Allow me first to speak a few words of my main passion and purpose: veganism and vegan advocacy. For me, the transition to veganism was a cognitive transformation: an awakening which triggered whole new pathways of understanding; a realization from which there can be no retreat, for that which is realized can never be unrealized. This realization was like slotting into place the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle; it extended, for me as it does for so many others, far beyond veganism. I think it taught me compassion.
Those of us who study the human condition and the plight of those less fortunate than ourselves, both our contemporaries and those throughout history, find the compartmentalisation of the psyche needed for escapism too hard to maintain. For those who eschew the hedonistic pursuit of escapist pleasures, those whose realities are grounded in the beauty and suffering of the real world, there can never be true sorrow untinged with joy just as there cannot ever be true joy untinged with sorrow. For that is the plight of the romantic; to deny that reality is to choose ignorance, to accept it is to invite madness. Many people have noted that along with genius comes madness but we are all, in our own way geniuses and we are all by extension flirting with anomie and despair, fighting our inner demons in order to continue our struggle to survive and function. To look is to see and to see is to know. If knowing alone can cause such feelings of anguish and heartache I often ask myself: how can shelter workers who have to wretchedly euthanize healthy, happy animals day in and day out survive that ordeal with their sanity intact? How can those doctors who care for terminally ill children and watch them die maintain their facade of professionalism with dry eyes? How in fact do we all cope with the inevitable tragedy of the unnecessary suffering and death of our loved ones? It is almost unbearable even when we deliberately restrict their number to a manageable few family and friends. No wonder we strive to restrict that number – it’s self-preservation. For those others of us, on the other hand, who endeavour to extend our circle of compassion to include and embrace every living being on earth and to witness their suffering, the pain can become insurmountable and ultimately sometimes too much to bear.
Well now the Christmas celebrations are upon us; a time of year that is to me a fundamentally meaningless holiday other than the merit stemming from the ancient pagan traditional worship of the winter solstice from which it was plagiarized. That day (actually it’s the 23rd) marks the turn of winter and heralds the welcoming of the shorter nights and longer days that bring warmth and rejuvenation and life. For the second year in a row spending Christmas without my son and daughters I can clearly see, first hand and empathize with, the mean-spiritedness and exclusivity of this grubby little holiday. All the rampant, out-of-control consumerism and pernicious emphasis on the in-group-ism of “family” and friends is sure torment for those who have no one with whom to share it, widows and widowers, those who have never had a family or children, orphans and those who are forgotten and left behind on society’s scrapheap. The disabled, the elderly, the animals, those who are tormented by memories past and those others who by cruel fate and circumstance were denied even those memories. I am privileged to have so many friends who will be spending their holiday season selflessly helping those less fortunate, human and non-human, and I am in the deepest awe of these people and take comfort in their genuine, non-proselytizing altruism. You are the best of humanity; I love you.
Surely if this supposed Christmas tradition of love is to have real meaning it should not be constrained by such consumerist and in-group precepts of mass-culture but should mandate an open-door policy in every Christian (and non-Christian) home. Take a walk down your street on Christmas day; how many homes have a “Knock and enter” sign on their gate? Not too many I would guess: and those homes in the more politically conservative locations, those homes with the most expansive lawns and longest driveways, those homes exhibiting the most egregious displays of piety are more likely to be displaying a “Keep out, trespassers will be shot” sign. Perhaps we should all volunteer at a soup kitchen at Christmas.
If this time of year is to have any meaning at all it should be all about the renewal and extension of love and compassion, not a celebration behind firmly closed doors of greed-fuelled death and exclusivity with grotesque table centre-pieces of animal carcasses. I am myself, by a very large measure (as you know or will learn) far from perfect, but to me perfection is in itself an interesting concept. We should never stop improving ourselves: our understanding, our freedom from entrenched views, our empathy for others. Ironically, perfection is unobtainable for as long as we can strive for it for the moment it is achieved and the moment we stop striving are one and the same. After all, that which is perfect cannot be improved upon. Personally, I lay aside any ambition of achieving perfection and simply embrace the striving, life is like a road-trip, the goal being the journey rather than the destination – a lesson that my vegan advocacy has firmly hammered home. Many people demand every perfection in every little detail for Christmas but this life isn’t about perfection, it’s about the perpetual struggle to improve ourselves and with that I bid you all happy holidays and thanks for your understanding, warmth and friendship. Until next time, love, peace and good health to you all.