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Life Arts    H2'ed 8/26/21

Why am I a pacifist?

Message Gary Lindorff
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Dead spider in shed
Dead spider in shed
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I am walking down a path

Near Sullivan's Pond

With my brother

And a friend of his.

Mosquitoes are swarming.

My brother and his friend

Are slaughtering the little kamikazes

Left and right

While I brush them away.

My brother's friend says,

"What's wrong with your brother?

Why is he letting the mosquitoes bite him?"

My brother actually stops walking

To focus on what he wants to say:

"There's nothing wrong with him",

He says,

"It's how he is."

This story stands out as one of the first times I realized how different I was from the beginning. Being a pacifist was not a choice. It was how I came out of the womb. I have since overlaid grown-up reasons for being unable to kill anything but none of them held water. They leaked, as most rationalizations tend to do. But my brother's explanation still rings true: I was made that way. I can accept that. But now I want to try to explain something about pacifism that I have only recently begun to understand: Pacifism, at least for me, isn't rational and it isn't reasonable and it might not even be sustainable, by anyone. It doesn't stop me from eating a free range chicken or pulling weeds or clearing a wild corner of the field. What it means is, killing, or causing or contributing to the suffering of any living thing, drags me down. It makes me sad, it dampens my spirits; it literally hurts in some part of me that is connected with everything.

The fact is, if I kill a spider, I am killing that spider inside me. If I eat a free range chicken that I buy at Hannaford, I am eating a chicken who was once alive inside me. It's like Jung said quoting the gnostics: As above, so below. Me: As without, so within. That is what is going on. I can kill, but it kills something inside me that corresponds to whatever I kill.

If I cause something to suffer (like a squirrel that I accidentally run over), something equivalent inside me suffers. Is this the definition of empathy? And there are shades of empathy: If someone is sad, then I am a little sad. But how about if something is happy or joyful? How about if I happen to make someone happy or feel more alive than before? I think it works that way as well, I feel their happiness or joy rise up in me . . . but it's more poignant on the shadow side. I think that might be because pain and suffering and dying tend to isolate. When something suffers it usually suffers alone and when something dies, the miracle of its having been alive is no more, and that to me is very sad, so there is more to the symmetry of the equation of suffering and death. Happiness and joy and contentment are expansive and inclusive and perhaps, for me, it is less personal. Suffering and death are slowly or instantaneously centripetal, pulling inward or withdrawing and in the case of death, something unique disappears forever, and I experience that disappearance, I miss it, I mourn it. I can't explain why I am this way, it is just as my brother explained to his friend 60+ years ago: It's how I am.

Does anyone identify with any of this?

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Gary Lindorff is a poet, writer, blogger and author of five nonfiction books, three collections of poetry, "Children to the Mountain", "The Last recurrent Dream" (Two Plum Press), "Conversations with Poetry (coauthored with Tom Cowan), and (more...)

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