May 29, 2007

Birthday Blues and Other Mistakes

Posted in family, philosophizin, stupid me, veganism at 3:43 pm by nevavegan

So before anything else, everyone should go check out Harold Brown’s article entitled “The Dynamic Between the Animal Industry and the Animal Movement” which appeared in this edition of UPC’s Poultry Press. Sometimes we need to just ask ourselves what we’re doing and why!

My birthday is coming up really soon and this is always a bad time of year for me. We passed the anniversary of my being attacked, and it came and went without real notice, because it’s not a day I observe. However the ghosts came too, all the nagging self-doubts that sometimes tell me I should have died years ago and it’s only some cosmic accident that I’m alive.

I don’t mean to say that in any kind of suicidal way. I’m thankful for each and every day, and all those moments of beauty that shower down on me. I just think of people I’ve known who aren’t here any longer and I miss them. And I think on my own mortality and the line between my being here and not being here seems so thin and so easy to cross over, and I boggle at the randomness of my existence.

My birthday kind of sucks because it is always the reminder that I’m a trusting moron. It might be dangerous to call myself such on my vegan blog. But actually I think in a way this makes me more right about veganism, because I recognize this tendency in myself. So I definitely did my homework on all aspects of veganism. If someone tells me something, I look it up. If I’m wondering about something, I look it up. And one source isn’t sufficient, I have to double and triple check. And I like to look at the methods and size of the actual studies, because I know not all studies are created equally.

At first I was not so open to the idea that vegetarianism and ultimately veganism might be a good idea. I thought: Why would my family feed me meat if it weren’t the right thing to do? The environmental issues were the wedge that started to separate myself from the “eating animals is right” view. Because the environment is changing, and our damage to it is snowballing. So, if things are changing, then “what’s right” might be changing too.

After years of doing this, my thinking has changed in many ways. I’ve come around to thinking that if I don’t need to eat or wear or abuse animals to ensure my survival that probably means I really shouldn’t. IE, I don’t need to hurt others, so I shouldn’t hurt others. I’ve read more and learned more. But it’s always there, the need to research and give myself a little sanity check.

But anyway, trusting moron…

See, I was born in June. My brother was born in May, on the Sunday just before Memorial Day, Memorial Day Sunday, part of the long holiday weekend. And growing up, my parents always told me that I was also born on Memorial Day Sunday, and so every year my family would observe our birthdays together, on the Sunday before Memorial Day. My mother didn’t believe in holding birthday parties for children, she didn’t let us invite our friends or anyone our own age, but we still had cake and some family there, and maybe even a gift or two. As I got older I asked why we often celebrated on my brother’s actual birthday, but never on my actual birthday. My parents told me that Memorial Day used to sometimes take place in June, but after I was born Congress passed a law to decree that Memorial Day would now always occur in May, and so it would never be on my birthday again.

So, all through school when I told people that I was born on Memorial Day Sunday and that’s why my family observed my birthday then, people would look at me like I was nuts. They’d tell me plainly, no, you were not born on Memorial Day Sunday, to which I’d happily reply that the year I was born Memorial Day really did happen in June, but then Congress passed a law… And people laughed at me, but I kept on insisting.

Fast forward to me being an adult and married and still believing this story, and my husband told me that he hated to be the one to break it to me, but this was all entirely fiction. We looked it up. No, I was not born on Memorial Day Sunday. Any law regarding Memorial Day was passed long before I was born, and even so Memorial Day had never been in June. I told my sister about this, and noted that I was a little disappointed to learn this after so many years. She passed it on to my parents. The end of the story is a rather annoyed phone call from my mother to tell me that it was no big deal and she couldn’t understand why I was being so childish as to talk to my sister about my birthday not happening when we all thought it did. Still she insisted that she always thought I was born on Memorial Day Sunday, but she’d really been in too much extreme agony risking her life giving birth to me to notice what day it was.

Which I guess I can accept for what it is. It doesn’t matter. Though I will note that my family was never confused about the birthdays of either of my siblings. I looked it up and my brother really was born on Memorial Day Sunday. The only thing that really bothered me about it was all the times I’d made an idiot out of myself insisting against all evidence and all really good arguments to the contrary that this myth was real.

If there’s any point to this story, it’s to refer back to something my therapist said: I have a gift for loving and believing in people even when they haven’t earned it. I have to be careful with my trust and my belief. And though my impulse really still is to trust and love everyone, I have to be able to look at things with a critical eye as well. I can like someone, but I don’t have to accept everything they say as gospel. If nothing else, even the best intentioned people are sometimes mistaken.

Lately in the animal rights movement I’ve noticed a tendency of those in positions of power to take any questioning as a direct insult. “Don’t you know how hard I work; don’t you know how many hours I put in for the animals?” Honestly I really do. It’s just that my loyalty isn’t to the person, it’s to the movement. I can know how absolutely sincere someone is in every possible way, and still sometimes wonder if they have all their facts straight. It’s not a desire to hurt anyone on my part; it’s a reflex now: Check the facts and then check them again. With it comes the innate distrust of anyone who demands belief without providing solid evidence or logical backup. Sorry, I can like you without following you off a cliff, and I can like you without believing you’re infallible.

Sometimes it’s not so bad to question everything. I’ve even had those moments where I go back and review the reasons I’m vegan and note how my views have changed over the year. Because it’s my compass and my road map to understand where my convictions come from. Because without questioning I’m just happily rattling off something someone else told me, and it might be that I’m saying something really silly and everyone else knows it, except me. So I have to review. I have to ask if what I’m doing is helping or hurting.

I think about the protests I went to when I was younger, organized and attended often by fairly prominent people in the movement. We were babies really, and so, so angry. The sight of a full length fur coat in a shop window, sent me to tears and then to shouts of rage. I saw the footage over again in my mind of animals in traps, and multiplied it over hundreds of times to produce that coat. And I was one of the calmer people there, really. So you can imagine those protests were a little on the frightening side. So now, years on I have to look at that and ask if that was helping or hurting. Was I indulging my emotions or was I reaching out to people and educating them on the issues. I don’t think anyone was really listening then, when our shouting reached the upper decibels.

So I have to ask myself: Is this something I really understand, or do I have to go back and do my own research and get a better grip on it? Am I acting in a way to further compassion or am I loose cannon? Am I simply repeating things that I’ve been told without any of my own knowledge?

Where does that leave us? Simply here: It’s not wrong to ask the hard questions, it’s in fact absolutely vital to our movement. Don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

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3 Comments »

  1. Emilie said,

    “I think about the protests I went to when I was younger, organized and attended often by fairly prominent people in the movement. We were babies really, and so, so angry…I saw the footage over again in my mind of animals in traps, and multiplied it over hundreds of times to produce that coat.”

    This passage really resonated for me. I think about that anger and the trauma of playing all that I knew and learned about the suffering of animals over and over and over again in my mind and just getting angrier and angrier. I don’t know what to do sometimes with the anger and the sadness. I try to funnel it in different ways and think I’ve been successful, but then it haunts me in a different way: because I’m not as angry and so constantly consistently in tune with the suffering, am I less committed as a vegan, am I doing less. It’s scary, because I think it’s true, but then again, I don’t know how the other way is sustainable. Thanks for prompting the consideration of these important questions.

  2. Anonymous said,

    Hey there Neva. Your post broke my heart. It is clear that your family were abusive, and you must not blame yourself, or consider yourself stupid, naive or ‘too’ trusting. The very people you expect to be on your side and to tell you the truth lie to you and deceive you. That is not your fault- it is theirs. I admire your strength. I really admire that you are willing to put these pieces of info out there. Take heart in your strength and courage.

  3. Neva Vegan said,

    Thanks Emilie. I think the anger is there in the beginning when you first realize how messed up everything is. Later some of us become numb to it in many ways, as a self-protective device. Although I definitely still get angry sometimes.

    I think we all are trying to look for ways in which we can help and contribute without losing our sanity. Blogging on beautiful vegan food as you do is a major contribution actually, because it demonstrates to people that they can do so much by being vegan without really sacrificing very much at all. I think that all of who demonstrate that a compassionate lifestyle is possible are doing something. Though for me it has been something of a struggle, and still is to find ways that I can contribute using my unique talents and gifts. I guess we just always need to be creative in our approach.

    Thanks anonymous as well, though in all honesty, most people find this story about my birthday hilarious. There are other less fun stories, and then there are good stories too. I don’t know entirely what to make of the whole thing as my family still swears that they really thought I was born the Sunday before Memorial Day and I’m not a mind reader, so I can’t verify or refute that to myself. But I do keep it in mind as a reason why I need to do my own research and check the facts myself! Also, I’m kind of joking when I call myself a moron, maybe a self-protective thing, like if I call myself something first then nobody else will, I guess… I don’t really consider myself a moron, but it is an example of how I kept believing something silly even after many, many people tried to tell me it wasn’t true. So, um, yeah, check my facts, that’s the answer!


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