Monday, August 30, 2010

Lady of Merciful Death

The wind blows strongly today, sweeping the pasture like a firm, persistent broom. It rattles the door to the barn, which creaks and groans in protest, the door to the window freely opening and closing in response to its insistent whisper. It flattens the grass, heavy with seed, and bends the tree branches, rattling the brittle wood like bones and catching the dying leaves, brushing them off the tree without afterthought.

With a heaviness, I walk toward the barn, resigning myself to what I might find.

For the last couple of days, a kitten has been slowly dying from "the sickness." A pretty little calico, who used to seem so strong and healthy, (and whom my stepdaughter named "Curious") suddenly stopped eating a couple days ago, and spent her time wandering around, mewing in frustration. Dismayed, I tried feeding her goats milk and re-uniting her with her mom, hoping she would start eating again. No, she wouldn't eat, or snuggle with her brother and sister and mother. Over the next couple of days she grew weaker, and her eyes became goopy and swollen shut with telltale signs of "the sickness". Yesterday, she could barely move her legs. I hoped she would die peacefully in her sleep in the night, and it seemed as if she had as I walked into the barn this morning, milk bucket in hand. Her limp little body lay outstretched and still, and I was glad that she had passed sooner rather than later.

Instead, about halfway through the milking, she woke up and started mewling pathetically in response to my voice. (I was yelling at the goats, as I usually do at milking-time.) I could plainly see that she was dying, and I remembered her brother, who had taken 3 days to die from "the sickness," once he had become too weak to move. He hadn't cried, however, just slept and waited to die. This little kitten was crying, the cry of a baby who expects you to do something about her problems. She couldn't move her body, just her head, which swung around as she yelled out, demanding some relief.

I did the only thing I could do for her. I "helped" her die, and then took her over to the "graveyard" behind the barn and laid her down by her brother. I wished it could have been less violent, quicker, less painful, even though I know that I did the best I could, and that crushing her head under a cement block was a much less painful way to go than lying in the barn for another day or two, crying for help and having no one answer. I fantasized about learning a secret way to simply sing an animal to sleep and then wait for it to pass peacefully, but death is not that simple.

The wind rustled the tiny body's fur, caressing it gently, as I stood guard while the soul fled, leaving behind a sad remnant of her long struggle, now lying in the midst of a grove of sumacs.

Sometimes killing is cruel, sometimes necessary, sometimes, in this case, a responsibility. In autumn, the wind comes, bringing a crisp refreshing chill, bringing the weight and responsibility of death to the farmer. Crops, carefully nurtured throughout the summer, must be harvested. Robust, happy animals must be slaughtered. Death is a word whispered on the breeze, hanging over the earth, which waits hungrily for its chance to feed on the dead. The Lady of the Dead makes her appearance, resigned, patient, merciful, with the weight of Life and Death on her shoulders. She and I share the same spirit, both standing in mourning over a garden of life that must too quickly wither, wielding the same sickle, the harvest weapon, waiting for the next red leaf to wither and the next small candle to flicker out.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Religious Pervasiveness

So far, I don't really belong to any religion. I consider myself "Pagan," because that's a nice, oblique term. "Pagans" aren't affiliated with any church, so I don't have to constantly defend the actions of some institution. It's not affiliated with any specific culture, so I don't have to follow the rules and traditions of that culture. It's not specific enough to include dogma, but it's specific enough to separate me from the Abrahamic religions. Basically, if the term was defined as "I believe what I believe, so just ask me if you want to know something specific, if not leave me in peace," then that would be OK with me.

But, I am glad, in a way, that a Pagan religion is not the dominant religion in America. (Examples of Pagan religions include Wicca, Asatru, Druidism, Ancient Greek Religion, etc...) If they were, they would probably be exploited by our corporate and political forces, and completely changed to fit the people-in-power's agenda.

Look at the Ancient Greek religion. It was usurped and changed by Roman leaders and turned into a justification for immorality, especially in government.

Look at the way Christianity is used by Americans to justify our own selfish point of view. How is Christianity used by the far right to justify the accumulation of wealth when the Bible clearly states that it's easier for a camel to get through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven? How did "turn the other cheek" become "nuke the middle east?" I remember when WWJD bracelets were trendy... but who among us actually acts like Jesus? Christianity has thrived within our consumerist nation, infiltrating merchandise, reality T.V. shows, pop culture, and especially political media! The Christian "message" seems to be "conform." What ever happened to "love thy neighbor?" Doesn't really fit in today's so-called "Christian" culture. And of course I'm not even getting into all the prejudices and atrocities done in the name of Christ.

So, what would happen if the majority of people abandoned Christianity in favor of a minority religion like Wicca? Well, Wicca is normally about caring for the Earth, doing no harm to others, and celebrating the cycle of life. However, if the people in power embraced Wicca, all sorts of evil could be justified under that religion. Hoarding wealth could be justified by saying the equivalent of "my magic is more powerful than yours." Racism and intolerance could still be justified by saying we are "weeding out ignorance." Either men or women could be viewed as inferior- Wicca made popular could very well escalate the gender wars instead of eliminating it!

Something that I've observed by living on a farm... often a weak animal is picked on and ostracized. Maybe it's young and inexperienced and physically weaker than an animal in their prime of life. However, the "bully" gets sick or old or weakened somehow, and then the weak animal becomes the strong. However, instead of remembering how it felt to be picked on, it will instead become an even bigger bully than the first bully, and pick on anyone weaker than itself. It's a hard lesson to learn, but sometimes it's better NOT to be in a position of power! I hear things like "if only America embraced the ideals of (insert philosophy or religion here) then we would have a better world!" I'm sorry, but I can't share your idealism. The hard truth is, that assholes will still act like assholes, no matter what label they say they embrace. After all, Christianity USED to be a minority religion, and under persecution character was formed. However, now that Christianity is pervasive, it has become the weak animal who became strong and bullied everyone else.

Unless we can learn from the past and learn to change ourselves to build better character, (instead of merely using a certain mindset to justify ourselves) then the world will never improve, no matter if we are Christian or Wiccan, Communist or Capitalist. If you are in a majority religion, take a good look at what your religion teaches and the life that you are living, and see whether or not you're just using your religion to get what you want. If you are in a minority religion, don't ever assume that more power or more press will mean a better life for you- it won't. Remember what it feels like to be oppressed and apply a better morality to those whom you have power over.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Fearing Death

Why do humans fear death?

Is it because of the pain? Do we think that death will be even more painful than the worst pain we can imagine? I'm not so sure this is it. Logically, it's much, much more painful to be alive than dead. And dying often seems slow and painful but even more often seems quick. People who die in a car accident might not even feel anything because the events happen so quickly. Yet we do fear dying in a car accident, or being shot in the head, or other quick ways to die.

Do we fear death because of the change? Do human beings just naturally fear drastic changes, death being the most drastic of them all?

Or is it because what comes after death is a complete mystery? No one really knows what happens after death, and humans do have a tendency to fear the unknown. Anything could happen after death- we might find ourselves in the Christian Heaven, or back on earth as a reincarnation, frozen in time, or in a completely new dimension. Will it be like sleep? Will we be alone, or with other beings who have passed on? But even people who think they know exactly what happens still fear death. Maybe they are not as sure of their beliefs as they claim to be, or maybe they are afraid for a different reason.

Maybe it's because no one knows exactly how much of ourselves die when our bodies die. People speak of a "soul" that lives on after our bodies die, but what is a soul, really? Does a soul have thoughts even after all neurologic activity ceases in our brain? Do we carry our memories with us? Will we be able to feel any pain or emotion despite having no nerve cells? Will we have the ability to make decisions, free will? Will we have any awareness at all?

What about you? Do you fear death, and if so, why?

Wednesday, August 4, 2010


The second half of that day (that I wrote my last post) went significantly better than the beginning. I gained a little perspective. Basically, I got to spend some time with my sister and we saw a great show and talked to a friend and colleague a little bit, which helped me relax and enjoy the trip more. I realized something as I talked to my sister, who is comparing her options for after she finishes college. We all have a single basic priority in life, and it's that priority that keeps us grounded and keeps us from feeling like we are torn in all sorts of different directions.

For a lot of theater people, theater is their main priority. But, for me, there is no question. My family is my first and greatest priority, by a LONG shot. And I can do other things, like work, and theater, and farming, but my main priority is and will always be my family. Theater needs to be in my life, because I am an artist and I just cannot stop creating. But when theater and family conflict, my family will win, hands down, every time. It needs to be that way, because this is the life I chose to live, and for very good reasons.

Instead of envying my young, single, unattached colleagues, I simply saw their paths and mine diverge. I tried that life, I lived that life, and I was miserable. Simply, my son, husband, and baby-on-the-way give my life meaning, and without that meaning I would be lost and depressed. The world of theater is glamorous, but often shallow. As an artist, I often wondered what my purpose was, what gave my life value. I'm a lucky woman because now I KNOW what gives my life meaning. And, I'm fortunate in that I don't have to juggle a ton of things in order to survive. Many women need to balance work with family with personal interests, some need to balance work with children with relationships. I'm lucky that my children ARE my work and that I have a loving husband to support me.

Sure, I will always struggle with balancing my individual needs with my family's, because both are necessary and both are healthy. But I think I've grounded myself enough that I can look at my life and say that there is both value and beauty in what I do.