Friday, February 1, 2008

My Ram in the Thicket

Recently Muslims in parts of the world,as part of a religious rite, slaughtered a ram in rembrance of Abraham's willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac to God's wishes. I saw a picture of a young muslim girl kissing her pet ram just before the slaughter and it brought back vivid memories of when I participated in a similar event.
When I was 16 I went to Southern Utah to "survive" for 30 days off the land, while hiking over 300 miles. Usually we were given a ration of 1/2 c. dry oatmeal, 2 tbl. brown sugar, and 1 cup of flour to eat for a week. But one particular week we ate completly off the land. We ate ant larvae, black snacks of some variety, a rattlesnack, and lots of greens, while hiking over 50 miles. When we reached our base camp, a ram was tied to a pole in a small haven surrounded by trees. We were informed that we would kill the ram, to experience a profound gratitude for the ram giving up his life, that we could eat. The deeper metaphors were left for us to discover on our own.

What I remember most vividly was that this ram KNEW what was going to happen. He started breathing so heavily that he labored to just take in a raspy breath. His entire body trembled with no control. His eyes darted from person to person.

The girl that volunteered to kill the ram, elected to use a knife to slit his throat. She was not strong enough and so after stabbing the knife in, was unable to slice to the other side. A man offered to help, but with no success. Finally one of the leaders loaded a gun to kill the ram, who had been crying with an eerily newborn baby sound. The shot sounded and it was finally over.
What did I learn from this macabre experiment? Well, right then I learned that no matter how hungry I was I would not eat the meat. (I was the only one out of 35 to do so). I learned that we all share a spirit of life, witnessed by the rams behavior of pre-knowledge. I learned that if they were trying to teach me about God sacrificing his son, it did not work. I just felt horrible, with no greater principle to hold onto. As the years have gone I can't say that I have progressed into any deeper metaphor. Did I equate God The Fathers sacrifice of His Son? Partly yes, but...the lesson seemed lacking and as much as I wanted to think of God's sacrifice, I just felt empty. Mostly, I just keep thinking whoever came up with this idea, must have thought it would profoundly affect young minds to a more spiritual bent. But what actually happened for me was a disgust that a group of humans could take part in such a needlessly painful way to slaughter a living animal. It was wrong. Wrongly conceived. Wrongly executed.

I think of that young muslim girl slaughtering her pet ram and I hope that with the sacred rites of her religion, her experience will have meaning that will strengthen her beliefs, instead of leaving her bereft and questioning.


angie said...

i have always thought that survival is one of the craziest things you have ever done - and i don't know if it was worth it. i didn't like reading this. but, that's just because i don't like to linger on the hard things - but i that it doesn't mean they don't exist. sorry - it still sounds upsetting thirty plus year later.

Roy said...

Ditto, It is amazing what happened "back in the day". The ram episode was ill concieved!

So glad you survived survival and still love to go camping.

catherine said...

Still love to go camping? were being sarcastic roy?

2part said...

I know I'm not really related to you, and I'm not sure I'm really allowed to respond to this, but I've spent time with Patrick this week so I'm hoping it's ok...
To me, your story was a perfect example of group-think. Humans can be so horrible when they let their own egos dictate their actions, playing roles that reinforce false self images. You, on the other hand, demonstrated true compassion. I wish I knew you.

catherine said...

You are welcome, always, to leave comments. I agree with you completely.

kristen said...

Wow, this was so sad to really got me. By the way, I am one of Abbie's old roommates...and can I just say what a fantastic person you have raised. Man, I love that girl. I can see where she gets it from! I hope I am allowed to read your blog, even though we've never met because you are an incredible writer with deep thoughts. Thanks for sharing!

lane said...

And I thought pioneer trek was bad! Why have I never heard about "survival"? Probably because you are repressing the memories--and with good reason.

This reminded me of an essay one of my students wrote. She is Muslim and watched while her pet cow was sacrificed according to "Halal" tradition. Though it was hard to let her cow be killed, she was forced to think about the sacrifice and humane treatment of all the animals she eats.

Hopefully, the little girls you speak of will have a positive experience like hers, not an awful one like yours in which no one is prepared or trained. The sanctity and suffering of animals is something we don't think about enough.