On my way in to work this morning, I ran over a squirrel. There was really no way to have avoided it, but I still feel terrible. I can only hope that its death was quick and painless and that it is not still on the road, trying to breathe through crushed lungs. I drive a Toyota Yaris and, although I love having such a tiny car, it is like a thin-soled shoe and I feel everything on the road, from small holes to paint lines. So I felt that poor creature through its entire death scene.
Things die all the time. Death does not bother me. And although I am upset that a small creature is dead because of me, I know that death is inevitable and not even that big of a deal. I recognize that I have a bias toward 'cute' animals and don't give much thought to killing ants, spiders, wasps, cockroaches, ticks, mosquitoes or any other kind of tiny pest. I think this demonstrates a complete lack of perspective, actually. A life is a life, right? I don't kill people because they annoy me. I don't even kill dogs, cats or rodents with the casual disregard I have for insects. I killed a squirrel today and it has shaken me up considerably, but I also probably kill at least a dozen bugs every day and don't care or even notice.
I guess my problem is with suffering. It is too easy for me to put myself in the mind of some suffering creature. I can imagine its pain and desperation and fear. This is simply a high degree of anthropomorphizing, I know. There is no way to actually know what anything or anyone that is not me is feeling. I would rather not kill anything, but that philosophy becomes impractical almost instantly. As I think I have said before, life is only possible through death. If it becomes necessary - or even practical - for me to kill an animal, I want to do my best to make it happen with an absolute minimum of suffering.
So to the squirrel: I am sorry. To the bugs I kill every day: I am sorry. To the rest of the lives in the world that I will some day claim: I hope that when I step over your life in order to improve my own I do not fill your last few moments on earth with pain and fear.
I never used to care about things like this. Churchill famously said, "If you're not a liberal at twenty you have no heart, if you're not a conservative at forty you have no brain." I realize that this is in reference to politics, but I believe that politics and personal philosophy are entwined. I am becoming more liberal by the day. What does this say about me?