A warning: This post contains nothing about Crohn’s, IBD, SCD, or anything else. I just didn’t have any other place to share it, so I’m sharing it here.
When I was young, I got a big thrill out of killing small animals. Not in some kind of creepy serial killer sort of way… I didn’t torture them, or use my hands, or kill pets. But give me a slingshot or a BB gun, and the squirrels in the neighborhood were suddenly in grave danger. I don’t fully grasp, even now, why I found it entertaining, and I’m not at all certain that it matters. It’s important here because it was on my mind heavily when, many years ago, I started making a concerted effort to become a more compassionate and empathetic person. That work continues, as I expect it will for the rest of my life. But I am now, without question, more compassionate and empathetic than I was as a 12 year old boy.
And so it was with no small amount of internal conflict that killed a critter last night. On purpose.
We’ve been dealing with a rodent infestation in our house for some time now. It’s mostly under control, and we believe that we’ve sealed off all entry points, but it seems that at least a handful of mice were subsequently sealed into the house. As it happened, one of them was caught in a trap last night. Or rather, just its front leg was. Which meant that the poor thing was thrashing around, dragging the trap around in sad, pathetic attempts to free itself. Which in turn left us with a choice… let it continue until it collapsed in exhaustion, eventually dying an anquished and terrified death over the course of a few days. Or ‘take care of it’. It struck me as highly unlikely that freeing the little thing would help it much… its leg was probably broken, and it would just take longer to die. Ultimately, the humane thing to do, we concluded, was to kill it, as quickly and painlessly as possible. After some ruminations on the tools available to me, I had Diana hold it down long enough for me to place a chisel on the back of its neck. A quick, decisive knock with a hammer, and its spine was severed. I watched while a storm of electrical activity raged through its nervous system, legs twitching, body convulsing. Until, after a few seconds, it was still, and a tiny puddle of blood formed around its mouth.
In trying to describe the emotional experience of it, a lot of words come to mind that don’t quite work, but maybe touch on different aspects of it: guilt, fear, agitation, sadness, remorse, reverence. I think what took me most by surprise was the significance of it. It felt like I was doing something important, big…. significant. But what did it signify?
There’s clearly an element here of mortality. I feel a much greater sense of empathy and connection to a cute little mammal than I do to a tiny insect, and so taking its life was granted greater significance, because that empathy and connection force me to confront my own fragility and lack of permanence.
And maybe that’s the thing. As I poke around, trying to find something else, that’s all that really comes up. It seems so cliche that I’d hoped there’d be something more profound. As I held the hammer up, preparing to strike, why did I hesitate? Was I afraid to inflict pain? Possibly, though I knew that ultimately, it would relieve more pain than it caused. Or maybe there’s just something innately significant about the act of taking a life. It’s treated so cavalierly in today’s media that we just don’t really think about it much, but the intentional killing of something maybe *should* be a big deal.
There’s also the distinct probability that I’m overly-navel-gazey here. At any rate, I hope I don’t have to do it again any time soon. I didn’t much like it.