  I'm still stuck in limbo, but--

--when I see stars, that's all they are.

--I have to stay true to my path.  I don't know why twenty-something angst has found me now; perhaps I just don't know how to handle my sudden free time these three long and lonely weeks.  With nothing to keep my hands and mind busy, I go crazy from the boredom, and revert to old bad habits.

Well, that is it, guys, that is all.  
Five minutes in, and I'm bored again.
Ten years of this, and I'm not sure if anybody understands
This one is not for the folks at home
Sorry to leave, Mom, I had to go
Who the fuck wants to die alone, all dried up in the desert sun?

So.   It doesn't make sense right now.  I guess it's not supposed to; everyone, if they think about things long enough, goes through these spells.  So I'll cling to my anthemic lyrics, and put my nose back to the grindstone when classes resume, and face the new year before that with ever more forceful resolve.  This is hardly a philosophical conundrum as it is a stoic resignation to see things through to the end, yet I am far from a martyr.  On the contrary, I'm lucky and gifted and blessed (yesterday's Christmas has only confirmed that) and the signs I seek, perhaps, may not be in the stars at all but in something more mundane and tangible.  I just have to trust myself.

Well, some nights I wish that this all would end
'Cause I could use some friends for a change
And some nights I'm scared you'll forget me again
Some nights I always win (I always win)
But I still wake up.  I still see your ghost.
Oh Lord, I'm still not sure what I stand for, oh
What do I stand for?  What do I stand for?
Most nights, I don't know....

Oh, come on....


Update: Exactly.

Friday, November 23, 2012


I'm sitting at my parents' home, eyes glazed over, a pile of notes and textbooks at my side.  Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and I am thankful.

I just remembered, sitting here studying the foramina of the canine skull, that this blog is still online and hasn't been updated in over a year.  I thought maybe I should check in, just to make sure things still work (I already had to reconfigure the broken background image).

Not that I have anything to say.  I'm no longer in the habit of journaling, and I've forgotten how to write creatively.  It's been a year since I've been required to write a paper for school, and I'm out of practice.

Which, I guess, is what I wanted to say.

I graduated with a BA ("Bad Ass") in Biology in December, applied to veterinary school, interviewed for veterinary school, and was accepted to veterinary school.  I started in August, moving away from the area I'd lived in my whole life and setting out on my own for the first time.  The transition to independence was, surprisingly, easier than I'd expected.

So now I'm living in an apartment all alone.  I go to class more hours than seems healthy for my sanity most days, I learn, I study, I try to remember to eat and sleep when I get a chance.  It's not exactly a fun or easy lifestyle, but I can't imagine being anywhere else.

And....that's it.  Due to concerns of privacy and professionalism, I can't share much of what goes on in the day-to-day classroom and laboratory regimen, but it's certainly given me plenty of fodder for thought.  I've been challenged.  I like to think I'm growing from the experience.

I guess most importantly to note, we vet students have cultivated a community of camaraderie and mutual support.  It's a little surprising, given the competitive nature of the profession, but while not everyone gets along perfectly, we all try to help each other out.  Four years is a long time, and I'm not sure that any of us could make it through without our new friends here for moral support.

So, full circle--despite some of the current difficulties in my life, I have a lot to be thankful for.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Where's the beef?

It's my final summer before applying to vet school. I've got to be a competitive applicant. So I did what I had to do, and started shadowing with Doc at the cattle sale barn, to get my requisite food animal experience.

What to say, really? It's been an eye-opener. We've got an assembly line. Cattle come through the chute with a number glued to their back. We look up the number to find out what to do with the animal. If it's a cow, it must be a pair (meaning she has a calf which will sell with her) or a preg (Doc sticks his arm up her ass, fiddles around, and declares either that she is in a certain trimester, or else open) or a killer (which is sent to be sold for slaughter, of course). Bulls are primarily killers, but some are being marketed as breeders, and thus must be semen tested. In the clean laboratory where I first shadowed, this was a calm and simple affair, involving collecting a bull off of a tame and docile steer trained for the purpose. A bit odd to the uninitiated, no doubt, but not the least bit distressing. Here, we do rectal stimulation with a giant electric probe. It is perhaps even more unsettling than it sounds—and yes, I would liken it to rape and sodomy, as there is no other comparison. Each time, it reduces the big, bulky bulls to quivering masses, falling to their knees after first bellowing in shock.

Everything that comes through the chutes is either a "dumb bitch" or a "sonofabitch" or both—gender is irrelevant when it comes to mumbling curses. Each one must be aged and tagged, which involves tightening it into the squeeze chute, catching it by the nose with metal pinchers, wrestling its head to the side, tying it there by the nostrils, checking its teeth, and punching a metal tag through its ear. My oh-so-very-important job is to select a tag labeled with the proper age (1-7; "short and solid" meaning the teeth are worn but still useful; or "broken mouth" meaning the teeth aren't much good and so grazing, and thus weight maintenance, will be difficult) and color, designating whether the cow is a killer, open, or in a certain trimester of pregnancy. And that's all there is to it.

But there is, of course, occasional excitement. There was the steer who got so spooked he ran into a panel and broke his neck. There was the cow who'd had the blood vessels in her eyes burst because someone had roped her and dragged her by the noose into the trailer. She was literally seeing red, and charged dangerously at any human she saw, out to kill. Even Doc didn't blame her for that. There was another cow—thankfully I was not present that day—who broke her leg in the chute and had to be lifted out with chains and a Bobcat. They deposited her outside in the sun, to wait all day for someone to come and shoot her and take her off to the rendering plant. Because that's the rule: "non-ambulatory" animals can't be sold or slaughtered, just boiled down for fat. But so long as they can rise and walk—or hobble or drag—themselves through the ring, they're good to go. There are plenty in that category.

Anything that balks, and most do, is encouraged along by the electric cattle prod. I now quite willingly assist in this endeavor, zapping the beasts on the rump if they hesitate for even a second. I must say in my defense, though, that I always first try to move them verbally (by hissing, as I've been told that cattle have a limited auditory range and cannot hear deep shouting) or by more gentle physical means, such as a swat on to butt with an open palm. I won't hit the skeletal Holsteins, though. These gaunt milk cows, ancient by age five from being used so very hard (when the lifespan of a typical cow, unhindered, can reach past 20 years), terrify me. Their roach-backed ridged spines jut like a mountainous landscape and their pointy pelvises are stretched, tight as a drum, with nothing but hide. These gals will soon make it into Grade D school lunches—ground beef. By the pens, the lowing, mooing, and bellowing of cattle is deafening. Temple Grandin, the autistic woman who revolutionized slaughterhouses and feedlots with her ability to see and think like an animal and thus design more humane protocol, says that only upset and frightened cattle vocalize. She also says that the cattle prod is almost completely unnecessary when cows are handled properly. But Dr. Grandin is not here.

I've helped in more ways than just jolting cows and gluing stickers, though. I've also learned, at Doc's urging, how to castrate. A bull calf, just weaned and still pretty small, comes into the chute. It squeezes around him, locking him in place. Doc enters stage left through a gate in the chute and grabs the scrotum. He takes a sharp tool, pinches it through the sac, and rips backward, exposing the testicles. Sometimes the calf is stoic; sometimes it struggles and bellows in pain. Meanwhile, Doc runs his hand up along the fleshy, purple, and venous structures, tearing the connective tissue as he goes, separating everything that holds the testicles in place…and then he pulls, slowly, steadily, waiting for the distinctive "pop" as each muscle layer gives way. And then a last snap and they're free, to be put in a filthy bucket for some starving sale barn employee to take home for a gourmet Rocky Mountain dinner.

Doc asked me if I wanted to try my hand at it. I thought he was joking. He wasn't. Like the Pontius Pilate I've been channeling these past few weeks, I grimaced, and preemptively washed my hands of the matter. "Forgive me, Lord, for what I am about to do." I refused to perform the initial slice—the most painful part—but I allowed Doc's hands to guide mine up the slippery tube, separating the two testicles, using my thumb to pull back the connective tissue, riding up, and pulling, pulling…

They snapped free (with a little help from Doc's knife) and I did the next one all by myself, again after the first cut. Rip, pull, snap, toss. Nothing to it. My calf collapsed in the chute. "Aw God, I killed it." But they gave him a jolt with the prod, and he stood up, eyes rolling, and ran off with the rest of his brethren.

Hot, sticky blood, on the 102-degree day, congealed under and behind my nails. It took all day to wash away. "Out, damned spot…" Guilt.

Last time, Doc's son, Junior, was helping his pop. Though he's two years younger than me, it looks as though there is a fair chance we will end up in the same veterinary class. Now there's a sobering thought.

One cow, a big yellow Charolais, came charging down the alley and into the squeeze chute, crazed and mostly wild, hurtling through at breakneck speed. Afraid of losing her, Junior slammed the head gate shut, narrowing it even as she came rushing toward it—the space was too small by the time she reached it. There was a jolt and a pop…and flying through the air went the cow's left horn, settling in a cloud of dust on the filthy footing. The exterior keratin had separated completely from bone and flesh, leaving the heavy other shell unattached; raw nerve over bone was now exposed, pink and sinister, and spurting blood at the broken end, rhythmically with the terrified animal's pounding heartbeat. Blood spattered across her eye and to the ground. Her eyes rolled.

"Huh. Knocked her horn off."

I was appalled, though less than I could have been given that I had witnessed a dehorning the week before, a gruesome and painfully horrific procedure if ever there was one.

"Should we, maybe, spray that? You know, with the blood-stop stuff? She's not gonna bleed out, is she?"

"Nah, it won't matter. It'll stop. She's gonna be hamburger soon, anyway! Won't matter."

"You sure? I mean, shouldn't we spray it? That's quite a lot of blood…"

As if I hadn't heard the first time, he repeated: "Heck, she's gonna be hamburger soon, anyway. Gonna be ground into hamburger. Won't matter!"

So he grabbed the cow's nose, pinched and tied, stabbed the pronged tag through her ear, and turned her loose to the kill pen, dribbling a red trail behind her.

I picked up the horn, hid it in my pocket, and brought it home as a souvenir.

Sunday, July 10, 2011


I guess I was like an anion, a halogen maybe, constantly carrying my negative energy along with me, an extra electron, baggage. And with this curse I found myself attracted, electrically pulled, toward those with radiant positive energy. Of course it looked appealing from a distance, their apparent freedom from the constraints usually put upon us all, the way they burned, burned, burned, bright sparks and flames when exposed to air, completely consumed in an instant, exhausted, but living fully and passionately. So that when I came into contact with one of these alkali fellows, an instant attraction held us fixated, a bond so strong we clung together maddened by the very thought of separation. But it was a polar relationship, unequal, one-sided, unhealthy. Ah, and the pain was unbearable so we clung tighter still in some desperate effort to avoid the inevitable. But then all it would take was something so commonplace, so simple as water, to break the bond and send us apart, repulsed, and gone. So I would return to my former state, overloaded, spinning extra, negative, lonely.

Saturday, June 4, 2011


The horse I'm riding is fleabitten gray in technical terms, but white with dark freckles to the layman's eye. She glows in the ten o'clock crescent moonlit night. Moonshine. A name I might have given her after a young girl, seeing the mare, exclaimed, "She's beautiful! You should call her Moonshine!" Of course what she meant was something far too girlish and immature for my tastes—the white horse shines like the moon, I get it. Given a palomino, she'd have called it Sundance or something equally obvious and cliché. But I was thinking liquor. Why not? I already had a Brandy, and knew a Whiskey….but the mare already had a name, a tough, unrefined, unsentimental name more in line with my ideals, so Bones she remains.

Bones. Gritty, tough-as-nails, sinewy Bones. The one whose tendons and ligaments always seem to fail her. Perhaps the anatomical name was a poor choice after all. I've wrestled with her lameness issues for two years and counting now, and it looks like the battle to have a competitive horse is finally reaching its end. I can enjoy her for light riding only. The realization stings, but tonight I have other things on my mind.

It was too hot to ride during the day—and I was too busy—but now that the sun has long since sunk I hop on bareback for muggy summer night's ride. We start off slow at an ambling walk, but I can feel Bones tensing beneath me. Her glowing white hide (about the only thing I can make out in the darkness) ripples with the muscles beneath it. She spooks at a clump of weeds, the fence, a shadow. We make our way back to the woods in the marshy wet ground and listen to the sounds. There's a barred owl off in the distance. Many insects closer, grating and grinding and humming. And speaking of insects, all around us dart hundreds of fireflies, those harbingers of summer (and reminders of childhood).

Oh, how we all used to chase and hunt those things. Lightning bugs, I called them then, but surely fireflies is the far more romantic name. We'd catch 'em, put 'em in jars, feed 'em to toads and observe the glowing through the thin pulsating throat skin. The neighbor kids would smash the bugs on their driveways to observe the slowly-fading smear of luminescence. I hated them for these acts of waste and cruelty.

These memories come back now as I watch the surreal display of tiny blinking lights. They look like a glittery surface where the locations of pinpointed shine change whenever you move your head in the slightest. I've just got to relive that childhood experience. I spur my horse in pursuit.

Mounted firefly hunting! What a novel concept. We chase after the lights, Bones chomping the bit and jolting beneath me. I soon discern that there are at least two different types of the insects. One flashes quickly, then disappears in the darkness for a long while before appearing again elsewhere, teleported. The other kind blinks far more rapidly ("frequent flashers," I quickly name them) and is thus much more visible. I pursue the latter kind, eagle-eyed, keeping my horse in check.

I soon find that these frequent flashers have the annoying habit of flying lower and lower, then alighting on the ground and staying there. No way to catch them on horseback that way. The third time's the charm, though, and with a lucky grab I snag one between two fingers just as it attempts to navigate around Bones' neck. I've got to be careful and gentle now, though, as I recall from those childhood lessons. Just a tiny squeeze too hard and you'll puncture them, allowing their Elmer's glue insides to spill out amidst a sour odor. This one seems uninjured, though, while its flashing speeds up to a fever pitch. It's a yellow-green strobe light now, almost blinding at such a close proximity. I open my hand and the firefly crawls a ways up my arm before spreading its wings and once again taking off in flight.

My "task" now satisfactorily completed—and my bred-to-be-cowpony now an official firefly wrangler—we do a little trotting and loping on the black grass, then there's nothing left but to return to the barn to be cooled off, fed a treat, and put to bed.

For both of us, really.

[unedited photo from sky soon after the nearby (and horribly devastating) Joplin tornado]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

On the Road Again

Would that I had something fascinating to say—some revelation that would rock the world or a funny little anecdote, at least. Alas, I come up lacking anything remotely noteworthy, but rather felt that I should type up a post lest I trod the path of spiritual oblivion. I haven't done a whole lot of soul-searching over the past few weeks. Instead it's been hard work at a rough but interesting job, a smidge of cold labor outside, far too much Internet trolling, partially self-induced and awful sleep deprivation, and a stressful and frustrating and miserable New Year. Blah. The lethargy of a stalling winter.

I've been reading, and have almost finished, a book I was given awhile back by a boss, my flatterer and the source of so much of this current malcontentment. The gift, however, was in earnest, and the book is M. Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. There are good parts and bad; interesting and mind-numbingly boring; true nuggets of wisdom and obnoxious psychobabble about the unconscious. I've skimmed a lot of it, mostly due to reading while tired and bored. Maybe I'm missing something extremely valuable.

But the part that has most jumped out at me is the author's assessment of evil and human nature. People, he says, are inherently lazy, and this is the root of all problems. An excerpt:

Why this failure? Why was no step taken between the temptation and the action? It is this missing step that is the essence of sin. The step missing is the step of debate….Our failure to conduct—or to conduct fully and wholeheartedly—this internal debate between good and evil is the cause of those evil actions that constitute sin. In debating the wisdom of a proposed course of action, human beings routinely fail to obtain God's side of the issue. They fail to consult or listen to the God within them, the knowledge of rightness which inherently resides within the minds of all mankind. We make this failure because we are lazy. It is work to hold these internal debates. They require time and energy just to conduct them. And if we take them seriously—if we seriously listen to this "God within us"—we usually find ourselves being urged to take the more difficult path, the path of more effort rather than less. To conduct the debate is to open ourselves to suffering and struggle. Each and every one of us, more or less frequently, will hold back from this work, will also seek to avoid this painful step. Like Adam and Eve, and every one of our ancestors before us, we are all lazy.

So original sin does exist; it is our laziness. It is very real. It exists in each and every one of us—infants, children, adolescents, mature adults, the elderly; the wise or the stupid; the lame or the whole. Some of us may be less lazy than others, but we are all lazy to some extent. No matter how energetic, ambitious, or even wise we may be, if we truly look into ourselves we will find laziness lurking at some level. It is the force of entropy within us, pushing us down and holding us all back from our spiritual evolution.

Wow. The above passage, I must admit, really resonates with me. And it's not even that it's all that original or profound, as I came to the same conclusion myself a long time ago. It's just a hard thing to admit, though I'm guilty as charged.

The goal, naturally, is to confront and control this tendency; to circumvent the knee-jerk reflex of apathy, indifference, and cowardly comfortable laziness, so that, as Dr. Peck says, we can assimilate and assume the role of the benevolent and omnipotent godhead within ourselves. But as Dr. Peck also says, it's a lifelong struggle. So much easier to simply give in to temptation.

Good things are never come cheap, and they're never easy….

Just some thoughts to ponder, and maybe an additional resolution for the New Year. Or maybe "resolution" isn't the right work. A new mindset, perhaps, to slowly adopt and hopefully foster….

Friday, December 31, 2010

Out with the old, in with the new...

New Year's Eve morning started with some pretty apocalyptic and worrisome weather. Tornado sightings, unseasonably warm temperatures, pouring rain, hail, wicked lightning, crazy wind, and an eerie red sunrise punching through ominously heavy black clouds. But the nastiness had cleared up by afternoon and the temperature plummeted, so we'll probably be in the freezing range tomorrow. It certainly beats twisters, though.

2010 was a much better year than 2009. Nothing dramatically amazing happened, but hell, I like the monotony of my secure, boring routine. I'll keep on keepin' on like Bob Dylan for as long as I can.

Let's hope 2011 is just as solid or even better. And in the mindset of positive change, I've got a pair of New Year's resolutions:

1. Ride better. Sounds simple, but it's far easier said than done. I'm having some issues with a couple of my horses, and most of the problem stems from the fact that I haven't taken the time to address the root causes. Horse riding and training really is an accurate metaphor for the path through life, and well, I've been rushing through the important parts that need a slower, more sensitive approach, and lingering on the fun aspects that more often than not do more harm than good. If I just focus, I'll be more effective, more humane, and better overall. Now to put that into practice....

2. Let it be. I'll admit it, I can be a tenacious, self-righteous bitch at times, when moral, ethical, or factual issues come to light. Usually, I think it's justified. Maybe it is. Maybe it isn't. Regardless, some times are worth fighting for, and some things just aren't. May I have the wisdom to differentiate and choose my battles, the humility to admit the possibility that I might be incorrect, and the diplomacy to make a point without excess.
I've got my work cut out for me.
And to everyone else, family, friends, and strangers worldwide--may the new year bring you hope, peace, and happiness.

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Giver and the Taker

I'm home on break now, after an exhausting but productive and swift semester. Finally, a moment to gather my thoughts. Time to slip from strenuous student to the profound lethargy of apathy and laziness. I'm not particularly motivated to do much of anything but sit around, complain about the cold weather, and stuff my face with leftover Christmas goodies. Which is why, for the sake of intellectual and spiritual development, it's a good thing I've found a new job to whip me into shape.

I'm at another vet clinic for a very short winter stint, working as an impromptu veterinary assistant at a hospital which specializes in avian and exotic pet medicine, in addition to the standard canine and feline treatment. It's a good gig—except for the commute and 8 a.m. starting time—and I've already learned a bunch about birds. Parrots and their kin are amazing animals; an untapped world of intelligence. And tricky as hell to treat.

But I've witnessed something else at the clinic in the past week, something that I've experienced before but never from this perspective: Euthanasia.

I know of no other position where a professional is in charge of both bestowing life and taking it away. Birth, preservation, care, and supportive medicine are coupled with the termination of life. First, do no harm is the doctor's oath, and yet the animal doctor quite willingly (and kindly) gives the ultimate harm and the final gift of release. Two sides of the same coin. Yin and yang.

Whether human doctors should provide end-of-life options for suffering patients is another issue. The fact is that they do not, and any talk to the contrary is frowned upon anddismissed as unethical or worse. Yet for non-human patients, the expected outcome is "good death," assisted by a pink barbiturate deftly injected into a vein.

Thus the paradox. Human(e) compassion against cold medical/scientific practice. The veterinarian loves animals, chose this job because of this love, and yet every killing is just another day at work. For the animal owner, however, this is usually a heart-wrenching, emotional, and horrific decision. I know. I've been on that end. The veterinarian's job, however, is last-rites giver, counselor, friend, doctor, and executioner—quite the mix of skills.

It's a bizarre snapshot into someone else's life. The first death last week was that of an ailing cockatiel. The elderly owner was in utter hysterics. She left the bird because she could not bear to stay. The crotchety vet was touched; sad. She stalled. She said, "I do not want to kill this bird"—but how many birds has she killed in her career? But the time came, and she put the animal in place, administered gas until she slowed and dropped, shot her up, and pronounced her dead. I watched. I am yet working on desensitization; I was moved by the owner's tears and saddened by the bird's limp body (the bird who had, minutes before, sat on her perch and squawked at me with head feathers raised in indignation). But still, I was not particularly affected. Perhaps I'm already turned the cold scientist. Perhaps "it was just a bird." Perhaps I knew it was for the best. Perhaps I've already mastered the art of disassociation. Regardless, the bird was dead, and we cleaned up, forgot, and moved on.

The next euthanasia was that of a little old dog in the midst of a shuddering seizure. There wasn't anything to be done but put her to sleep (what a euphemism, that, but perhaps it's more correct than we know). It was the day before Christmas Eve. This owner elected to stay, crying and stroking her tremoring pet's head as the vet explained the procedure, explained brain death and the cessation of heartbeat and the possibility of the reflexes of a dying body. Observing passively, with literally no dog in this fight, no emotional attachments, and no particular care for whether the animal lived or died, I felt like an interloper. I was intruding on such an intimate affair and I felt conspicuous and out of place. Of course there was compassion for the poor red-eyed woman who was losing her beloved friend—stroking the head and calling her name even after death—and even a sense of loss for the dog. And of course, empathy for the whole situation (as I said, I've been there). But this, too, passed, as did the dog. And after exchanging sad glances and sighing for the gravity of the situation, we packaged the body up in a trash bag and carted it off to the freezer.

And so, snapshots of lives and deaths. I don't know the people (they are merely clients) except for what I have seen in their time of intense grief. I never knew the animals until their final moments. It's simply a bizarre phenomenon.

I haven't any particularly profound thoughts on the topic, expect that I'm beginning to understand why veterinary medicine is one of the professions with the highest suicide rate. It's not that vets are miserably depressed and self-loathing. Rather, they just understand life and death better than most people. It's a different conception. Live as well as you can as long as you can, but terminal suffering is senseless.

Better to just move on.

(the opening image, by the way, is the accidental capture of a firefly's trail against a summer night sky)