got the InterNets up and running again at my home in Santa Cruz, and lemme tellya, a lot of stuff has been going on.
I finished the drive across country 2 weeks ago now. A couple of thoughts on it: it's not necessary. the expense of gas, plus the 36 hours alone (with audiobooks) takes a toll. Maybe it's less effort than selling the car, boxing and shipping stuff... but driving alone is not really my cup of tea either.
The event of the trip: I hit a large deer in Kansas (i think somewhere near the Colorado border). It put a big dent in the hood of the car, and also hit the windshield. It could very easily have landed in my lap, or crushed my skull, but it didn't. only the hood was damaged, but that's not the point. I'm not pondering mortality after this one.
Rather, I am considering my lack of moral fortitude. Hitting the deer took me back to an experience I had in Bolivia where I, along with Jorge and Alfonso, came across a wounded and dying little alpaca lying on the ground. It was breathing shallowly, and slightly moving its legs. Though it had no apparent injuries, it clearly would never stand again. It was simply lying there waiting to die.
The hard part of seeing this was that birds were eating its eyes. This alpaca didn't have the energy to shake them off, nor could it simply die. And there we were, standing there, completely sickened, and completely paralyzed. We all looked at each other and shook our heads. "Aye, el pobrecito. ?Que triste, no?"
I suggested we kill it somehow, and Jorge asked if anyone had a belt. we didn't. I suppose he thought to strangle it or something. in any case, after the belt suggestion fell through we let it drop and scurried away.
I was disgusted, sure - but also embarrassed, I think. I mean, I knew at the time that we should put this poor thing out of its misery, but I didn't muster whatever was necessary to press for the means to do it. I'm still embarrassed by that. I mean, couldn't we have broken it's neck? later i remembered my knife in the car, and I thought to myself that if I ever came across a similar circumstance, I would be able to kill the thing.
Though I tried, I was only able to partially justify my inaction to myself. I said, "Aaron, you know, this is Jorge's trip, not mine. He's in charge. If I had pressed more to kill the alpaca, that would be putting him on the spot, questioning him."
There is a bit of truth in this justification. Jorge was the man whose family I was staying with in Bolivia; he was my 'exchange father' for the year. And he DID actively discourage me from pursuing the issue with the alpaca. I didn't know him well yet, and, as this was near the beginning of my travels in south america, I was definitely not on familiar territory. I was still trying to figure out how to deal with South American machismo and such (not to mention Spanish language). There were plenty of reasons why, socially, I didn't act. but i feared that the largest reason I didn't act was that I was just chickenshit. That I couldn't really face the alpaca's pain, or accept the responsibility for ending it's life (as an aside, i was a year into vegetarianism at this point).
Anyway - I had put that incident out of my mind until i hit the Kansas deer. Actually, I didn't think of the alpaca until a while later, but my inaction with the deer mirrored my inaction with the alpaca in a way that's making me write this blog entry.
I can't blame myself for hitting the deer. I had just come over a small rise that obscured it, I stomped on the brakes for a good 50-60 feet, and I managed to swerve to another lane (only to have the deer jump to that lane at the last second). I made smart efforts to avoid it; I wasn't driving carelessly. BUT - I could have made sure the thing was truly dead afterwards. There was no way that the deer could have survived for long after I hit it - I hit it pretty hard - but it could have suffered for some time by the side of the road.
Immediately afterwards, I was pretty freaked out. it took me about 30 seconds to realize that I was in danger of getting hit myself if I didn't pull off the road. once I was on the shoulder i got out and looked around. I didn't see the deer, and the cars that started coming by didn't swerve to miss road-kill in the middle of the road. So I figured it was on the median. That meant it's body wasn't a danger to night-time drivers. and it meant I'd have to cross the highway to check on it. I passed.
In a situation like this, my mind quickly throws up excuse after excuse for why I don't need to take action. That mental struggle is so clear to me now. It's like someone screaming at you : GO IN THE CAR NOTHING HAPPENED DRIVE AWAY MAYBE IT'S FINE LOOK OVER HERE NOTHING TO DO GET IN THE CAR CAN'T BE HELPED DEER IS GONE IT'S OVER NOW NOTHING HAPPENED GET IN THE CAR CAN'T CROSS THE HIGHWAY DRIVE AWAY
and there's a tiny voice that's saying, "well, really now, shouldn't we make sure it's not suffering?" it leaves me pondering phrases like 'mental fortitude'. i couldn't wait for the interior screaming to quiet down, and i just left. the excuses of: I couldn't see it, i didn't know where it was, I thought it was probably dead from impact, crossing the highway is dangerous (though, in retrospect, this danger was slight); were enough for inaction to win me over.
In my life, I've faced two of these compassionate-kill situations and both times i have lost. I can hear my grandfather the hunter laughing at his vegetarian grandson who can't even own up to a dead deer. He would certainly have no hangups about putting either of these animals down, and neither should I.
What is my point here? I guess what makes this situation interesting to me isn't really that I've discovered this particular hangup of mine - I don't like killing stuff even when I should. (Wow, that's a big discovery.) Rather, it's made me think about what goes through my head at that moment of a difficult decision. Most of what goes through my head is sheer irrational panic.
I don't mean to sound like I never make the right decision. I'm actually pretty good about owning up to mistakes. The recent situation of,"Sorry, I tried your door, and set off your alarm," comes to mind. But I wonder what the difference is between a right decision and a wrong one. How much is timing? the situation? an individual hangup? prior experience? how much is just a sense of calm?
I'm glad to have thought this one through. Thanks blog. i think i've got a bit more preparation now for the next time that mental panic kicks in. I'm glad jess and i have ramped up our meditation practice again. i can feel that it may help.