My brother and I gave my little sister a hard time when she went vegetarian as a twelve-year-old. When she balked at the teasing, we told her that she was too sensitive. It would have been an extraordinary feat to maintain this newfound integrity in the face of two admired older siblings.
Many years later, that teasing had reason to come back to mind. I was home on a day off, working on a writing project that was determined to stall.
Before that day, I understood that, yes, meat comes from animals, yes even some animals I think are cute. I did have long stretches of vegetarianism myself; veganism as well.
But I would just go back to eating meat, eventually. I had challenged my apparent lack of empathy that made it possible for me to eat meat, but at the end of the day when the sun sets, I was good with barbecue.
So on that day off, I set about making myself a bacon sandwich. Bacon was my all-time, go-to, never-fail for cravings, and when my appetite was wonky, it was a guarantee.
As I look at the meat on my plate, the part of me that intellectually understands that bacon=pig and pig=animal and animals=live beings connects with the part of my brain that emotionally understands that upon my plate are carved slices of an animal I happen to like. Jolt.
Sometimes things just hit different, you know?
I had another flash of insight like this a few weeks ago. It was so intense I had to mentally place it aside because otherwise it occupied the entirety of my horizon. The intellectual part of me that understands the severity of the climate crisis, negative feedback loops, permafrost melting, ice-free arctic, Venus-effect, connected, at once and irreversibly, with the emotional part of me that that understands there might come a winter when there’s no winter at all. We might lose winter. Seasons, as we know them. Predictability, certainly; species, relentlessly. Jolt. We’ll lose it all.
I think of billionaires so eager to conquer something new that they scorch the earth behind them on their race into the void of space, away from a planet teeming with life. Surely it would not be easier or preferable to live underground on Mars for generations attempting to terraform it than to look at Earth devotedly and commit to healing? Surely we are not just abandoning lifesaving measures?
Retirement plans. The rich have them. I don’t mean the six-figure rich, so don’t worry about my sticky fingers and your uncle’s RRSP. The mega rich. Bezos and Musk and Zuckerberg et al. don’t concern themselves with what happens to Earth—or us—when the world runs out of water. Before it does, they’ll make a trillion speculating on it. It will be a long, frightening time for the global majority while the resource hoarding escalates. Be not idle.
There’s no money in my retirement plan. Frankly, I think it’s more meaningful to spend money now, on my friends and family and local creators and tradespeople. The exchange enriches many lives, builds a bond between seller and buyer if the transaction goes well, and deepens the roots of the community. It comes back around.
Jeff Bezos “makes” $37,000 a second.
Ten thousand dollars (less than three seconds of Bezos’s very valuable time) changed my life forever. Raised lovingly by my community to support me in a time of deep need. Bezos couldn’t possibly miss it. A few seconds? Only a computer would notice that blip. What could you do with $10,000? How much relief could even a few seconds of his earnings give you?
Now, how could you possibly earn $13 million an hour?
You can’t. You literally never will. None of us will.
People like Bezos are winning the game they rigged and playing us all.
Nobody earns 13 million bucks an hour, and if anyone could come close, it’s the overworked, abused, monitored, micromanaged, dehumanized workers—the ones who actually make the money for the multi-million, -billion, and now -trillion-dollar corporations. Jolt.
My retirement fund is myself and the skills I have and intend to accumulate, and my community. I believe my community is so strong it can survive anything it’s confronted with, if we are prepared. And I do think we need to be prepared.
I can’t put any stocks in stocks, banks break my heart, but people? That’s where I invest.
Sometimes, you are hurtling through space at a speed that I could not concretely determine no matter how many reputable websites I consulted due to the annoyingly complex way that gravity affects speed and how when Earth moves around the sun, the sun around the Milky Way black hole, all toward the local group, so even if you’re going forward, you’re also going backward.
And sometimes, despite that, you come to a standstill at just the right “time” and place. You see things lined up in a new way, a clarity that was not accessible to you before.
It’s difficult to be open to it, as the jolts can be violent and alarming. They can change us—if we let them.
P.S. I still eat meat. Insight doesn’t always last forever. I just do my best. Just do yours.
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Kathleen May is a writer, speaker, and activist. Her column, She Speaks, has appeared in the Huntsville Doppler since 2018. Her work in our community includes co-founding the long-running Huntsville Women’s Group, volunteering with Muskoka Parry Sound Sexual Assault Services, and her role as a front-line counsellor at the women’s shelter. Kathleen is a 2018 Woman of Distinction for Social Activism and Community Development. She was longlisted for the 2020 CBC Short Story Prize, short-listed for the 2019 CBC Nonfiction Prize, and received the Best Author award for her 2018 submission at the Muskoka Novel Marathon, a fundraiser for literacy services. When she isn’t writing, she’s designing a tiny house which she intends to be the impetus for a sustainable women’s land co-operative in Muskoka.