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Author Topic: A Failure to Summon Death  (Read 5189 times)

Altair

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A Failure to Summon Death
« on: September 17, 2012, 10:54:40 pm »
A few days ago, on a lunchtime stroll around midtown Manhattan, I passed a pigeon that apparently had been hit by a car. It was flopping around on the sidewalk in a pathetic and hopeless attempt to right its twisted body. A well-intentioned young woman was trying to reach some humane society on her cellphone to come take the bird away to help it, presumably at some imagined pigeon healing center. (It was hard not to guffaw at her naivete.)

I stood there and knew the only thing that could be done for the bird was to end its suffering quickly. No doubt it was my imagination, but at one point the bird stopped flopping and seemed to look right at me with a plea to do just that. I figured it would be fairly simple: take the bird in my hands, try to calm it, and then give its neck a sharp, sudden twist.

I couldn't do it.

My beliefs say the gods are not only around us, but in us; in a very real sense, they *are* us. But I didn't have the heart/courage to summon the goddess of death, to make my hands Hers for a moment, when clearly that was what was needed.

What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?

[Like many nature-based pagans, I also believe in the importance of balance to the natural order, including (especially) the balance between life and death. I think some mainstream religions fetishize life. Maybe because we're coming up on the autumn equinox, a time of balance, this incident and its implications keep returning to my mind...]
« Last Edit: September 17, 2012, 10:55:17 pm by Altair »
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
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Juni

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #1 on: September 17, 2012, 11:21:19 pm »
Quote from: Altair;74274
What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?

 
Before I moved, I regularly had to deal with mangled animals that my mother's cats had gotten their claws into. My response was always to put any limbs/appendages back into whatever position they ought to be in, if I could, and hold them until they either died, or calmed down enough to wriggle their way out of my grasp and perch themselves in a tree. (It was almost always birds that were hurt badly- the moles died quickly, and the field mice and chipmunks were usually bleeding but not unable to move.)

My beliefs... I believe it's wrong to prolong suffering and pain. But in every instance, I found myself unwilling to snuff out a life- who am I to say whether that pain is bearable, whether it can be recovered from? I can't tell you how many birds with twisted wings fluttered up into a tree and perched there for a while, sometimes a few days, until they flew away. Certainly as many as died in my hands. And I could never tell, just by looking, which would make it and which wouldn't. So I did what I could to comfort them- and I think in some way I did, as their breathing always slowed, their beating hearts slowed. I don't know.

Death has very little role in my day-to-day life. I am a child of middle-class suburbia; my meat comes in styrofoam and plastic wrap, or butcher paper. I have seen a living cow a handful of times in my life; I've seen a living pig once, and it was a pet; I've never seen a live chicken. I've never caught a fish and seeing live lobsters crawling over each other in a tank at the supermarket makes me sick to my stomach. Were I required to kill the meat I eat, I would likely be a vegetarian, because when I look an animal in the eye I see a furry person.

I'm not sure what role death should play in my life, honestly. I deal with the death of people much better than I do with the death of animals. I acknowledge the importance of death, the necessity of it, and the concept of immortality is one of the most terrifying things I can think of. But knowing the role of death in the overall balance doesn't mean I need to actively participate, either.
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mlr52

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #2 on: September 17, 2012, 11:34:45 pm »
Quote from: Altair;74274


What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?


 
The closest I came was when I was working as a cook.  I had to kill a Lobster and could not do it.  I have not eaten Lobster since that day.
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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #3 on: September 18, 2012, 12:06:46 am »
Quote from: Altair;74274
What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?  

I had a similar situation about 5 years ago.  I was at the job and a little bird (I think it was a sparrow) flew into the building.  It flitted around and we were generally amused by it.  Somehow or another it got stuck in one of those "humane" sticky traps.  Both feet, both wings, and most of its body was stuck in this goop.  Well some jackass just wanted to throw the bird in the dumpster and let it eventually die.  I took it to the sink and tried to rinse the goop off.  From somewhere I had gotten this idea that the goop stuff was really a highly dense sugar solution, so I figured if I rinsed it enough it would eventually dissolve and we'd be good.  Not so.  The little guy kept struggling and pretty soon his wings were mangled; even if I succeeded in freeing him he wouldn't be long for it.  Eventually I resolved not to make him suffer any more and popped his neck.  Ethically it was the right thing for me to do, so I believe; but seriously, I was not right for a couple of days after that.  

Quote
But I didn't have the heart/courage to summon the goddess of death, to make my hands Hers for a moment, when clearly that was what was needed.
And that, right there, is why I never became a veterinarian (although I thought about it.)


Quote
[Like many nature-based pagans, I also believe in the importance of balance to the natural order, including (especially) the balance between life and death. I think some mainstream religions fetishize life. Maybe because we're coming up on the autumn equinox, a time of balance, this incident and its implications keep returning to my mind...]

I try to be a hardcase and a stoic, but death terrifies the shit out of me.  While being an ackowledged part of my belief system (balance and all that) death is not something I like to look at directly, even as we move into the darker and (personally) more contemplative part of the year.  Even my Hallows observances are particularly death-lite.  

I think that religions fetishise life (great phrase btw) because its adherents are as terrified of death as I am.
« Last Edit: September 18, 2012, 12:09:28 am by MadZealot »
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Lokabrenna

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #4 on: September 18, 2012, 12:44:05 am »
Quote from: Altair;74274

What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?

 
I don't think you should beat yourself up over it, it's a perfectly natural reaction for someone to have. I even hesitate when killing bugs (except wasps and hornets and such, because they are EVIL! j/k, actually, they are pretty evil). I don't usually see a lot of dead critters around here, though. There are a few cats in my neighbourhood so dying creatures are usually dispatched quickly and I assume they're eaten. Most of the animals I see are already dead.

I personally go find someone who isn't as creeped out by dying animals to take care of things. My brother has spent much more time with animals than I have, so he's not as fazed by it as I am.

Valentine

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #5 on: September 18, 2012, 01:09:33 am »
Quote from: Lokabrenna;74284
I don't think you should beat yourself up over it, it's a perfectly natural reaction for someone to have.

 
Seriously, it's a perfectly normal reaction, especially for someone raised in US culture and not on a farm.  My religion would almost certainly have required me to help the creature die?  I'd like to think I'd be able to, in your situation?  But it's still been hard for me, the times I've been faced with that.  Helping might mean a mercy kill, and it might mean staying gently until death came.

That said, I have very, very strong childhood memories of a situation like this.  My mother was trying to scare off some pigeons with a pellet gun and accidentally winged one to the point where she felt it was helpless and was going to die a painful death by predator.  (To this day, I'm not convinced she was right.)  So she had my brother and I--probably seven and nine?--drown the pigeon in the swimming pool.  She made my brother hold it under the water and I had to witness it; I don't remember if I was told to do so but I got in the water, under the water right up next to the bird, and stayed with it there until it stopped kicking.  It was the first death of anything larger than a bug that I ever witnessed, and I had an instinct that witnessing was exactly what it deserved. For my brother, feeling that heart stop in his hands while our mother made him hold firm traumatized him in a lasting way.

So.  It's complicated.
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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2012, 02:09:15 am »
Quote from: Altair;74274
A few days ago, on a lunchtime stroll around midtown Manhattan, I passed a pigeon that apparently had been hit by a car. It was flopping around on the sidewalk in a pathetic and hopeless attempt to right its twisted body.


The very situation.

A few years ago, a friend and I returned from a Ren Faire and found a pigeon on a little parking lot, flopping around. I caught it and put it in a small pet carrier (I found it just down my street) called the animal protection which pointed me to a vet who worked with them.

There the vet saw that its neck was broken (I didn't know a bird could still live with a broken neck - maybe the pigeon you saw had the same injury) so they put the bird down.

I know I could not have done it. The thought of overrunning the pigeon with the car, to end its suffering occured to me, but I just couldn't.

But I did the next best thing, I helped it over the rainbow bridge via a painless injection from someone who knew their job.
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yewberry

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2012, 02:11:12 am »
Quote from: Altair;74274
What would you have done in that situation? What would your beliefs have called upon you to do? And in a very real, practical sense, what role does death play in your daily life? What role do you think it should play?


I kill creatures on a regular basis.  A few for food, but many more to put them out of misery.  The latter (things like birds tormented by cats, or a snake run over by a bicycle) are always small enough to dispatch quickly with my bare hands.  I'm not sure what I'd do with something larger.  I have neither the skills nor the tools to give a quick death to, say, a deer.

Death is part of the circle.  Sometimes I have to be the usher from one state to the next.  I consider it a duty.  It's also my duty to make things as stress-free as possible for the animal.

Brina

Altair

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #8 on: September 18, 2012, 08:09:06 am »
Thanks, all, for the thoughtful replies.

Quote from: yewberry;74292
I kill creatures on a regular basis.  A few for food, but many more to put them out of misery.  The latter (things like birds tormented by cats, or a snake run over by a bicycle) are always small enough to dispatch quickly with my bare hands.  I'm not sure what I'd do with something larger.  I have neither the skills nor the tools to give a quick death to, say, a deer.
Brina


I went deer hunting once, here in New York (upstate). I did it for a number of reasons, but one was to get in touch with my death aspect. I accompanied an experienced bow-and-arrow hunter, but the only prey that passed our stakeout was too far out of range.

I haven't tried it since, mostly because I found it too boring (lots of waiting around with no action; like fishing); I'd rather be birding. But I laugh at myself after the pigeon incident a few days ago; I couldn't even put that poor bird out of its misery, and I thought I'd be able to look a deer in the eye and put it down??

Killing vertebrates seems to be a hurdle for me. The only time I can think of doing it up front and personal is when I drowned a mouse caught in a glue trap.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Altair

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #9 on: September 18, 2012, 08:11:07 am »
Quote from: Valentine;74286
Seriously, it's a perfectly normal reaction, especially for someone raised in US culture and not on a farm.  My religion would almost certainly have required me to help the creature die?  I'd like to think I'd be able to, in your situation?  But it's still been hard for me, the times I've been faced with that.  Helping might mean a mercy kill, and it might mean staying gently until death came.

That said, I have very, very strong childhood memories of a situation like this.  My mother was trying to scare off some pigeons with a pellet gun and accidentally winged one to the point where she felt it was helpless and was going to die a painful death by predator.  (To this day, I'm not convinced she was right.)  So she had my brother and I--probably seven and nine?--drown the pigeon in the swimming pool.  She made my brother hold it under the water and I had to witness it; I don't remember if I was told to do so but I got in the water, under the water right up next to the bird, and stayed with it there until it stopped kicking.  It was the first death of anything larger than a bug that I ever witnessed, and I had an instinct that witnessing was exactly what it deserved. For my brother, feeling that heart stop in his hands while our mother made him hold firm traumatized him in a lasting way.

So.  It's complicated.


Sorry, but that sounds like an awful thing to make kids do. Especially if the adult is the one who injured the bird, causing the situation in the first place.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Altair

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #10 on: September 18, 2012, 08:20:48 am »
Quote from: Juni;74278
My beliefs... I believe it's wrong to prolong suffering and pain. But in every instance, I found myself unwilling to snuff out a life- who am I to say whether that pain is bearable, whether it can be recovered from? I can't tell you how many birds with twisted wings fluttered up into a tree and perched there for a while, sometimes a few days, until they flew away. Certainly as many as died in my hands. And I could never tell, just by looking, which would make it and which wouldn't. So I did what I could to comfort them- and I think in some way I did, as their breathing always slowed, their beating hearts slowed. I don't know.

 
Ironically, the pigeon was the *second* bird in that short half-hour walk that was on the midtown sidewalk in distress. (A message from above, of some sort?) The first was a red-eyed vireo--a sparrow-sized insect-eater, kinda cute, and ubiquitous in the  woodlands of the eastern U.S. It had obviously crashed into a window--an all too common occurrence this time of year, unfortunately, while migration is happening. A bunch of us passersby watched it for a while, and it turned out it was just stunned, revived, looked around as if to say, "What the hell--?" and flew off. Put a smile on all our faces.

But then, the pigeon. Clearly a different situation: It couldn't hold its head and neck at a normal angle, for all the useless flopping of its wings it couldn't find its feet...that bird was done for. I should have overcome my squeamishness--because that's really all it was--and hastened its finish.
The first song sets the wheel in motion / The second is a song of love / The third song tells of Her devotion / The fourth cries joy from the sky above
The fifth song binds our fate to silence / and bids us live each moment well / The sixth unleashes rage and violence / The seventh song has truth to tell
The last song echoes through the ages / to ask its question all night long / And close the circle on these pages / These, the metamythos songs

Tana

Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #11 on: September 18, 2012, 08:25:45 am »
Quote from: Altair;74307
It couldn't hold its head and neck at a normal angle, for all the useless flopping of its wings it couldn't find its feet...that bird was done for.


*nods*
Sounds really like a broken neck. The pigeon I found, looked the same.
\'You had to repay, good or bad. There was more than one type of obligation.
That’s what people never really understood.….Things had to balance.
You couldn’t set out to be a good witch or a bad witch. It never worked out for long.
All you could try to be was a witch, as hard as you could.\'
Terry Pratchett \'Lords and Ladies\'

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Catherine

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #12 on: September 18, 2012, 09:36:26 am »
Quote from: Altair;74307

But then, the pigeon. Clearly a different situation: It couldn't hold its head and neck at a normal angle, for all the useless flopping of its wings it couldn't find its feet...that bird was done for. I should have overcome my squeamishness--because that's really all it was--and hastened its finish.

 
I don't think I could have done it. I'd be afraid of doing it wrong and causing more pain and suffering without actually killing it.

Tana

Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #13 on: September 18, 2012, 09:55:30 am »
Quote from: Catherine;74311
I don't think I could have done it. I'd be afraid of doing it wrong and causing more pain and suffering without actually killing it.

 
This. Thus the vet.

I know that there is a point an animal is beyond help, but just like Juni I'd rather give it a try. (There is more than one bird, that hit our windows, that I collected and kept in a cage over night and the next day they would fly off again.)

So trying to help as far as possible, and when the only help possible is to have the poor thing put down, so be it. But I won't do it myself, because I just can't and I can't do it right because I am squeamish and don't see that as a thing to be ashamed off. I don't see a need to be able to kill with my own hands.

But I accompanied my own pets and some wild birds right to their last breath, because I don't shy away from that either.
\'You had to repay, good or bad. There was more than one type of obligation.
That’s what people never really understood.….Things had to balance.
You couldn’t set out to be a good witch or a bad witch. It never worked out for long.
All you could try to be was a witch, as hard as you could.\'
Terry Pratchett \'Lords and Ladies\'

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Re: A Failure to Summon Death
« Reply #14 on: September 18, 2012, 09:57:30 am »
Quote from: Catherine;74311
I don't think I could have done it. I'd be afraid of doing it wrong and causing more pain and suffering without actually killing it.

 
Same for me. There was a horribly mangled but still-living turtle on my road once, and I couldn't bring myself to try to kill it, in case I botched the attempt and just made its fear and suffering worse. It still troubles me, though.

-Shefyt
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