For the Sanctity of Life Part 2 (or How to Talk to a 6-Year-Old About Death)

THE POETRY… We began at dawn and called our beloved Rabbi as early as we dared (the day after Yom Kippur!) to ask for the appropriate blessing for killing chickens. Neither of us is a shochet, so the slaughter was not kosher, nor required the schenita blessing. However, we approach our relationship with all the life on the farm with the utmost of intention and spirit. So, together we came up with  “…l’shaym kedushat ha-chayim… for the sake of the holiness of life.” What? Holiness of life and you are killing, you ask? Try explaining that to Emet as he cuddles close with tears in his eyes, or Neshima, a vegetarian since age 5. Well, we are killing to give life and pray to acknowledge the cycle of life. The birds will feed people well and give them life. The birds have fertilized our soils and given us life so we can in turn continue the life of our farm and nourish so many people. For life, yes.

We never thought twice about the kids being involved. Obviously, they are part of the farm and this is part of what happens here. We are viscerally involved in the cycles here. I think back to working on Live Power Farm in Northern California A biodynamic farm, which means the cycles of life and death are systematically tied in to everything and every intention that happens on the farm. I was 20 and eager to take in all farm life had to offer. We slaughter a cow. The kids on the farm had named her. Something like Poppy or Daisy.  I dont actually remember. They had been there at her birth months earlier, and now they stood by, as we all did, watching as the live left her. I cryed then for the first time in years. I was living in the barn in the loft just above the young cow. We shared some of our daily routines. Waking up with the sun, relieving ourselves, rustling around, living with the mice, and not sleeping well at a full moon.

Eleven years later, my own children bear witness to the cycles of life on our farm. Each child was involved in their own way.  Emet was at our sides for much of the day. Intently taking in every move. Watching as the last life flapped from the birds. Hovering over Leah’s shoulder as she removed the still warm guts. Asking questions and chatting away all along. Occasionally expressing his sadness in tears. One of us would stop and hold him.  This will not go down as a childhood trauma, but rather a piece of the life of our work together.

Neshima watched with eager interest and bright eyes. Her spirit was high and comforting, like, she got it. For several hours she leaned against a nearby tree reading a book.  The morning was quiet as the sun rose, the air warmed, the mist burned off, to expose a glorious day. In the warmth of the afternoon, Neshima turned to her music, and MCed the rest of the day, offering music through the open windows of the house.  Quiet at the right times, and infusing the day with joy and energy just when the time called for it.

The kids were at my Nonna’s funeral two and a half years ago.  We didn’t think twice about that either, until it was pointed out to us that no one else had brought their kids. We stood together in a recieving line for close to two hours. We talked about Nonna. We talked about dying. We talked about ancestors. And naturally with Emet, we talked about G-d. To this day, Emet’s one lingering sadness in life is “I wish Bisnonna was here.” But it also is deeply seeded love. He prays for her. He invokes her spirit in what he does. Each Shabbat, he sends light to her. As Leah and I take in these precious moments with tears in our eyes, we understand how young ones are connected.  How they, and all of us, were once so much closer to that realm of the ancestors. And that connection with G-d. As we get older, that connection seems to become more confusing and foriegn, our lives gaining structure and rigidity. So, we intellectualize it. Try to get back there by explaining it away. Sometimes this looks like organized religion.  Sometimes utter confusion and misguided actions. Sometimes actually getting close if we let go in moments of prayer. Like those times when we were in the womb, or not too far from it.  But for Emet, Bisnonna is not gone.

It is amazing how the smell of death lingers. For days. Even when everything is cleaned and bleached, it’s like it gets into your nose so you don’t forget. I don’t think we will ever take this lightly, though it make get easier and faster and bigger. But it is not just a harvest. It is a piece of our place in the universe an relationship with that which is greater than us.