I haven’t been on facebook or any social media for ages. I signed on for the first time in months and perused one of my friends’ walls and saw Mali the Elephant holding her tail.  The tag reads “She’s so lonely. She holds her own tail…”

I didn’t just feel like crying–I cried. I couldn’t help it. I can relate to being lonely. I can feel that deep sadness when all you have is yourself and that’s all you can rely upon because you have no support from the environment in which you live. I so get that, and it pains me. Regardless of whether or not this particular image is propaganda, it speaks the truth, and it touches me bone deep.

Free Mali the Elephant

Often, I feel so helpless in the face of this real suffering. So many of us doing this work feel helpless. I fool my way out of it when I put on my theorist, philosopher, systems thinker hat–which for any of you who follow my blog know that I have a great affinity for philosophical thinking. But all that theorizing does not replace or even assuage what I feel when I meet suffering. I feel so powerless when I see these images of animals in places I’ve never been before. I feel gut-wrenched sorrow witnessing animals across Asheville, locked up, in chains, killed in the road, alone with no space beyond their own bodies.  And I feel stabbed in the heart as I’m surrounded by humans numb to this suffering, confirming day after day their justification and superiority. I feel stabbed in the heart because I am one of them, fighting to be an ally for animals but also tired because I’m losing this fight the way that I’m going.

I’m posting this now because for the first time, I want to use this blog as a way to reach out. I know I’m not the only one who feels this way, and I don’t want to feel lonely anymore. I don’t always feel compelled to write a treatise on the order of things and behave as though I’m an academic when in actuality, I’m just a deep intellectual trying to liberate myself and be there when it counts for animals.

I look into Mali’s face, I look into the face of a dog in chains, I look into the faces of hens who have no clue they will soon be sent to slaughter, I look into the face of a fish on a hook–and I cry a river of pain greater than my existence, greater than humanity. Right now, that’s all I know to give. And when I do, I know that I’ve let the life of those animals into my heart, more than theorizing or talking about veganism can ever do.  Nothing but this sadness feels real.  Where do I go from here?

In Buddhism, they have a word for this deep sadness older than words, as old as life itself; they call it “bodhicitta.” It literally means “awakened heart.” It’s that tender pain in your center that makes you want to weep for no real reason except in response to life itself.  I’ve realized all this time as an animal rights, social justice, and ecological justice activist, I had not let anyone or anyplace into my heart until now. College allowed me to place these areas in a theoretical, objective sphere where it didn’t have to touch my tender spot. I could go as deep intellectually as I wanted and I could say these radical things about animal liberation without feeling what they truly meant. Connecting with animals as individuals–human and nonhuman–and facing myself as an animal allowed all these feelings and behaviors to emerge. I can no longer fool myself into looking at an animal, getting caught up in my own internal dialogue about oppression and struggle, and believing I’m actually seeing that animal. I’ve come to realize I don’t know who any of these animals are. And how can I possibly be an ally to them if I don’t know who they are, where they are, how they are, and why? I cry just asking this question.

This crying is the beginning. Now I know I’m on to something. Mali’s loneliness will show me the way.

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