When I started my run this morning I wasn’t expecting an emotionally transformative experience.
The day started off as most, groggily rolling out of bed at 7:30am despite having set my alarm for 7:15. I threw on some exercise clothes, drank a glass of water, and fed my two cats, Gus and Miles, who always make sure to remind me, incessantly, how hungry they are. Finally, I got out the door, ready to get some exercise in before starting another busy day.
Pleased with the cool temperature outside I quickly checked my iPhone to see the weather forecast for the day and was pleasantly surprised to find out that the high was only 75 degress. Finally! Autumn weather is approaching, I thought. You may not think that 75 degrees constitutes autumn weather, but living in Los Angeles with a high of 100 degrees the past two weeks, I’ll take what I can get! I popped in my headphones, started my “favorites” playlist, ran one block, turned at the corner, and then there it was.
It’s quite possible that the view I see as I round the corner is the only thing that gets me out of bed for these runs in the morning. Rolling, green hills of Griffith Park to the Southwest and the Verdugo Mountains towering to the north carve out an awe-inspiring skyline, the majesty of which no city buildings could come close. Today, with the misty, low clouds seeping in between the foothills, this view was more magnificent than ever.
This is the part of my run that sets the tone for the rest of the 35 minutes I’ll spend circling through the hills of the Mount Washington neighborhood I call home. The beauty of purple mountains against an orangey early-morning sky fills my heart with gratitude. The wide-open landscape gives me a feeling of limitless possibility and I end up spending the rest of the run contemplating how I can make the most of my day. Sometimes a birdseye view can help us see the bigger picture and focus on the things that really matter.
I stopped briefly to snap a photo and then kept going down my usual route. As my mind wandered from thoughts about new posts for this blog to ideas for an eBook I’m writing, the lyrics to the song that was playing on my iPhone grabbed my attention:
“It’s barely yours on loan
What you think you own
The place that you call home
The ideas in your bones”
I thought about what the lyrics meant. To me, they were just another reminder of how important it is to live for today, and the current moment. Because life is short and it’s not ours to keep forever. But what we do with our time here can live on after we fade away. This may seem sad but I really was contemplating this in an optimistic way, wondering what more I could be doing to make a difference and “be the change” so to speak.
As I finished climbing the last big hill of my route, I turned the corner to see a black cat sitting next to a parked car. When I got closer, I was startled by how closely he resembled my cat, Miles. With the same short black fur, golden eyes and thin muscular build on a petite frame, I instantly felt a kinship with this feline, whom I had never met before. I tried to approach him, but he got spooked and trotted away.
I started back into to my slow jog and, suddenly, became overwhelmed by emotion and began to cry. At first I thought that it made me sad to think of Miles being homeless on the street, the way he was when he was first rescued as a kitten before I adopted him. But then I realized it was deeper than that.
The fact that I felt an emotional attachment to this cat without knowing him, simply because he looked like Miles made me realize something. I was able to see him for more than just being a cat. I recognized a living being who had a personality and habits and needs, just like my two cats at home who I’ve gotten to know very well over the past few years. And it’s this type of “recognition” that led me to become vegan at the beginning of this year.
It made me wonder, if we as human animals could “recognize” the life in nonhuman animals, how many things would be different. Most of us are so far removed from animals who are bred and used for human consumption, tortured for testing in labs or killed for their down, fur, skins and feathers. We also separate ourselves further from non human animals by perpetuating a paradigm that we are a higher species and that they are here for us to use. We have to. Otherwise, we could not do the horrible things that we do to them.
A good example of this idea came up recently in my life and really struck a chord with me. My neighbors have two backyard chickens. After learning that chickens can easily live up to 8 years(typically much longer) but only lay eggs for the first few years of life, I asked my neighbor the fate of the birds once they stop laying eggs.
The answer, though not surprising, was nonetheless disheartening. Dinner.
In other words, once the chickens are no longer deemed “useful” they no longer deserve to live. The one final way to get use out of a chicken, whose only value was in providing eggs, is to have her for dinner.
My mind ran over this conversation again as I ran and I realized that the problem, from my vegan perspective, is that when my neighbor, and our society in general, looks at a chicken, we see someTHING. What if, instead, we saw someONE?
As all of these thoughts raced through my brain, I kept running, and crying. I knew I must have looked ridiculous but I didn’t want to stop running and I just let myself cry until I was done. Sometimes it feels good to do that.
At times, it can be overwhelming to be so painfully aware of the cruelty that we, as humans, subject nonhuman animals to. Emotions creep up on me more often than before, as they did this morning on my run. But that’s ok with me. I really feel like my fear of “knowing” is what kept me from becoming vegan sooner.
And now that I am vegan and have been learning hard truths and realities, I can now make more educated decisions. I can avoid products made by companies who test on animals. I can avoid purchasing products that have been made with furs, skins and feathers that belong to the animals from whom they were unwillingly and painfully removed. I can eat a diet free from meat, dairy and eggs. I can raise my voice, speak my truth and affect legislation and hopefully “plant seeds” among others who may want to learn more about veganism.
Most importantly though, I can learn to focus my energy on living more compassionately in all aspects of my life and in every encounter with humans and nonhumans alike.