I have a confession to make. I used to be different...quite a bit different to the person I am today. What makes writing this blog so powerful for me personally is every day I am forced to remember the person I used to be: the choices I made, and the beliefs I upheld, even when others shared good reasons with me to choose and believe otherwise. It is very hard to write this post, because no one likes to be seen in a bad light, but I believe the grief I feel in sharing how I used to be is less important than the message of this post. So I will do this, I will share how I used to be, and what happened to change me, and why I cannot ever return to the person I used to be.
Six years ago...[in 2005]
I wore fur. I didn't think about the fact that an animal needed their fur to live, and that for me to wear it, meant its death. I saw it as something pretty in Pucci that would look good on me and make others admire me. Not only did I wear fur, I admired garments with fur on them, I enjoyed the feel of the fur and saw wearing fur as a sign of success and wealth. While I worked at a private equity firm, I met a girl there who was vegan. When we discussed the wearing of fur, to her credit she tried to help me understand where I was missing the point, and even though I began to see how it was wrong to wear fur, I couldn't get past the fact that wearing fur made me feel good. So I continued to wear it.
I was invited to a charity gala in London and the theme was orchids and jewels. On the way to the salon I purchased a beautiful orchid plant fully blooming with white orchids, once I was in the chair I had all the blooms cut off and placed in my swept-up hair. When we were done, the stylist asked what I wished to do with the plant, still beautiful and green in its own right. I barely glanced at it as I walked out saying, 'Throw it away, it's useless now.'
I bought shoes made of python skin and iguana skin, mildly amused by the thought that creatures I then found so ugly could be made into such beautiful things - as though those reptiles' sole purpose on earth was to be used for making 'better things'. The iguana skin shoes, dyed bright orange, were featured in Vogue and cost more than a laptop, and in those days a laptop cost considerably more than they do now. I wore them twice.
I ate meat every day. Even the occasional fast food meal, when the craving arose. I tried kangaroo, buffalo and game pie, which I recall had things like pheasant, deer, and hare in it. I heard about things like battery farms for eggs, and poor farming conditions for livestock, but I believed I was only one person and could not make a difference anyhow, so bought what I liked and felt guilt-free. I congratulated myself for drawing the line at veal and lamb. It felt so good to be a paragon of animal awareness with my refusal to eat baby animals. I even went hungry on a trans-Atlantic flight since they ran out of the chicken option and only had lamb left. I judgementally asked myself How many others would do as much? My feeling of righteousness kept me full until we landed.
I was vain, shallow, conceited, and selfish. To my mind everything for sale was there as an item to make one feel good about themself; there was no need to ponder the issue any further than that. I never thought - not once - about where those items came from, or of the cost of life, be it human or animal, which was involved in bringing the item to the shelves before my eyes. It simply never occurred to me. Not once. It is very hard to write these things. To remember who I used to be. How I used to be.
But something happened along the way, and that person went away. The first part of the change came when I moved from London to Denmark. Life in Scandinavia is very different from anything one can experience in the UK. The first thing one learns about is equality. No one is more important than anyone else and any form of attention seeking, be it by appearance, or behaviour is severely frowned upon. If one wishes to end up alone in Denmark, they need only continue to live as though they are still living in the center of London. I had to learn to adapt to a completely new way of living. But this was only a beginning - the loss of self into the community. I embraced it. It was a relief to be able to stop worrying about looking perfect and fashionable every minute of the day - to realise that what was in my mind was more interesting to others than the labels on my clothes. Furthermore, I lost interest in shopping. I realised I didn't enjoy shopping after all. I realised I liked reading and learning more. So I did that. I wore jeans and sweaters, and let my hair dry naturally instead of spending an hour styling it. No one noticed. It was wonderful.
However, it wasn't until I moved to Sweden I really began to understand my place in the world. In Denmark I had learned to merge my identity with the concept of community, but it was the natural beauty of Sweden that took my journey to its destination and taught me compassion for all things.
Apart from three small cities, Sweden is mainly a wilderness with small communities nestled within its vast forests and rocky outcrops. Long, lonely stretches of single lane roads, sometimes impassable in winter are all that links them together. Living in these circumstances forces one to reassess one's position in the world, and to see that nature is much grander and bigger than anything we can imagine.
Once I travelled on a small propeller plane from our town to Stockholm, and for one hour I marvelled at the view beneath me. Wilderness. Barely any human impact whatsoever, and what communities there were, were completely dwarfed by the endless reaches of forest into the horizon. In that hour, my epiphany was completed, and compassion overwhelmed me, my place in the world cemented. I realised it was a wonderful gift to be alive, to share this amazing planet with other living and sentient beings who lived in a place much bigger, grander and more enduring than any of man's greatest cities. A new way of life was before me, and there was no turning back.
As I journeyed along my new path, I learned more everyday, nature is a kind teacher, and the more time I spent observing its creatures, the greater my appreciation for life grew. Compassion expanded within me by leaps and bounds. I stopped eating meat and fish and even more changes in my thinking manifested in positive and life affirming ways. I realised I was returning to the little girl I used to be who had loved animals, crying when she saw a dead bird on the road, who I began to remember had felt a deep connection with nature. I pondered on how I had lost contact with that person, who was caring and filled with empathy, who would never have considered wearing fur. Strange questions to ask oneself. How does one lose oneself so deeply?
Perhaps it is our world, our society - with its skewed values based on material worth - the media and advertisers who have brainwashed us against our true selves. Whatever the reasons, it seems - at least from my personal experiences - that somehow, over time I became robbed of my natural ability to feel empathy and compassion for the sanctity of life. For what? So those looking to sell trinkets could make more money? In the end, whatever it was had stopped me from noticing life itself had become worthless.
What prompted me to write this post today? There are two reasons, one is I believe in honesty and integrity, in my writing; in my research and in how I present myself as the writer of PB. The other - the main reason - is a friend of mine shared an article with me which distressed me so deeply I determined to write a post to highlight its subject matter. I felt sharing my past experiences might serve as a good comparator with what is happening in Japan.
The article talks of a commonly accepted practice where kittens and puppies are being bought (sometimes for vast sums of money) simply for the fashion of using them as accessories - bought without thought and then discarded like toys. 90% of these animals are dumped at government run shelters, with only seven days to be adopted before they are sent to the 'dream box' and gassed to death. During busy periods, as many as 550 of these animals are killed in one day in each of the 108 government run shelters. That's thousands of sentient lives in one busy day, lives that crave love and affection, lives that feel fear and loneliness...lives that do not want to end. Every year, 250,000 cats and dogs die like this, alone, unwanted and unloved in Japan because they are disposable.
Whatever hijacked me into treating living things as disposable commodities, mainly for vanity, has certainly hijacked most of the world. Whatever it is, seems to reside as an integral part of us, but just because it is proliferate, does not make it right. It is wrong. If the tables were turned and it was our lives that were disposable we would be crying out for justice.
And here the question begs to be asked. Where does it stop? Perhaps one day if greed is allowed to proceed unfettered, it could be human lives which will become disposable. But by then, no one will notice. Or even care.
Life is not disposable, in any form. I cannot unmake the damage I have done in my purchases and I have forced myself to keep the fur and shoes and look at them and feel shame for the deaths I once thoughtlessly contributed to. Although meagre, it is my way of honoring their deaths, even if it is far too little, too late.
Originally published on Paradigms Bend Nov 15 2011