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sympathy for the devil, part II

December 15, 2011

For reasons too numerous and varied to count, I would make a lousy politician.

For purposes of today’s discussion, I’ll mention reason #467:  I change my mind a lot.  Because I am just an ordinary citizen with an ordinary life, one of the worst consequences of this character trait is a steady diet of my own words.  Among the past declarations I’ve later had to swallow: “I hate running!  The only time you’ll see me run is if someone is chasing me!”  “I will never allow my children to eat junk food,” and “Terence Trent D’Arby will be bigger than the Beatles!” [Fine. I never said that last one.  He did.]  Suffice it to say, though, that I’ve gotten pretty good at eating my words.

I know.  Right now, you’re wondering, “What is she talking about?” your brow knitted in the glow of your laptop’s screen.  “Who is Terence Trent D’Arby, and what does he have to do with the Snake Farm?  Seriously, what is she talking about?”

So, circuitously edging toward my point…  While I may be opinionated, I am also often mutable.  Flexible on a good day, wishy-washy on a bad one, I’ve learned to accept this facet of my personality.  I embrace the fact that I’d be a loser of a politician, and I urge myself to never say “never,” in spite of my hyperbolic inclinations.

There are, of course, areas of my life in which I bend very little.  Food is one of them.

One of the most significant relationships of my life, I realize, has been with vegetarianism.  While I was raised an omnivore, I’ve been a vegetarian years longer than I ever ate meat.  I guess that makes me born again — I don’t know.  On a daily basis, I don’t think much about it — I’m not a remotely picky eater, I just don’t eat anything that once had a face.  If you ask me why I became a vegetarian in the first place, I might respond that it was this very concept — the idea of eating things with faces — that did it.  True, I was a Morrissey-loving teenager who “Right-on!”-ned “Meat is Murder” bumper stickers and read Sassy magazine with religious fervor (at one point, I really wanted to attend Oberlin College solely because it was editor Jane Pratt’s alma mater; that is, until I realized how cold it gets in Ohio).

stack of sassy magazines by smu women's centre via flickr

At least some of my bent toward vegetarianism was wrapped up in a desire to be everything I didn’t think I was — cool, exotic, independent, and uniquely principled.

If wanting to be cool was it, though, I might today be typing this post with one hand as I gnawed on a turkey leg with the other.  Beyond my desire to be different, the concept of eating dead animals began to repulse me.  I really, really wanted to be the kind of person who loved animals too much to eat them, but — if I’m honest with myself — I wasn’t.  Truly, I don’t love the animals some people eat.  Chickens terrify me, a fact to which my urban coop-loving friends can attest.  I don’t feel any strong affinity for pigs or creatures of the sea.  And, I’ll own it:  I don’t love things that slither.  I won’t go out of my way to harm one, of course, but I merely tolerate the existence of reptiles and amphibians.

I am absolutely not interested in hanging out with exotic scaled creatures, but for my little boys, I pretended to be.

I went to the Snake Farm, a mythical relic of my youth, primarily because I knew my kids would be fascinated by the world of creatures housed inside.

I thought I would be disgusted.

I thought I would urge us toward a hasty departure, invoking ice cream bribes or cursing imaginary traffic. 

I didn’t imagine I’d find the place as depressing as I did.

To be clear, this is not a criticism of the Snake Farm.  It seemed like a clean, well-maintained facility with knowledgeable staff and copious visitors.  I guess what I couldn’t get past was the menagerie of animals, coiled and curled and variously postured under glass and behind chain links for the crowd’s entertainment.  Maybe it has been a while since I’ve seen animals penned up like these were.  Maybe I was just feeling particularly sensitive that day.  But, boxed up and wide open for every passing human to ogle, these animals were positively tragic.  I felt guilty making eye contact with a rattlesnake provoked by my fellow patron (“See?” she told her kids, “If you tap the glass, he rattles!”).  I felt sad for each of those creatures, worlds away from their homes in Africa or Mexico or Brazil.

image by longitude latitude via flickr

For the short time I was there, I guess you could say that I loved them.  Regardless, I will never, ever eat them.

Apparently, some reality show I’ve never seen called Dirty Jobs filmed an episode at the Snake Farm.  I’m not sure I would’ve gone if I’d found this clip earlier:

I guess you could also say that I got more than I bargained for from my Snake Farm visit. 

What about you?  When is the last time you sympathized with one of your devils? 

Today, I hope you realize how cool, exotic, and uniquely principled you really are.  Jane Pratt and Morrissey?  They’ve got nothin’ on you.  Thanks, as always, for showing up.

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