This morning I went for a dawn walk in local woodland. The sun was rising, glinting through the trees, streams gurgling, birds singing, bluebells everywhere. You couldn’t imagine a more perfect scene. It felt pretty great. While I’m appreciating this, I’m listening to a podcast. And one of the hosts recounts an experience they had once in an animal market. They came across a rabbit that had been skinned. Except it was still alive. Someone had removed it’s skin while it was still conscious, and left it there, twitching.
My initial reaction was shock at the extreme cruelty of this. But beyond that, it provoked what is a consistent conflict for me. There is real beauty, and pleasure, and happiness to be found in this world. It doesn’t last forever, but it does have real value.
There is also wretched, terrible suffering. And it’s everywhere, going mostly unnoticed. And not just as a result of excessive human cruelty. Plenty of predators take time to tear their prey apart, without always killing them first. The suffering is baked in to the natural world.
It’s highly unlikely any of us will experience being skinned alive (though I believe they used to do this to people.) Or being eaten alive. Probably, most of us won’t even die ‘violently’. But the risk is always there – that it could be you, desperate and twitching, taking your painful final breaths and longing for an end. Whether through illness or accident.
Of course, our deaths might not be that bad at all. They could be peaceful, or sedated, or merely mildly uncomfortable. But the risk is always there, as long as you live. It could be you in the wreckage of that car, or burning alive, or so demented that you’re trapped in a state of permanent terror.
The issue I have is how to weigh that risk against the real value that sits alongside it. Could it be worth the risk of those most pitiful, desperate moments, in order to experience beauty, love, or moments of contentment? If you ever found yourself having to pay that price, could you accept it? Or would you demand a refund?
I have no idea how to think clearly about these things. I don’t know if my depression distorts my perspective, or lends clarity that most shield themselves from. I don’t know.