What you have and do depend on who you are,I recently struck up a conversation with a friendly, talkative 63-year-old man in a hospital waiting room. He was in for tests preliminary to a possible kidney transplant, so maybe he was thinking mortal thoughts, but he started off by telling me that he had grown up on a farm. He said it was just a family farm. They raised the crops and animals they needed to feed the family.
And on your point of view depends how far
You're up to see
What you may be
If you to who you've been 'til now: "au revoir!"
He described the annual slaughter and butchering of a pig or two. When he was ten years old, he was handed a .22 rifle and told to shoot the pig between the eyes.
I asked him how he felt about that. He said, "I just did it. It was expected. Pigs were for eating. That's why we raised them."
"It was just what was done," I observed.
"No," he said, "it was more just who I was."
I think there's a profound moral in that statement, how family ways, traditions, religious rituals, attitudes toward other races—values—are taught so deeply that they become part of who people are. Changing your beliefs, attitudes, values is a matter of changing yourself. No wonder it's so hard.
I’ve changed many things. Here’s an episode:
At 30ish, I found myself in a plush trap. I craved adventure and freedom. Instead I found myself trudging a track deepening till I couldn’t see the sky. At one end was an office where I did dull work most of my time, to get money. At the other end, a shrewish wife (proudly: I’m one big “I want!”) to spend it all on stuff I didn’t particularly want, and to commandeer all the rest of my time to take care of the crap. “O where are you going, said reader to rider...?”
So I left them there...Started commuting to my day job from a shack in an old mining camp near the Continental Divide, spent my spare time working and playing in the woods with my merry band of hippie neighbors. I learned to sharpen a chain saw, clean a chimney and an outhouse, caulk log walls, chop firewood, test well water, and otherwise take care of myself rather than pay others big bucks to take care of me. Also learned how urgently my neighbors and I needed each other in such an environment.
Lived cheaply and saved toward financial freedom. This took quite a while, but I got there. Conquered a childhood case of polio by running like a deer through the woods, day after day, till I was strong enough to play hard out there. Started spending most of my spare time climbing mountains, skiing, and exploring wilderness. Spent a year working at the South Pole, vagabonded in New Zealand, became a mountaineering instructor.
Married a ski racer/mountaineering instructor/schoolteacher and lived happily ever after. “To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”
Congratulations are in order as my 2012 to live healthier resolution was kept, for the first time in years. My annual check-up was earlier this month: lost 15 pounds, cholesterol down another 20 more points, blood work all good, blood pressure good, thyroid activity good and I feel better. My other resolutions to increase activity & walking helped. Oh, the one about patience and tolerance towards annoying individuals didn’t fare as well but the one about being kinder to relatives, especially my mother fared better. Not quite where I feel I should be but any improvement is a step forward. No, we won’t mention any of the resolutions which fell by the wayside. I just ignore failure for 2012 and hope for the best in 2013.
Mandy Patinkin probably expressed it better in an NPR interview—I smile more. I'm not the brooding young actor I once was. That's what has changed about me. I don't know how conscious the decision to change was or when exactly it happened, but it did and it's been better for all. The first thing I remember was being in grad school and an artistic director from a theatre looked at my black and white 8x10 and remarked that I looked kind of angry and that's not the type of person you want to spend six weeks in a room with rehearsing a play. So, the next time I had my picture taken, I smiled more. And why not? I am incredibly blessed. A good friend once commented to me, upon the death of Joe Strummer, founding member of The Clash, "He only lived for 50 years, but he got to be Joe Strummer." That's how I feel. :)
As hidebound as I am at age 70 I probably could muster up personal change. I doubt that I could find the will to make a fundamental change—even if it were plain that it was needed. But if need for fundamental change were thrust upon me, then with that motivation, I suspect I could make a fundamental change.
The biggest change I have made in my life was the transition from a meat-and-potatoes upbringing to vegetarian, and then to vegan. I grew up hunting and fishing, and helping kill and butcher animals on a farm, so it wasn't as if I thought meat grew in a store in plastic-wrapped Styrofoam, yet it took a while for me to overcome the life I was indoctrinated to and realize the slaughter was completely unnecessary.
The evolution in this country from family farm to corporate slaughterhouse sparked the first pangs of conscience, and I gave up domestic meat and poultry in my early 20s. Despite that change, I continued to hunt and fish, and eat what I caught and shot, for several more years. I even wrote and photographed for magazines that glorified the "hook and bullet" lifestyle.
Eventually I came to see it all as some sort of psychotic behavior, like a child soldier in Africa looking back at a life he was forced into at gunpoint. In retrospect it was shocking how quickly I transitioned from a game-and-fish diet, to vegetarian, to vegan, and how much better I felt as I did it. I can't really say there was a particular reason, it just seemed the right thing to do. And killing when it was not essential for survival, killing only because it was an easy, lazy way to eat, just suddenly seemed the wrong thing to do.
On January 11, "This American Life" did a radio feature called "Dopplegangers." Here is the lead paragraph from their website: "Calamari is on one side of the plate, sliced hog rectums are on the other. Which is which? We got a tip about a meat plant selling pig intestines as fake calamari, wondered if it could be true, and decided to investigate."
If you think eating seafood removes you from the red-meat realm—in this case very possibly the very worst neighborhood in red-meat world—you may find this worth a listen. It is especially enlightening to hear the manager of a modern meat plant explain in matter-of-fact fashion how a hog is "stunned" before it is "stuck" so every part of it can be utilized—even its blood. Here is the link to the show.
Spoiler alert: If you don't want to take the time to listen, the show's experiment confirms that the next time you eat what you think is calamari, you won't be able to tell the difference if it is hog rectum. Bon appetit!