I had a nightmare last week — perhaps the worst that I have ever had. Like all my dreams, exactly why things were happening was muddled. But I was doing target shooting — at live human beings. There were others there watching me. They might have been coercing me, but regardless, they were fine with what I was doing. I shot a man in the right thigh and a woman in the abdomen. It was not the shooting that made the dream so horrible. It was watching the pain the two people suffered.
Everyone around me was completely disconnected from the outcome of what I had just done. Finally, I said, “Are you going to help these people?!” And they all acted as though they had been woken from a dream and started seeing to my victims. I then woke, glad to know that this bit of human cruelty was just in my mind. It was only a couple of days later that the genesis of the dream became clear to me. It all had to do with a moth that I had killed.
Killing a Fly
Usually, it isn’t moths. The truth is that I commonly kill flies. I don’t go after them, but if they get caught in my room, they drive me a little crazy. I find it almost impossible to work when a fly is buzzing around me. So I kill the fly. I’m not proud of this. I’m placing my very temporary productivity above the life of another creature. And it’s a creature that I find fascinating. In my hunting of them, I marvel at the beauty of their flight paths.
But here’s the thing: the majority of the time, I cannot kill the fly on a first blow. I have blinds, and it is generally the case that the fly will only land on the window and I will have to swat through the blind. I will then, as quickly as possible, find the fly and finish the job. As anyone who has read me for any length of time knows: I do not find death so horrible. But pain is. So I move furniture or anything else to limit the fly’s pain. (And yes: it’s life.)
Wounding a Moth
But when I was down at my sister’s a few weeks ago, I badly wounded a moth. But it crawled away below a heavy piece of furniture. I couldn’t finish the job. Had it been my house, things would have been different. But my sister dragged me away. She was, I suppose like normal people, indifferent to the plight of this poor moth. But it has haunted me.
I’ll admit: I likely empathize too much with these creatures. But I know that my life really is no more important than theirs. My concern about pain may be laudable (or laughable). But I wish I were better. I wish I were a Jain monk, not willing to knowingly hurt a fly. But I’m too selfish. And moths and flies are hardly the limit to my selfishness. I love chickens but have no problem eating them.
It’s hard to live an ethical life. I deserved that nightmare.