Happy May Day, everyone! May this story inspire you to stand up for the Truth!
As I was lying there, tear gas stinging my eyes, body burning in the mid-July sun in Washington, and head pounding from the shots of rubber bullets, I knew it was over. It became clear, finally, in a burst of consciousness to which words would not do justice.
In my first memory, I was a middle aged man in the sixteenth century somewhere in the Southern United States. My family was rich, my clothing was stiff, expensive and tailored, and I was unable to shake the disapproving scowl from my face. The sharper my memory of this version of myself grew, the more ashamed I became. A distinct picture of my hand raised to beat a young black girl materialized. She couldn't have been a day over fourteen years, and trembled in fear. The vision faded and my awareness was brought back to the street.
Could I really have been a slave owner? The kind of racist person I've spent my life avoiding? No; impossible. It must have been a dream... my subconscious talking... maybe heat stroke.
Startled by what my mind's eye had just witnessed, I stumbled to my feet, only to be pushed back down.
"Stay down, punk! You're in enough trouble as it is!"
The police were all around, as I had expected. This was not my first major protest, and the pre-event hype assured at least a hundred of them decked out in riot gear. As I tried to explain my need to get out of the sun, I was silenced by the blow of a baton to the back of my head. I had no choice but to get down and do as I was told.
Then came my second memory flash: this time, the roles had been reversed, and I was the slave. It was obviously still the seventeen hundreds, although now the latter half. In my mind my flesh turned brown, darker than any I had seen before, badly burnt by the sun. My hands were calloused, my shoulders hunched from years of back-breaking manual labour. Without time to react, my hands were tied around a tree, and the sudden flick of a whip stunned me to the core as it sliced through the flesh on my back.
Of course, I knew why I was so abused; what goes around comes around, and if I hadn't mistreated the poor young girl, I would not have had to come back and experience the poverty, sorrow and pain I had inflicted on her.
Unaware of the stampede of protesters and police around me, I remained on the ground and presented to myself my third life. Looking down on my body, I realized that I was a large, scruffy man in leather boots, and a woollen plaid shirt. I was carrying a rifle, and tip-toeing through the woodlands of Canada. Before me, about a hundred yards, stood a beautiful, majestic, noble looking deer; the kind whose head could hang proudly, staring blankly through lifeless eyes, across a Western-themed hotel lobby. Shuddering, I knew what was about to happen, and didn't want to watch; didn't want to relive that moment I previously would never have imagined myself capable of living. But I did. I felt the muscles in what were once my arms tighten as I aligned with my living, breathing target, and pulled the trigger. A triumphant smile spread across that rugged face...
Without even a moment to process my sentiments about having killed a deer, I went on to experience a glimpse of my fourth life. Just as I had been a bigot and then a slave, the roles once again reversed, and now I became a deer. A doe, actually, and caring for my newborn fawn. I felt the serenity of maternal pride as I helped him take his first steps, with the love and patience welling up wordlessly within me. This fawn was my life, small, leggy and precious, and I knew that without me, he would never survive.
Then the unthinkable happened. Instantaneously, I heard the boom and saw a throng of birds lift hurriedly from the treetops... it took a moment before I understood why I was looking upwards. The bullet had struck me in the neck, blood was spilling out in copious amounts and every short breath I took in struggled to reach my lungs through my paralyzed body. Despite the excruciating pain, my mind was not on my own body, but on my fawn. He was not yet stable on his feet, and had been knocked over in the commotion when my legs buckled beneath me. I watched in helpless despair as he struggled to stand up again. Seeking comfort and protection, he stumbled to the side of his dying mother, and I yearned to be able to somehow express my love to him; to ask him to run away; to do for him what he needed done. Through the surging pain, all I managed to express was a whimper.
The hunter who had taken my life squealed stupidly and cried out, "I got her, Daddy! I can shoot!"The boy and his father trampled through the grass to reach me, and the boy pointed at my baby mockingly. "Hahaha, look at that! He can't even stand up! Should I kill 'im, too?"
That was the end, and as my doe eyes closed, my human eyes opened to take in the now-foreign sights of Washington once again.
I raised my head and immediately felt every orifice on my face burning with tear gas. I raised my arms to dry the streaming tears and cover my face, and when I lowered them again, I was a forty-something man sitting in fast food joint eating a burger. I listened in horror as my own beef-filled mouth sloppily bragged to a friend about the innovations in egg farming. "Now, we can keep over a thousand hens in a room no bigger than your shitter. The air is putrid in there, a course, but whatever... the egg collectors get ta wear masks and they don't hafta be in there long or nothin', just get in, grab the eggs, and get out, y'know? Hm... oh, no. There ain't no risk of getting pecked at. Ain't ya ever heard a de-beaking? When the chicks are still the size of fuzz balls we clip their beaks off like clipping finger nails; some of em never get to eat after that cause o' the infections and what not, but it's better an gettin sued by a pecked-bloody farm worker."
With a jolt, I was locked in a cage. My stomach was beyond rumbling as I hadn't been fed in days, and the water I had to drink was contaminated with dust, feathers and rotting food pellets that had spilled into it. My body was weak and sickly, feathers falling out due to malnourishment, head constantly throbbing with pain from the violent slicing off of my beak at birth; it felt like a sinus infection combined with repeated hammer-hits to the nose. Like so many of my other cell-mates, my beak had never recovered from de-beaking, and the smell and taste of pus had become my sickening permanent state; I gagged constantly from the repugnance of my own odour. The wire bars of the cage were so close together that my wings had never been spread; my head had never been lifted. Finally, though my unexercised muscles could not support my body's weight, I could no longer tolerate the urge to stretch; in a desperate attempt to break the cage, I stood tall, summoned all the strength I had to stretch my wings, lifted my head until the wire above it cut and sliced through the down to my skull. My neck snapped from this intense pressure, and so ended my life as a battery caged hen.
This was the last of my past-life flashbacks, and now my present life experiences flashed before my eyes. When I was four years old, I tried to watch Bambi, but ran from the room in tears. I felt an odd sense of oneness with the cartoon on the screen, and could never quite figure out why I empathized with all the main characters; not only the doe the fawn, but even the uncouth hunter.
In my early teen years, a new girl came to our school whose family had just immigrated from Ethiopia. Some of the other kids were afraid to talk to her, since her's was the first African-Canadian family to move to our not-so ethnically diverse town. Somehow, though, I knew from deep inside of me that skin colour and facial features are only surface, but the awareness in all of us is the same. She became my best friend.
Back to Washington. I was a nineteen year old activist taking part in the largest protest my generation had seen. We had gathered from all across North America to take a stand against the capitalist agenda that forces people to work in sweatshops overseas; the corporate agenda that gives more rights to plunderers of the world than to the world which is plundered; that forces animals to live in squalid conditions on factory farms to feed the gluttony of people never taught an alternative to gorging on death; the militaristic take over of other nations for their resources... our numbers were strong and our message was clear: we must destroy greed before greed destroys our planet.
Lying on the pavement, tear gas burning my body inside and out, for the first time in my life, I felt real peace within myself. I understood the meaning of life, and laughed at it's simplicity: the meaning of life is that all lives have meaning. We are here to live in love, to give the best of ourselves to others without causing harm to those with whom we share our beautiful world.
It had taken me seven lifetimes to realize something I would have known from the beginning if only I had been able to put myself into the other's shoes. Lying in the street of the Washington protest, I knew my last life was over and from here, there was no other body in which I would have to live. I was being killed in this protest; I was being set free. I felt no anger even against those whose corrupt means of business I was protesting, nor against the police officers who had gassed me, shot at me, beaten me; they would surely learn from their own experiences now and to come that we are all one. They were all bound to come to the same clarity I enjoyed as I breathed my last breath with a smile.
Happy May Day! May 1st has been celebrated as a springtime holiday for generations, but now, it has also become synonymous with protest and breaking down the systems of corruption in the world. To commemorate the spirit of this day, I'm sharing with you a short story I wrote for English class when I was in high school. It was the first school project I really felt proud of, and it earned me my first "100%" mark. Thanks to the encouragement of my 11th grade teacher, I've continued to write for social change ever since. You might at times wonder why words like "karma," "reincarnation" and "enlightenment"aren't used, and the answer is simple- at the time that I wrote this, I was not yet familiar (consciously) with Hinduism or these Vedic concepts, but now that I know about such things as the trans-migration of the soul, and the fact that a being, once enlightened, is free from the karmic cycle and no longer needs to take another lifetime, it makes even more sense, and validates what I had felt all along. The "Advaitha" realization that "we are all one" which I wrote in this story, and held well into my adult life (inspiring even the title of this blog) really is the Ultimate. Have compassion even in your righteous anger; protest to instigate change, and remember that even those against whom you are protesting are on their own path's to conscious awareness that all life has meaning. I love you, and I wish you well on your quest to make right the wrongs in the world!