Monday, August 01, 2005

Defining Terms

I’ll turn 50 next February, so suffice it to say I’ve been around the block a few times. I’ve seen some things and done some things and racked up a significant amount of life experience along the way. I expect to have life completely figured out in another 45 years or so, or at least that’s what my philosophical flow chart projects to. So I’ll be spouting wisdom out of one side of my mouth while drooling into a Dixie cup with the other. They’ll call me the Dalai Pajama Lama, or the Bedpan Metaphysician. My nursing home will be a mecca for truthseekers everywhere, and my pilgrims will come away with much knowledge to turn over in their fertile minds. “Not enough prunes! Never enough prunes!” I’ll tell one disciple. To another, I’ll warn: “Watch out for that Blansford — he cheats at checkers and I can prove it!” Yes, the world will be at my feet then.

But for the here and now, and despite my many years on this planet, my sagacity is still rather limited. In fact, if anyone were to ask me right now to define love, to list its characteristics and put into words how it feels, I would probably mumble something about looking it up in Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations, or refer you to some choice Shakespeare sonnets. I’ve been married for a good many years and have two children (one officially an adult now), but love for me is an amorphous thing, unquantifiable, ethereal. I know there are as many different kinds of love as there are models of automobiles, but as far as, say, enduring romantic love goes (which is something I consider quite apart from mere infatuation), I can’t really pin it down; surely I’d be unable to explain it’s features to someone who’s never experienced it. For me, it’s like describing a color to a blind person. Certainly it would be the sort of thing you’d miss if it wasn’t there; maybe the essence of love is like one of those dim stars that can be seen only in the periphery of your vision — looking at it straight on, it vanishes like smoke. In the end, I couldn’t tell you if love is chemical, intuitive, cosmic or discrete, psychological or physiological. Sad to say, you’ll never get a definition out of me, but I can at least offer a strong indication of the presence of actual, lasting love.

Never expect true enlightenment to reveal itself to you in likely places. I’ve been to the Vatican and have walked through enormous, hushed, antediluvian caverns. I’ve seen Atlantic Ocean sunrises and Pacific Ocean sunsets. I’ve witnessed both my children come into this world and I’ve known many people who have left it. I’ve read a lot of great literature, nearly been killed or maimed once or twice, have had my hard-won trust compromised and my shameful doubts disproved. I’ve come to realize that I can learn more from observing children and dumb animals than from Dr. Phil or the guy who asks men to beat on drums. But through it all, I have only just recently found that the strongest evidence I can point to indicating the existence of real love is in a movie called Mr. and Mrs. Smith. That’s right: a revelation from an entertaining, yet utterly mainstream movie. Not even from something by Fellini or Bergman, or a dedicated, austere, independent filmmaker out to capture Truth one 35 millimeter frame at a time. Thanks to Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, I now know what for me is the ultimate litmus test of true love.

Toward the end of the movie, the characters John and Jane Smith are in a tight spot. The odds are overwhelming and death is certain. At that moment, Jane turns to John and says, “There’s no place I’d rather be than right here with you.”

That’s it. That’s love right there. Cut and print.


I’ve figured out another thing recently, but first I have to provide a little background:

Many years ago, I knew a coworker who was a vegetarian. He practiced what he called a “cruelty-free lifestyle.” In other words, he eschewed any product that was the result of the death or suffering of an animal. For about a year, I had a lot of fun with this guy. I used to invent hypothetical situations to test how true he really was to his lofty ideals. For instance, I asked him if his apartment suddenly became infested with rats, would he have them exterminated? Or if he were marooned on an island where the only viable food source was wild pigs, would he kill and eat them to sustain his own life? I was always trying to poke holes in this moral code of his, and he, for his part, always argued back good-naturedly, enjoying the repartee, until finally I came around to admitting that I thought he was right, but years of conditioning made it virtually impossible for me to give up eating meat.

One day, it so happened I didn’t have meat for breakfast, lunch and dinner. It was purely accidental, but I was mindful of the fact and thought it might be fun to see how long I could keep it up. After a week, the game became a bit more serious, and I successfully avoided eating meat of any kind for over six years.

The only meat that tempted me was seafood. I missed it to the point where it became an obsession. So when I fell off the vegetarian wagon, I allowed myself to eat seafood. To this day that’s the only meat I eat. I am no threat to cows, chicken and pigs; nor, for that matter, do wild boar, deer, snakes, rabbits or squirrels fear me.

Explaining my peculiar diet to people has been hard because, let’s face it, it’s rather unjustifiable. Why not eat other animals if I eat fish? A moral transgression in one place certainly makes moral stands in others insupportable, right? My answers were as vague as my thinking. Oh, eating cow, chicken and pig turns me off, I might say, just to shut people up. Call me a picky eater. Or I would say: if you can raise an animal, nurture it, feed it, maybe even give it a name, then slaughter it and still have an appetite for its flesh, then you have my respect. I cannot eat that which I can’t kill with a clear conscience. I know I can catch a fish, gut it and eat it, but I couldn’t do that to a cow.

Now here’s something that troubled me: several years ago, the family and I spent a weekend in Booth’s Bay Harbor in Maine. Nearby, maybe a fifteen minute drive or so, there was an aquatic petting zoo; a small pool inside a building where you could reach in and touch various marine life. I forget exactly what was in there: probably a turtle and small fishes of different sorts, but included were sand sharks, little sharks that resembled their big brothers, only on a tiny scale.

It so happened that one of these sharks was friendly. He came up to me and let me pet him. It almost seemed as if he liked me; I “made contact” with him, so to speak. And so from that day to this, I haven’t eaten shark.

The other morning it dawned on me what may be at the basis of my personal dietary set of restrictions — in fact, it occurred to me while I was playing with my cat. I have always said for some reason I don’t feel sorry for fish, and that’s what makes it so easy for me to eat them. I’ll now refine it further: I can’t eat life forms I feel are capable of receiving or giving affection.

I know, I know — that still might be pretty vague or arbitrary to some people. And I can hear the jokes: does that mean I can eat my mother-in-law? But that’s my new rule. Or rather my old one, only now I’ve just defined it.


Blogger NYPinTA said...

Fish are ugly. Cows are cute.
Bon apetite!! :P

2:09 PM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

BTW- Your definition of love is better then mine!

2:10 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"BTW- Your definition of love is better then mine!"

Whoa, whoa! Get back here! And what is your definition of love? Spill it, spill it!

2:14 PM  
Blogger trinamick said...

I eat meat, and I can define love. It's the wonderful feeling that I have about eating meat.

2:14 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"I eat meat, and I can define love. It's the wonderful feeling that I have about eating meat."

Oh — kind of like a steak in the heart?

Ha ha ha ha! Get it? "Steak"? Oh man, what a wit I have! Hoo boy! How do I come up with these? (wipes tears from eyes)

2:24 PM  
Blogger Mrs.T said...

Defining love for me means: Am I willing to work my ass off to keep it around? Would I rather be rich in cash or rich in life?

Today I discovered (well duh) that when I am 32, I will have been married for 10 years. I don't think I have ever been out of love with Mr.T. Though the very idea that I can completely dislike him and want to throttle him, and in the same moment risk my life for his... thats love.

Thats why I always say I'm in love with my kids. Sounds sick to anyone I think who doesn't get what I mean. Sometimes relationships with your kids takes work just like the one with your spouse. Anyway, love is completing the parts of me that were missing. Mr.T is my opposite in SO many ways.

2:55 PM  
Blogger Chloe said...

"maybe the essence of love is like one of those dim stars that can be seen only in the periphery of your vision — looking at it straight on, it vanishes like smoke"

Mr. Schprock, you are a poet.

3:04 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"Though the very idea that I can completely dislike him and want to throttle him, and in the same moment risk my life for his... thats love."

Mrs. T, that's it! Perfectly said! (I hope Mr. T is reading this!)

"Mr. Schprock, you are a poet."

Thanks Chloe! All I'm trying to do is spell the words right.

4:32 AM  
Blogger Henry said...

You have inspired me to try and describe colors, as you mentioned, to a blind person.
I have been thinking about it all morning now.

4:57 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Good luck, Henry. Let me know what you come up with. It's about as easy as sticking your elbow in your ear.

5:05 AM  
Blogger Beth said...

What a great post concerning love.

As for the meat eating issue, I always say if God didn't want me to eat cows, he would have made them run faster. This is just my theory.

6:29 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

"…I always say if God didn't want me to eat cows, he would have made them run faster."

Ha ha! That's good, Knitter. Another one is: "If God didn't intend for us to eat meat, then why did He make it taste so good?"

6:34 AM  
Blogger John said...

I don't eat red meat, but I don't give a crap about cows. I just don't like the taste of it. Or the smell, really, since I've never intentionally eaten red meat. Ever. Period.

I don't like pork, bacon, or sasauge, either.

9:21 AM  
Blogger Scott said...

True love is placing more value in another life than your own. I would have a hard time eating anything if I had to kill it myself, but I live with the hypocrisy in the full light of day. If I had to, I would do it myself. If your friend thought he wouldn't eat a wild pig on a desert island, then he's living on a different planet. Watch the movie Alive.

9:29 AM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

John, you might not eat red meat or the "other white meat," but you're the scourge of chickens everywhere!

"If your friend thought he wouldn't eat a wild pig on a desert island, then he's living on a different planet."

Actually, he confessed that he would eat animal flesh under those circumstances — and he admitted he'd opt to exterminate the rats rather than live with them. He wasn't crazy or into saying things he felt sure he wouldn't need to back up.

Another thing: I'd certainly kill and butcher an animal if it meant my survival. Absolutely.

9:40 AM  
Blogger NYPinTA said...

Imagine a butterfly. It's floating gently on a breeze minding it's own business when WHAM, it gets hit by a truck and it's guts are splattered all over the windshield for all the world to see.
That's love. It's large, unexpected, and leaves your insides a jumbled mess.

1:02 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Beautiful, simply beautiful. (sniff)

Does love never come completely off, despite many applications of windshield washer fluid? Does it collect on your windshield wipers until you're forced to break out the paper towels and do the job properly?

Of course I catch your meaning, Nypinta. I like it.

1:12 PM  
Blogger Scott said...

This is off subject, related to your God post. I found it while searching for a Dennis Miller rant about racial prejudice for Trinamick. Here's an excerpt:

"I don't think there's any doubt that people often yell, "Oh God" during sex because He wants to be appreciated for his best invention. If you don't shout His name when smelling a rose, well, that's OK. Not really bowled over by the sight of a glorious sunset? Fair enough. But if you don't give Him props for orgasms that make your toes curl like frying bacon, well, you're about to feel the awesome wrath of the Almighty's lightning-bolt enema."

He's good. You can read the rest, it's interesting:

1:49 PM  
Blogger mr. schprock said...

Ha ha! That's funny! Thanks, Scott, I'll check it out.

1:55 PM  

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