Rite of passage
As I contemplate my childhood, and the growing phases I seemed to have gone through; there are some aspects of my undeveloped personality, that to this day cause me some sorrow when I revisit that time, and relive some of the antics that I participated in and even enjoyed.
It seems that I started off as being a creature that was unselfconsciously cruel in many ways and from my limited experience was not much different from the other boys that grew up with me. I suppose killing other life forms was “fun”, for instance we used to get those GI Joe toy soldiers and light them, then go to some ant nest and then blitz them with the hot plastic, cheering when we hit a target, not even considering that we might be causing unnecessary pain and terror on the denizens of the colony. I remember one incident that I still revisit that causes me real pain, a pain that seems grow as I understand what we did to such a gentle creature. One day in the jungles of Panama a group of us boys, we were between the ages 10-12, came upon a sloth moving slowly towards a tree, we immediately started teasing it, poking it, and having a great time, egging each other on. It then escalated to us getting clubs, or large branches and beating it, and all the creature could do was to slowly move away towards a tree, which it did not make. We beat it to death and after it was over, we thought we did a great thing, we whooped like cave men and then laughing we ran off. So much for children being innocent; well we were innocent of the pain that we caused a helpless and gentle creature, which harmed no one.
I also hunted for awhile, and liked it. The man I hunted with was a nice man, but he was just into killing things. So one day we went out and we saw a group of monkeys, howler monkeys to be exact. He gave me his 22 and told me to shoot one of the monkeys; so I got the gun and tried, and go one, it fell to the ground and when I ran over to it, the first thing I saw was the monkey laying on the ground trying to put leaves in its stomach wound. The sight stopped me in my tracks, as I witnessed a poor suffering animal trying to close its wound, being able to think on what needed to be done. The man I was with just walk over and shot it in the head, and told me I did a good job. Funny I did not feel like it.
I started to change after that event; I stopped hunting, and begin to feel some regret over the cruelty and pain that I had visited upon innocent creatures. I noticed also that most of my friends of the same age going thru the same process, more or less, and the cruelty stopped, at least on that level. I don’t know why little boys go through this stage of growth when they are little. Perhaps it is necessary, that in going through this, some degree of empathy is developed when it is learned that great suffering, useless suffering, was visited on poor defenseless creatures who were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
Today as I get older, I even hate stepping on insects, even roaches if they are not overtaking my home, I suppose I am beginning to understand the richness of life, and how precious it is, no matter how small the creature is. I am not being sentimental here, I know there are times when we have to protect our homes from being overrun by both insects and rats, mice etc, it is just killing for the sake of it that I am learning to foreswear.
I remember one day when I was 14, a man who lived next door, I guess he was in his early 40’s, approached me with a proposition. He would pay me $5, a lot of money in the very early 60’s for a teenager....if I would capture two neighborhood cats, tie their tails together, and then throw them over a clothes line....My reaction was immediate; I yelled at him “are you nuts, what the hell is the matter with you” and stormed off, filled with a vague form of fear, based on the fact that adults existed that seemed to have remained like 10 year olds, when it came to their relationship with the life around them, which was very disquieting, hence the fear. Some people could not be trusted….how many (?), I had no way of knowing. I guess that was a rite’s of passage for me, for I never looked on adults the same again after that. He never approached me again and I gave him a wide berth.
I think we are a violent species and it will take a lot of growth, insight, and foresight to be able to deal with this. I suppose in the far past we needed to be hard, even cruel in order to survive, but I think that time is over, and hopefully we can slowly climb with God’s help to a way of being in the world that is not so aggressive and destructive, not only towards the world, but also towards our neighbors and in the way we relate with ourselves.
I am not naïve, this is a slow process, it is with me at least. I struggle with my deep primitive side, and it takes self awareness to be able to stay on top of it, something I also struggle with.
One point, I hope we will at least find a way to treat those animals we use as food in a more humane manner, something that is also growing on me. How we treat animals will also dictate how we treat one another; it is all one.