is one of the activities that occurs more frequently as we human animals get older. More people that we know or used to know are dying from age related conditions. That's if we're lucky enough to have adequate nutrition, shelter, medical care and live where violence or other factors do not serve to reduce our life span.
I attended one such human funeral this past Monday. The link will take you to a brief obituary if you're interested in knowing about the person who died. She was one of the children in a family that lived near us all during my childhood. She was considerably older than me and her siblings were also older. But I do remember her and do remember her fondly. She was always pleasant and nice to me and so was all of her family. So I didn't resist the obligation I felt to attend the funeral both to mark her death and as a gesture of respect and support to her surviving family. And...I have an older sister who wanted to attend and she asked me to drive her there. So going to the funeral (and I do not much like funerals) was a task that accomplished a number of things all at once...and I like to be able to do things that way when possible.
Culturally dictated activities like funerals are things that we all do. Here in this part of the country most occur in some religious building or other. This one took place in a Methodist Church. I vaguely remember from a long-ago Anthropology class that the one near universal constant seen in the human animal death ceremony, regardless of the culture, is that there is some sort of procession symbolically representing the journey from life to death. Most funerals here involve some sort of "procession" from the place of the funeral service to the place of burial. On this occasion I only attended the doings called the "funeral service".
One of the reasons I have a distaste for funerals (beside the obvious one of not generally enjoying death) is that most of them occur in a church. And I have some antipathy toward most of the brands of organized religions that I'm familiar with, particularly the Abrahamic religions, especially Christianity...probably because that's the sort of stuff I'm most acquainted with. I just haven't had much of a chance to get offended by other religions.
Suffice it to say I'm not too impressed with the behavior of human animals in general but when we get into some sort of "religious" mode (especially "Christian" or "Islamic")...well...we tend to suck. At least that's my take on it. And please note...I'm not trying to degrade or offend...and I'm not talking about spirituality...which a lot of us tend to confuse with religion. They aren't the same thing. (All in all, I probably lean toward spiritual notions akin to Animism more than anything else.)
Well, one of my more dreaded experiences came to pass at this funeral. The pastor running the event made it much more into some sort of proselytizing event instead of an honoring of the dead person. Which happens way too often...I guess they figure if they have a captive audience they should push their product. Anyway...when he finally got to the rather brief part where he talked about the woman who had died...he related a story that just irritated and saddened me terribly. It still disgusts and saddens me.
The story was that this woman was kind and helpful and competent and accomplished...and one of the accomplishments he talked about was that she was a "big game hunter". He told some story about her shooting and killing a deer and behaving toward the men in her camping group as if it was no big deal...anyone could do it.
Many in the audience laughed as this story of her murdering an innocent and harmless animal was told. I was staring and the floor and struggling not to jump up and ask all those laughing why was murder a funny thing. Why was the death of an innocent being and occasion of humor? Especially at a ceremony marking a death! What kind of religion encourages killing, laughs about killing. She murdered somebody...that's an occasion for shame and sorrow...not laughter. But...I didn't jump up...and part of me still wonders if I didn't betray that dead deer. I guess in a way I did and I feel bad about that. I diminished myself by not confronting the vicious speciesism that was exhibited by that story and by that laughter.
Even looking back...I would still not jump up and confront the ugliness. I wouldn't interfere in whatever processes were going on in the family and friends. The meeting was about honoring a human female who died. But the ugliness and callousness and obliviousness shown by that story will forever mark my memory of that meeting. I will remember my shock at such a story being told and my dismay and sorrow that laughter and smiles greeted the telling. I often wonder if our species isn't fubar.
Here's what I'm going to do. I plan to write that preacher and voice my dismay and sadness that he's so oblivious to innocence and grace and beauty and horror that he tried to build up one living beings existence by presenting her as a murderer. I'm going to ask him if talking about the death of an innocent being honors the killer. I am going to do that. And...I will make a donation to our local wildlife rescue in honor of that long dead deer. And I will always be stained and diminished in some measure because I sat and heard the laughter and did not openly object. And I am diminished and stained because so many human animals think killing is humorous.
Speciesism hurts and diminishes everyone it touches and it permeates this culture. And it is ugly. And ten years ago that story would have only discomforted me, it wouldn't have mortified and offended and outraged me. So I have changed and if I can change...so can others.
I imagined attending a funeral two-hundred years in the past, and hearing some story supposedly honoring the dead human that involved their killing of an innocent slave or Native American...and I imagined hearing the laughter. And I despair...but I do realize that change from two-hundred years ago has happened and so I can also hope. I know who Donald Watson is, I live as an ethical vegan. So can other human animals. We must.