Today I accidentally destroyed two lives.
I’ll update you on the pitbull shortly – I’ve been in negotiations over the weekend to arrange the reward fee and to try and get access to someone on the housing estate where it may have been taken. It’s not been easy to get people to talk about it. The woman who owns the dog has gone strangely silent. If I don’t hear back I’m going off this morning to ask questions and try and talk to people who look like they might steal dogs or know people that do. But its now 10am and I figure that people that steal dogs don’t get up on Monday morning before 11 so I’ll have a coffee.
But before we get onto that let me tell you about the killing I did this morning. In the last hour I’ve wiped out two lives. Not a great start to my year of compassion.
First of all, I get into the shower, turn on the water and notice a tiny mosquito is in the bath tub. Despite my best efforts it drowns before my eyes. Who cares about a mosquito you say? i do! Or at least I’m trying to. How the hell do I resuscitate it? In the eyes of the mosquito I’m both immensely powerful and yet bloody useless. ‘Save me Martin’, I hear it scream, ‘you have a university degree!’ It dies.
Then I walk into the garden and accidentally step on a snail in the wet grass – I hear the crunch and my heart sinks. I look down and fearing the thing might still be clinging to life I find myself kicking the living shit out of it,
not out of any malice, but because I can’t bear the thought that it’s in pain. A strange moral gesture you might think. I look at the bottom of my boot: not only have I massacred it but I’ve also destroyed its house. ‘Manslaughter, y’honor, and I’ll pay for the refurb’. I feel very bad. I wonder if the boot is a kind of metaphor for the insensitivity of the human in the midst of nature: how we no longer feel the ground under our feet. I reckon it isn’t really.
Let’s leave aside for a minute that these two creatures may seem small and insignificant, that they are not furry and cute, that they don’t do funny things that we can video and send in to Saturday night TV shows, and that neither the snail nor the mosquito has ever contributed to the canon of human literature (if mosquitoes wrote great plays with tremendously sad endings would we like them more – would we give them rights? – in fact those very mosquitoes have killed a fair few humans in their time, in the most grim and slow way possible. Truly Shakespearean I suppose) – but let’s instead consider that these two little beasts are living creatures. It says something damning about the blundering moral clumsiness of us humans that a man who is dedicating a year to saving animals has already accidentally killed two in his first few days. Or maybe it just shows that I’m crap: at this rate I’ll have killed 365 by the time the year is out and the project will be a murdering mess.
But to be fair, I think I’m pretty average. We all cause mini-deaths on a weekly basis – whether through accidents like this or buying more meat or cutting down hedges that are homes for birds. It’s hard to go through life not causing pain to others, perhaps impossible. This makes my heart sink a little – on the basis that my ultimate goal is to create a better world with less pain then on the principle of do no harm’ I probably have the best chance of making a success of this year by climbing into a small box for 365 and being fed through a straw. As long as the substance they feed me is not a dairy product.
Perhaps our best chance of doing good is by not doing bad.
People talk about how great world peace would be but how impossible it is to achieve. No it’s not. Everyone just needs to stand still. Just stay where you are. That guy who’s about to kill his wife with a knife. Just stop in the kitchen and stand still – he can’t QUITE reach the knife can he?. Those rebels who are storming into the village to massacre the enemy, just stop, they can’t shoot from there can they! No. There’s a tree in the way. If we could invent some sticky tape to put on the souls of feet so everyone just STOPPED the world instantly be peaceful. Ever seen trees brawl? No! Ever seen a tree shoplifting? No! They’re rooted to the spot (apart from in Lord of the Rings where they go mental but that’s just a film). Or lets all climb into a box. Let’s start National BOX day!’ For one whole day everyone gets into a box and DOES NO HARM. But my point is serious. It’s our terrible touch in the world that is so heavy, we thunder around knocking things over, bumping into people, stepping on snails, drowning flies. We should look where we are going.
I came back upstairs and saw a couple of tiny flies banging their heads against the glass of the bathroom window. I thought to myself, either those flies are full of self-loathing or they just want to get out. I assumed the latter and realising my chance for salvation I spent five minutes trying to usher them out of the window, eventually succeeding. When they flew off I considered my moral account was now all clear: I’ve killed two creatures, I’ve ‘saved’ two. My balance is ZERO.
If you accidentally kill two men (say you are in Westfield shopping centre and you accidentally drop your new HDTV off the top floor onto a small outdoor cafe, you don’t make it all OK by helping a couple of old ladies across the Hackney Road. You are NOT morally neutral. You’re in the dock.
Right now I’m in the insect dock.
And I plan to get out y’honour. I must do better, I will do better.