Rachel Krantz

What a privilege it is, to be able to try to reduce harm towards animals and the planet.

I was having this thought just today when a bird shat on my head through the mosquito netting. I didn’t take it as a sign, or at least not a negative one. I just laughed and immediately washed my hair, watching the rainstorm that night clean the hammock for me. The symbolism I assign to events, I keep learning, is my choice.
Each time I sit down to eat, I try to remember that, too. What a privilege it is, to be able to try to reduce harm towards animals and the planet. How impossible it seems, as one of the big ones, not to hurt in ways big and small every day. What a beautiful dance, deciding to try anyway, imperfectly but with intention.

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1 Response to Rachel Krantz

  1. shinichi says:

    Humane Bug Catchers and Celebrating Imperfection

    “The humane bug catcher seems to encapsulate what being vegan is about for me: a philosophy of non-harm that’s totally, utterly imperfect”

    by rachel krantz

    https://tenderly.medium.com/humane-bug-catchers-and-celebrating-imperfection-d817eef29274

    The most memorable moment of my first meditation retreat was small, quite literally. I had a few free hours to lay on a blanket in the grass, which felt beyond luxurious compared to watching my neuroses drift by on the cushion. Giant ants and other bugs I didn’t know the names for crawled on and off. Oh hi, I remember thinking, amused by my sudden absence of fear. I’m on your lawn, aren’t I? Can we share?

    I was twenty-six and finally starting to imagine that the worst of my bug phobia could be spoken about in the past tense.

    It all started when I got head lice from a cousin a few months before leaving for college and promptly spread it to my first boyfriend. My mom and stepdad, who’d been together since I was four, were in the process of separating. After the lice came back a second time, I broke up with my boyfriend, confirmed in my suspicion that love and vulnerability would always end up uncontrollably contaminated.

    The phobia mushroomed, and I began spraying my mattress nightly with the equivalent of DEET and sleeping with a pillowcase on my head. (Kids: don’t do OCD.) No matter what the doctor said, I was convinced I still had lice. It seemed impossible to account for every strand on my thick head of hair — especially when my mother, someone sleeping on the couch (by choice, no less!) was responsible for the larval excavation.

    Therapy and Lexapro helped me go off to NYU in a functional state, but I arrived in the city amidst peak bedbug fervor. Subway ads with photos of cellophane-red bloodsuckers were everywhere, and my phobia morphed to accommodate them too. I washed my wool winter coat on hot each time it was forced to touch a fabric chair or hang next to someone else’s on a rack. My coats didn’t last long this way, so I got them at thrift stores, which were a whole other minefield.

    So, to get back to the meditation retreat — the realization that bugs need not always trigger my fear was obviously a significant one. When I went home, I stopped meditating daily and resumed squashing the errant spider or centipede in my room. But something had shifted. Sometimes, I felt bad about killing them. Sometimes, I wasn’t afraid.

    ***

    Studies try to understand and anthropomorphize insects’ inner life with headlines like “For stressed bees, the glass is half empty,” and “Sex starved fruit flies turn to drink.” We might not be sure what insects emotional experience is — but does it matter, really, when they are such an essential part of our ecosystem, necessary for our own survival?

    The suffering of dairy cows and piglets, with their round relatable eyes, was so obvious and pressing. Bugs were…well, didn’t they die in basically a few days anyway?

    One vegan monk I know, Tashi Nyima, put it to me this way: “The concept of interconnectedness is not some abstract spiritual theory. It is simple science.” And what is the human’s role to play in that web? Chief destroyer, or great protector?

    When I watched the documentary Earthlings a year after that retreat, I surprised myself by deciding to become a vegan. But bugs were an afterthought, or really, a non-thought. The suffering of dairy cows and piglets, with their round relatable eyes, was so obvious and pressing. Bugs were…well, didn’t they die in basically a few days anyway?

    But gradually, going vegan seemed to have the very same effect on me as meditation. It heightened my attention to and respect for all life, my awareness of my privilege to make these choices in the first place. When I found a bug I was still afraid, but I no longer had the stomach to kill.

    This was perhaps unfortunate timing for my then-boyfriend, who’d invited me to move into his roach-plagued apartment in Crown Heights. THWAP! I’d hear suddenly while reading some book by Thich Nhat Hanh or Carol Adams. I’m sorry, my also newly-vegan boyfriend would mumble.

    Everyone has a story about the moment they decided to leave New York. For my uncle, it was when he was considering the question for hours on a park bench until a pigeon shat on his head. For me, it was when I broke my foot by falling down the stairs while running to catch the subway. For my now-ex, it was when he was cooking a vegan meal and a roach fell from the sky onto his pan, frying to an immediate crisp.

    ***

    In the brave new world of LA, we were able to afford the rent on a two-bedroom house next to a garden. There were no roaches here, only the occasional backyard wanderer. Neither of us wanted to kill these lost creatures, so adorable by comparison to the roaches of NYC, so clearly better off among the pomegranate tree as we smoked our newly-legal grass.

    I don’t know who told me about humane bug catchers, but I ordered one online. What a contraption! Non-violence and power at once! Its square surface and long handle seemed to stun the bug into stillness. All you had to do was open the trap door and slide it under them, being careful not to squash a delicate leg. The built-in magnification let you see the creature up close, and though I was tempted to examine their multitude of textures, colors, and eyes, the most apparent common trait was their obvious, immediate terror at the crazy bitch about to torture them.

    Don’t worry, I’m not going to hurt you, I’d murmur, dropping them back into the garden as quickly as possible. They’d scurry off as fast as their little legs could rather-adorably carry them. You won’t believe what happened on my way to work today, I’d imagine a caterpillar telling her wife, munching on an apple. (Yes, there are gay insects too.)

    The audacity of us human animals, to feel so offended when these reminders of our collective wildness decide to warm their feet by our fire, coming in from our gardens.

    Sure, they’d be back, but this new dance was an illuminating one, hustling them outside, to the place their ancestors had likely lived for centuries. It magnified the absurd luck that I was the big one with the tools to move them out of my white-walled box. A box built on land arguably more theirs than mine.

    The audacity of us human animals, to feel so offended when these reminders of our collective wildness decide to warm their feet by our fire, coming in from our gardens. To demand an experience we don’t understand stay in its corner, no matter where we choose to build our walls.

    ***

    The humane bug catcher seems to encapsulate what being vegan is about for me: a philosophy of non-harm that’s totally, utterly imperfect, and might even sometimes cause unintentional suffering.

    Why can’t I find a humane bug catcher that I’m assured is ethically manufactured? What about the fact that it’s made of plastic? What about the bugs I accidentally kill anyway, while rushing around, or driving? What is my remaining speciesism that grasshoppers, caterpillars, ladybugs, and butterflies are adorable, but spiders and centipedes are still sometimes scary? And why can’t I just leave these critters to find their own way out, trust that maybe they won’t bother, bite, or infest me?

    Recently, after a few days slacking on meditation, I absently swatted at a tiny bug on my bed as if it were an inconsequential speck of dust, a vulgar middle finger to my tidy new room in the woods. A small trail of blood left behind on my sheet reminded me otherwise. I felt a little sick, said a sort of prayer, and began to formulate this essay in my mind.

    Then, just this morning, I messed up again. A large spider was in a crevasse too narrow for the humane bug catcher to get at and I tried to coax him out with the side of a bottle of mosquito repellant. In my fearful hurry I broke off one of his legs. I’m so sorry, I murmured, feeling truly awful, watching him hobble around in panic. I’m trying to help you, I swear. He didn’t seem convinced, and neither was I. It took a long time, but I eventually got him outside. Either he’ll regrow a leg, live his remaining days as an amputee, or my attempt to keep my little square of the world “humanely clean” will have killed him.

    ***

    Swinging in the woods in my mosquito-proof hammock I find an amniotic peace. With my pacifist weapon in my grip, I am confident bugs are not my enemies. They are creatures just like me, visitors on this beautiful planet for but a brief relative moment. There but for the grace of reincarnation or chance go I. There am I, even.

    What a privilege it is, to be able to try to reduce harm towards animals and the planet.

    I was having this thought just today when a bird shat on my head through the mosquito netting. I didn’t take it as a sign, or at least not a negative one. I just laughed and immediately washed my hair, watching the rainstorm that night clean the hammock for me. The symbolism I assign to events, I keep learning, is my choice.

    Each time I sit down to eat, I try to remember that, too. What a privilege it is, to be able to try to reduce harm towards animals and the planet. How impossible it seems, as one of the big ones, not to hurt in ways big and small every day. What a beautiful dance, deciding to try anyway, imperfectly but with intention.

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