As far as we know, everyone gets One. Everyone. Just One. Nobody gets a second go-round, we all have only one shot at life. That is why I never felt justified in taking another one’s One. This made eating a cheeseburger as a child complicated, and caused me to question my beliefs and commitments. But when I was around 12 years old I discovered I really, really liked bologna. This proved to be a problem. It didn’t exactly resemble an animal, and it was rumored to be made up of discarded animal parts… So, was it wrong to eat bologna or would it place me in the category of some sort of cleaner, like a vulture? Hmm. I eventually decided all meat and by-products contributed to the harvesting of animals and so I declared a meat-free existence. Naturally, challenging tidbits and enlightening comments such as “Broccoli wants to live, too” surrounded me constantly, creating a defensive and very confusing environment. Fortunately, my family had a gentle approach to nature and calmly entertained my vegetarian demands with platefuls of, well… vegetables.
I remember distinctly when my vegetarian journey started. It was one summer morning while I was sitting peacefully at our neighbor’s pond watching their cows graze. I eventually fell back in the tall grass and closed my eyes. The warm sun and slight breeze put me into a sort of trance. I wasn’t exactly asleep, just in the in-between state of semi-consciousness. When I regained my senses 30 minutes or so later, I opened my eyes a slit and held my arm across my face to block out the sun. I focused and discovered a large, wet, cow nose inches from my own. The smell of fresh grass and warm breath blew into my face with the force of a large balloon exhaling. Suddenly a big, rough-looking tongue protruded from under the nose and entered one of its nostrils in front of me. I was clearly being examined up close. I moved my arm to prop myself up and in so doing startled what turned out to be the entire herd of 15 or so cows. They had encircled me; this foreign lump growing without purpose in their pasture. I eventually scattered the herd by sprouting legs and wandering back through the brief woods toward home for lunch. Ah, lunch. Cheeseburgers. I had not quite yet made the connection until that moment. I knew hamburgers came from cows… but REAL cows?
A declared vegetarian from then on, I promised to uphold all living things and do what I could to preserve life. This included gently removing spiders from windowsills, “cupping” wasps and placing them outside, as well as rescuing worms after a rain. The latter was actually something I’d learned from my father who would spend what seemed like hours walking up and down our driveway, flicking drowning worms into the grass with his car keys after a rain. A physicist, he was a quiet man, a thinker, and he did this routine so methodically I wondered if there was some sort of deeper satisfaction to be gained from this ritual. I found myself doing the same thing years later, mumbling the phrase “Just one more!” as did Private Doss during his famous rescue of fallen soldiers in the movie Hacksaw Ridge.
A big heart for rescues, my mother accumulated several dogs and cats during my childhood. One cat in particular took a liking to snoozing in the upstairs bathroom towel closet. Every time anyone took a shower they eventually ended up with a face full of cat hair. Not to mention the hairy socks. Shuffling through the house in socks resulted in a unique cat-hair quality, with every other article of clothing eventually also earning a particular mohair look.
My mother first realized I mirrored her concerns for animals when she dropped me and my two brothers off at the local library one dreary afternoon. I’m certain this was as much so she could have some quiet time as it was entertainment for us. She watched from the car as we walked to the front door of the building, but she must’ve pulled away from the curb too soon. I never made it inside. My brothers left me outside with a fat black and white kitty that was purring loudly and head-butting my upper body as I sat on a wall at the entrance to the library. Two hours later my mother returned, and was shocked to find me sitting on the wall with my new friend. The library was in an older run-down area of town surrounded by narrow streets; not exactly a safe place for a stray kitty. “Mew” came home with us and produced seven lovely kittens in our linen closet two weeks later, thereby explaining her initial plumpness. She eventually transferred them to the basement, one at a time, somewhere up in the rafters, amongst the fiberglass. Concerned with the consequences of the environment, we retrieved her little family and relocated them into a bedroom closet, which she accepted.
I started marveling at all facets of life at a young age, staring into the faces of glorious insects for minutes at a time, imagining what life must be like for them. Animals fascinated me, and I wanted to feel what they felt, to understand what mattered to them, and to know what they thought of us. I soon decided we didn’t treat animals with the appropriate amount of respect and that I wanted no part in this. Growing up near the ocean, plenty of trips to the beach were in order during the summer months, and they consequently proved my point. Naturally the beach was a popular destination, where families with young children could be seen romping along the shoreline. My day would frequently turn into one of desperation, as I would witness a young child filling a bucket with crabs, sea stars, or some other hapless creatures. I would try to reason calmly with the offender, starting with “How would you like it if someone put you into a bucket….” And later, nearing controlled hysteria, “You know they carry diseases…” The minion would typically ignore me and trot off to retrieve more unsuspecting creatures for the collection. It remains a mystery how the bucket would almost always tip over, expelling the rapidly moving contents into the safety of the ocean before the warden could possibly be notified… but it happened.
I wanted to respect animals in their own right, not to have or hold everything. Let animals do what nature intended them to do. People, children especially, seem to want to “have” or “keep” animals taken from the wild. The critters are then forced to live out their lives in a box of sorts where they couldn’t possibly behave as they were designed to. I found it much more interesting to observe them in their natural state. The desire to confine them seemed foreign to me and I realized a determination to assist animals in need.
Rescuing animals comes naturally to me, given my upbringing and inherent sensitivity toward others. I try to help animals in distress to reach safety and to encourage them into an appropriate environment. While there are certainly situations where help is impossible without causing a threat to others, most of the time there is something that can be done. This is why I choose to act, to do something, rather than sit idly by. It’s not always convenient, not always practical, but it is always rewarding knowing I did something. We all get One. And we’re all leaving wearing the same clothes in which we arrived, some of us perhaps a tad hairier.