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The Animal Too Big To Kill

January 23, 2017

Like a lot of Americans, I woke up on the morning of November 10 thinking that the world is not what I thought it was. The morning of Jan. 21 reassured many of us that maybe it is more like we thought it was, but it also made us aware that we are each required to make an effort to see that it remains bearable and habitable.

My daughter was at the march in Washington, D.C., wearing a pink “pussy” hat crocheted by a friend of mine, who ended up making about 160 more so that everyone going to the march from our college had one to wear. Even I had one, knitted by another friend of mine, to wear as I read the “blessing for the women’s march” at our local send-off.

This morning I started calling and emailing my representative and one of my senators, letting them know that I am paying attention to the issues and noting how they vote. It’s going to be daily work, and that gets difficult. It’s much like my daily work at physical therapy; I go only twice a week now, and have to do a long list of exercises on my own in between visits. It takes a lot of repetitions to build up the large muscles that support the knee, and it’s painful.

I’ve finally put my crutches back into the closet, not because I don’t still want something to lean on, especially when I have to get up in the middle of the night, but because I was tired of looking at them. The surgery wasn’t a cure, as I’d hoped. I may have to walk with a cane for the next few years. It’s very discouraging, but if I quit trying to walk, then I might not be able to walk ever again.

It sometimes seems like it would be easier to deal with a big disaster, instead of having to do the daily work. The title poem of Shane McCrae’s volume “The Animal Too Big to Kill” talks about this feeling:

Lord I have eaten and I think I won’t
anymore eat / Animals
many times my weight / In animals

enough that were they resurrected and combined
Like the heroic robot in that cartoon I somehow always missed
And always looked forward to as a child

Lord they would be an animal / Finally too big to kill
Except by You who would
Shatter the sky and hurl the burning blue whale-sized shards down to do it

Lord even though You wouldn’t have to break the sky to do it
And I accept I need to be reminded
I can’t escape responsibility

for being the kind of creature that requires signs Lord from You
Merely by now refusing to participate
in the killing of some of the sometimes instruments through which Your signs / Pass

as they pass through every creature Lord and every object You I know
Killing the animal too big to kill would be a sign
And I accept I can’t escape being grateful for Your signs

Being the kind of creature
That requires Your signs / Because You Lord have made me wondrous
Beginning with my always I imagine it to be

an ugly mush but really it’s
I think I’ve read /Harder than that
brain and the thinking it might someday do

Because Lord I might someday think
Until that day and after I require signs / Lord and I can’t escape
Being grateful for Your signs

Because my body not my brain responds to them and You I know
Killing the animal too big to kill would be a sign
Lord as I took it for a sign

When fifteen years ago I prayed to be convinced
and drove to the monastery in Mount Angel and
Two tall firs

across from each other on either side of the narrow road to the monastery
Were struck by lightning
rare Oregon lightning on a barely misting afternoon

And fell across the road and Lord I couldn’t leave
I took it for a sign and I believed
And that was when the moment when I understand the language now

The moment I was born again
The moment I believed I
Had seen God kill for me

Lord was the moment I became a human being
As You I know
killing the animal too big to kill would be a sign

We all want a sign, but after we’ve gotten one then we have to get to work and keep going, hour after hour, day after day—and if you’re like me, you can’t take too many breaks, or you’ll never get back to it.

I like the way the last poem in the volume, “The Calf,” acknowledges how hard it is to act on your convictions and keep acting on them:

Lord I have eaten and I don’t
Want to and have to
Anyway / Sometimes because I can’t afford to eat
According to my conscience animals

Lord many time my weight
in animals in the past / But since I started
eating animals again it hasn’t been that much
I’m sure it hasn’t been that much

Maybe if all the meat I’ve eaten since I started
eating animals again were piled and weighed
It would weigh as much as maybe if my leg were cut off
Below the knee the calf the shin the foot

Were laid in a scale opposite the meat
Maybe the scales would balance.

We all do many kinds of daily work, and in my experience it’s easier to do something than to refrain from doing something, especially when it comes to eating.

What most of us have to weigh when it comes to daily life is how much of the day we can stand to use up doing things we don’t enjoy but we think are good for us or good for the world. Now, as in my own too-heavy and weak-kneed life, a lot of us are going through a reassessment of that balance in order to try to help make the world what we thought it was and more of what we want it to be.

I’m going to be limping along for a while, hoping that practice will build up my muscles without too much grinding of the bones. How about you?

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10 Comments leave one →
  1. January 23, 2017 4:37 pm

    Don’t even get me started. My husband is so worked up over all of this. His family supports he who shall not be named and I’m afraid it might cause a rift between him and his brother. I want a pussyhat!!

    • January 23, 2017 6:44 pm

      I think many American families have discovered that someone they know and love voted for he who shall not be named. I thought I was exempt until I discovered that my sister-in-law’s brother and his wife–people I’ve always had fun with and considered part of our family–are big supporters. So we’re all dealing with this.
      I’ll see if I can get you a pussy hat. They’re evidently very easy to make; a lot of the 160 were made by sewing two pieces of felt together.

  2. January 24, 2017 5:48 am

    Oh boy can I relate. My daily ( or almost daily – sometimes I just can’t even look at my phone or face talking to people who don’t care about the things that mean everything to me) citizen actions are taking a painful anxiety toll on me. But if I don’t do it, how can I justify all the times I pledged allegiance to my country? Gandalf was right: nobody wants to live in these times, but if you do, you have to act.

    • January 24, 2017 8:50 am

      What a wonderful quotation to bring up!
      “I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo.
      “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”

  3. January 24, 2017 1:10 pm

    Excellent use of Gandalf!

    Enjoyed your post and the poem. I am sorry to hear that the surgery wasn’t the cure you had hoped it would be. It is the daily work that is the hardest. The grand gestures are easy in comparison, they come and they go. But the day-to-day, that’s when all the work gets done, when it all really counts the most.

    • January 24, 2017 2:22 pm

      The grand gestures are easy in comparison–yes, that’s the heart of the current political situation and my personal situation with the knee. It’s daily resistance that makes both stronger.

  4. January 24, 2017 8:54 pm

    Many, many hugs, Jeanne. I’m really sorry to hear that the surgery didn’t have the outcome you wanted. You’re so right that it would be easier — in so many areas of life — to do one big gesture than to keep on with the slog of the daily work. My senators are probably already tired of hearing from me, and we’re four days into the new administration, and it feels like nothing I do will ever have an impact. But I am glad to know so many marvelous people like you who keep reminding me that it’s worth it to keep the work going. ❤

    • January 24, 2017 9:08 pm

      Sometimes it’s worth it, and sometimes all you get is that you’ve made a habit of going on and trying to make something better.
      I know from experience that if you don’t use part of your body for a few weeks, it will get harder to use it, and if you give in to the pain and fatigue, then you might not be able to use it again, ever.
      Making a habit of going on brings its own simple rewards.They may not be enough, but they’re more than you get by giving up.

  5. lemming permalink
    January 25, 2017 10:40 pm

    I pledge allegiance to my country. I pledge allegiance to her history, good & bad. Nothing in the pledge says that I will blindly follow he-for-whom-I-Did-Not-Vote.

    • January 26, 2017 8:48 am

      Wouldn’t it be great if fewer Americans were willing to follow anyone blindly?

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