It is a still morning. I’ve seen a pair of female blackbirds meet on the top of the telephone pole, and fly off together into the still moonlit, blue morning. A neighbour is up – I can hear the runoff water from their shower. The last of the Monoprix decaf is brewing in the cafetiere. I’ve slept fitfully after a few too many glasses of wine (Montepulciano and then Sauvignon, both vegan). My friend Chris is up early too, and we’re playing chess online. The window has been open all night and the air is clear and fresh and welcome, after the thunder-pressure. Misha, my cat, is sitting in the front room on the window sill, peacefully looking out through the smallest, cat’s-eye slit in the curtain, the neighbourhood snoopy that she is. I brush her. She pushes back at me. I leave her to get the coffee and open my laptop, only five hours after going to bed and committing myself to ten days without turning it on. But this is not work, today, and I have no fear of obligations. There is still doubt about if I am doing the right thing or not. But there is more love, and love wins out.
My mouth feels itchy and blotchy on the teeth, as I didn’t brush last night—the electric toothbrush K gave me is still in the wicker drawer in the bathroom. All night I have been thinking, sometimes dreaming, of the things that I cried about last night. My father, missing, and what I am still missing, that person to encourage, care for, teach me about life and growing up. And what he is missing: a son to help him continue to find a way to live into old age, a son to be proud of. And the other thing I was weeping about: the pigs in the trucks on their way to the meat-packers, boiling over in the 45 degree heatwave because pigs have no way to sweat to cool them down, so they are dying in agony in the heat; and the love and grace of the people from Toronto Pig Save and the other city Pig Saves who meet them at the traffic lights on the way to feed them water and watermelon to relieve them in their agony.
As it says on the Free from Harm website, the first and last act of mercy and kindness they will ever receive. The mercy and kindness I’ve been unable to show my father. The image of that cow in Farm Sanctuary’s video, newly born, literally seconds born, being dragged by the leg by a farmer away from its mother, the mother cow who ran after it, her young, her newborn, but who could not stop the farmer taking that cow and putting her into servitude, chained into a narrow milking cell for the rest of its life. The image of my father, homeless, bring dragged out of the shop doorway, a gutter.
My dream: there was a pig who was dying of thirst, and I got water to bring it back to life, but not without my own dramas of a payment going out of my bank account to a person who treated me quite badly, and my frustration at the mistake of the money (the mistake of the friendship) and of the misplaced calls to the bank and frustration in trying to save that money from disappearing. And then some other, ignorant humans knocking the pig over once it had recovered and nearly killing it again. It was a lot stranger than that, comical in parts. My friend Debs was there, doing a news report on the revival of the pig; she was wearing a mask of herself (as the dancers wear masks of Kate Bush in her ‘Hounds of Love’ video). The pig turned into a wise old woman. Two young boys tried to give each other mouth to mouth resuscitation as they’d seen someone give the pig. Me, perhaps.
It was listening to Kate Bush’s ‘Cloudbusting’ last night that really got me weeping – ‘It’s you and me, daddy’ – and then ‘Running up that Hill’ which always makes me think of L and the abortion and how I would have swapped places with her. But now, it makes me think of the pigs, and how I wish I could swap places with them (how some scientists are asking people to swap places with slaughtered animals). Their lives are no less important.
These are the two things I am crying about, and still crying about, this morning. The sadness of my own losses, and the horror and suffering of these creatures at our hands. There is no argument any more that eating meat is ‘natural’, there is no defense of industrial animal agriculture. Haven’t we woken up? The tears for one led to the other, the animals, my father, and I don’t know which came first.
My fitful night has brought some clearance (I look out at the sky: the thunder is gone. The full moon is now waning). I spent much of the night planning my run from Berwick to Newcastle, eighty miles in three days taking in the route of Northumberland’s slaughterhouses, an act of physical extremity and activism to break out of the current loop of disquiet. And then arguments in the dark of disowning my current, oldest close friends, another stuck loop? Wondering if I could still be part of their circle. They are having children and they are now at that stage where they have a choice, and are choosing to lie to their children about where meat comes from. They are also choosing to look after the 25-metre-square enclosures of their lives, and forget about the outside: the rainforests, the arctic, the chickens in the factory farm. Not all of them, and not so blanket. That would be incredibly unfair of me to say so. But are they ‘waking up’? No. Is it my task to help wake them up? I suppose it is—and the abandonment of people is an old, old habit, and one that I have learnt as a model from divorcing and unreliable parents and grandparents and this society that does not nurture collectivities or elders or relationships of wisdom and spirit; and so it is not a pattern that I will repeat. Not now. If this is about love then it is about understanding how to love in a way that deepens and broadens all of our lives in the vision I have for it that comes from the soul of my self.
And then I thought: it’s okay. If we all, as the artist Chris Jordan said to me in an interview about his work on the island of Midway, if we can all fully face just one issue, then we will we change ourselves, and change the world. So within, without. This is what the Toronto Pig Savers are doing each lunchtime. This is what I need to do regarding my own father. Can I ask my friends to do this: face just one small thing?
Maybe. But rather, it is about many more people to reach. So I could open the laptop again this morning and still love my friends and relations and still know I am a writer, or rather, that I write, and I write about what I love. I have found my field for now. I have developed tools of a craft, and can develop more. Now I will find my stories, and fully face them, and perhaps not worry so much about who else will look or even see. Rather than the panic and frustration that I’ve felt this week in the battle between writing creatively and finishing off my PhD, I simply woke, as David Whyte suggests in his poem, and decided to live wholeheartedly. “What you can live wholeheartedly will make plans enough / for the vitality hidden in your sleep.” Vitality: the vital, not only the positive but also the painful. That means feeling my grief and sadness and using it as a guide as much as it means consciously planning what achievements I hope to make. No. It means feeling more than planning. It means accepting the whole heart.
What I have learnt overnight is this. That my suffering as a human, and the suffering of other humans, cannot be blank to me. I’ve thought it can, and I’ve probably thought that because I haven’t wanted to face my own pain, or thought it important enough, and I’ve projected that out onto other people. Otherwise I will never know what to do with my life. If I don’t accept my own suffering, and the worst in myself, and the beast of what I feel, but also the best of what I can do, then I will only be able to look on at the suffering of others – the pigs, my friends, my father – and be unable to act or do anything about it, caught not fully facing the stories of our ‘dissolving world’ but left unable to bear it, because I cannot even face my own. If I can bear my own sadness, then I will be able to act, because I will know what I love and how I want to move with that love.
Misha, my cat, has wandered out to join me in the living room (this morning, I have not even become lost in frustration about where I can and cannot work). She takes a look outside at the day, at the yard I cleared last night, at the birds, the pigeons that come and sit in the guttering on the roof of the flat above mine. Then she wanders off to drink some water. The temperature is getting up. The day is mine, as Blake says, not to bind to, but to kiss:
He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in eternity’s sun rise.
— William Blake
ps. ‘Cloudbusting’ … I wake up crying… and so I bury it… But I won’t forget… And yet listening to it this morning puts a smile on my face.