THIS IS THEIR VIGIL. IT IS A VIGIL IN THE PUREST, TRUEST, BRAVEST SENSE OF THE WORD. A VIGIL WHOSE LONG STEM OF WISDOM STRETCHES DOWN TO THE LIVING ROOT OF THE WORD: "AWAKE". AS OUR VICTIMS STAND AWAKE—GLOWING WITH LIGHT AND LOVE IN THE DARK NIGHT OF OUR DARKEST HUMANITY—THEIR VERY LIVES ARE THEIR VIGIL FOR PEACE.
TO OUR RELENTLESS ATTACK ON LIFE, THEY RESPOND WITH LIFE; TO OUR UTTER CONTEMPT FOR LIFE, THEY RESPOND WITH WONDER; TO THE HATE OF OUR "HUMANE" BUTCHERY, THEY RESPOND WITH LOVE.
It was the first day of a new year when Celeste sang for the first time. We had brought her gifts of grapes, which she had received and consumed enthusiastically, practically drinking the grapes off the stems like wine, eyes closed, head thrown back, mouth open to receive the nectar (and to demand more). She loved treats, she loved company, she loved stimulation, she loved novelty and, as we learned that day, she loved music.
Celeste spent her short life a cripple. Hunched over, unable to use her hind legs, she sat up, on her good days, like a dog with a hump on her back. On her bad days, she just lay on one side and didn't get up at all. Rescued from a family hog farm the day before she was scheduled for slaughter, she arrived at the sanctuary with a broken back, and she never walked more than a few steps at a time, although she did move around her safe world, her barn, by dragging her crippled hind legs from place to place, and busied herself with rearranging the straw bales, the blankets, the feed bags and, occasionally, her barn mate, Ponza.
Once in a while, she got up and walked around proper, on all fours but, as her condition worsened, she limited her activity to sitting up to greet visitors. And then, towards the end, she spent most of her time lying on her side. There were many days when the only question was: "is it time?" Every time, the answer was: "No". Not our answer. Hers. She didn't want to be "put out out of her misery"—it wasn't misery to her, it was her life. And it was fierce with meaning to her.
We kept trying to measure her life in degrees of comfort. And those are important measures. But she measured its worth in degrees of meaning (that absolute certainty, down to the marrow, that something is important), and degrees of joy (not happiness, not pleasure, but the fierce joy of "drinking dawn like spring water, and eating dusk like supper"), and degrees of love (not love that scintillates, but love that pulls you like a river, that draws you, body and soul, into the mystery of another day despite the pain, despite the darkness). Her eyes were always filled with light, her mind was always awake, aware, alert, open to receive the world, her spirit, strong to her last breath, her will to live, learn, and grow, absolutely unbreakable.
The moments of triumph we recorded and celebrated in Celeste's life were the big, dramatic, visible ones, those moments that demonstrated our view of a full life, not hers, what we thought a full life should be.
On that New Years Day in her barn, 730 days ago, the CD player played old French songs and I sang along as I stroked Celeste's belly. Glacial dusk sky, dead of winter. It was an old French love ballad whose rich words are meaningless to all who don't speak French, just as Celeste's rich language is meaningless to all who don't speak pig. But the music captured and expressed what we all feel beyond language. Celeste propped herself up, sat up, her face a few inches from mine, cocked her head, looked me straight in the eyes. I sang directly to her: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, Jamais je ne t'oublierai. She uttered a sound I had never heard her, or any other pig make. A series of open mouthed, melodic, rhythmic, throaty purrs. A musical response. I repeated the refrain: Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, Jamais je ne t'oublierai. She listened, wide mouthed, as though waiting for her turn. I paused. She repeated her musical reply. We did this until the song ended, each of us responding to music with music, to deep, universal feeling with like feeling. Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, Jamais je ne t'oublierai. I’ve loved you for so long, I will never forget you.
She sang in pig, I sang in human. We understood each other. Not because we were especially gifted at inter-species communication, not because we knew each other all that well, but because we both knew the love, the grief, and the hope of being alive in a soul burdened body.
That day with Celeste, that New Year's Day, was a true-blue new beginning. It revealed then, and it continues to reveal now, the only reason why beginning again—a new day, a new week, a new year—is worth doing at all.
When the darkness of the world seems overwhelming, unstoppable, crushing, when beings like Celeste, who love life and sing about love are being turned into meat and handbags by the millions every day, when the pain of loving them seems unbearable, the answer is NOT to stop loving, NOT to stop caring, NOT to add to the darkness. The answer is to love more, deeper, wider. To love despite the darkness and the pain. Indeed, to love because of it. To love those who need it most desperately, not only those we happen to like, to love because your love is profoundly, vitally needed, not because it is self-gratifying. To love as though life depended on it. It does.
This is what being vegan means. Securing, one vegan meal at a time, a space in the world where innocents like Celeste can simply keep what is rightfully theirs—their life, their freedom, their meager, pathetic, or truly magnificent shot at happiness—refusing to take their lives simply because we have the power. It is the only thing worth starting a new year, a new day, for.
How many hapless individuals like Celeste would be killed for my taste buds this New Year, if I weren't vegan? 50, 100, more? How desperately would each and every one of them cling to life, fighting to their last breath, against all hope? What would their last sounds on earth be? What is the sound of complete despair? How many times would it be voiced this year, just for my culinary pleasure? Do I really want to start a New Year like this, let alone live through each and every one of its 365 blood-soaked days?
Celeste left this world entirely on her own. She had been forced into existence by human greed, she had been a prisoner of a crippled body all of her short life, but she exited entirely on her own terms, just before noon, one summer day.
Celeste, wherever you are, Il y a longtemps que je t'aime, Jamais je ne t'oublierai. I’ve loved you for so long, I will never forget you. This will be a life-filled year. Maybe not happy, maybe not comfortable, but beautiful, and true, like your life. Worth living. Worth beginning again.
© Joanna Lucas
Slideshow - "Humane" Hog Farming
This is a vigil for the billions of individuals whose lives are shattered for the palate pleasure and amusement of consumers whose taste for animal suffering trumps justice and compassion. It is a protest, a rejection of, and a necessary remedy for, the mockery that animal welfare advocates, "conscientious" consumers, and "humane" farmers have made of the word 'respect'. It is a direct response to "RESPECT YOUR DINNER", an HSUS sponsored event where participants are invited to experience the superior taste and texture of "humanely" enslaved, and "respectfully" murdered animals.
As participants will be "Hoofin it" around Denver for four consecutive days, savoring the burned remains of a different animal each day—a bison, a pig, a lamb, a calf—we will stand in solidarity, in sympathy, in outrage, and in deep sorrow with the animals whose lives, hearts, minds, memories, languages, and unique identities will have been obliterated into the ugliness of meat.
Join us in opposing the elitist notion that other animals exist for human use. Join us in celebrating the mind, the heart, the mystery that each sentient being brings to the world. Joins us in restoring the true meaning, practice, and moral significance of word 'Respect'.
Live vegan and educate others about the vegan imperative.
|Learn more about the "humane" farming myth.|