The beginning of the holiday season always comes with a now bittersweet memory. On November 28th, 1979 my big brother Gordon was killed in a trucking accident. He had just turned 30 the previous July and was a husband and the father of three children under the age of seven. I remember the phone call as if it was yesterday – my mother calling at 7:30 in the morning the following day, after having just received the devastating news from my sister in law. An early morning call from Mom was not unusual, so I answered with a cheery hello and listened as she said in a clipped and frantic voice, “Anne, Gordon is dead”.
My world stopped and in that moment I could not remember what my brother looked liked or how he sounded. I heard Mom choke out some of the details and I promised her that I would be on my way to her as soon as I could. After hanging up the phone, I tore around the house looking for a photo album with a picture of Gordon in it, so that I could reassure myself that he was not just a mirage, that up until that moment he had always been my brother.
The next few days and weeks were both a blur and unbelievably stark and real. The funeral brought more than 500 of the town’s citizens to mourn with us, many of whom stood outside the church on that cold winter day. There were times when I felt like we would not survive, at least never be the same again. We tried to keep things normal, went about organizing Xmas with the entire family – Gordon’s young family, my brother Mitch & family, my family, my two younger sisters and of course my parents who were living through what I believe to be the most devastating nightmare dreaded by every parent, regardless of the age of their child.
We were really just going through the motions. Christmas was a bust, even though we smiled for the sake of the grandchildren who could not possibly understand what had just befallen our family and one of our own. My mom, who was tough as steel in hard times and very tender of heart, soldiered on over the years and came to enjoy life again, but she was never quite the same. Losing her child, in her own words was “just too much to bear”.
As this year’s festivities approach and as I bustle around getting the stuff on my list done, I think about my brother and all that he has missed – watching his children grow, knowing and loving his grandchildren, enjoying retirement with his wife, and the day to day of being alive and of having the choices that I have been blessed with in the forty years since he has been gone. And it makes me feel that perhaps appreciation and gratitude are sometimes lacking in my life.
It has been a year of reflection and slow transformation for me as I come to realize that the change that I wish to see in this world is reflected through the inner peace and understanding that I project outward. For that inner peace to be a shining light inside of us all, we are compelled to look at and release the long held trauma that impedes our journey to presence and acceptance and support of all life on this planet. You can bet that I do not get it right much of the time, that I let emotional triggers rule the day causing me to act unkindly, blindly and often callously in my relationships with those I love most in this world, as well as in my advocacy for animal liberation. But I must say that as the many layers of fear fall away one by one, I am beginning to get it “right” more than I get it “wrong”.
I am not doing this alone. I have reached out and received and continue to receive guidance from my friend and mentor, Ren Hurst. More recently I have been following the work of Sarah Byrden and also that of Jay Shetty. By my side is Mary Candor who is on a similar journey of self discovery and change. Mary and I talk about stuff and challenge each other to heal and to grow. I am eternally grateful to her and to all my friends and family who always and steadfastly support me.
My most fervent wish as the holidays approach and a new year is about to begin, is that all of us within the vegan and animal liberation movement pause to take a look at our own selves, work to divest ourselves of our deep societal conditioning, indoctrination and domestication, be brave enough to face and heal our childhood trauma before we unequivocally and often harshly demand that others who are also traumatized stop exploiting our animal friends.
I know it may sound like a self absorbed mission when so many species of animals are suffering at the hands of humans and when the planet appears to be disintegrating before our very eyes. Still, I believe deeply that if we can all approach others with compassion, with authentic peace in our hearts, systemic and positive change will happen for all life on this sphere we call home. I can’t prove any of it of course, but I do know that when I live it with others, the defenses I usually encounter fall away. The energy we give out, is the energy we receive back. I deeply appreciate the inspiration and hope in the words of another cherished friend and teacher:
It would be amazing to see if the whole world would actually come together for the rights and freedoms of all beings. That is a world I want to see!
I would love to have my dear brother back and my mom of course, who has been gone from my physical life for nine and a half years, but since that is not possible, I hope to move forward in a way which would make them proud of me for carrying on and for always searching for the peace I know is available to us all.
Annie’s Vegan View
Peace to one and to all!!
May all beings be happy and free.