The role of death

Have you ever focused on how many things must die in order that you must live?

The centrality of death, indeed the life-giving power of death, is a central role of the Catholic faith I was raised in and am reevaluating. Jesus died (many believe) to give us new life in the resurrection. One of his famous sayings was that of the seed that must die in order for the plant to be born. Death and resurrection is critical to the faith, but it was never personal for me as a believer. It was a saying, a tenet of theology, not something I felt in my heart of hearts.

Nature is a brilliant symphony, beautiful yet efficient and wholly violent. Things are constantly dying (or, in the case of inanimate matter, being subsumed and transformed) and being born. Everything is food for everything else. Even we, apex predators, are dirt and to dirt we must return. Do we appreciate how much life we take in order that we live? Do we appreciate the intimate role of death in every meal, every day, every year we walk on the earth?

Those who read my homestead blog know we’ve had a lot of death this year. They upset me, both in terms of emotional trauma and in terms of wasted effort because the animal could not go on and be productive for us. The past few mornings I’ve gone out prepared to find dead (or dying and needed to be put down) kits as we’ve lost two weak ones to the cold weather.  Finding them didn’t affect me as much as the earlier deaths. Was I getting callous? I initially thought so.

Then I remembered that death is absolutely central to our lives. Every day we are killers, not because we are monsters, but because that is what life is. We lose something when we sterilize our relationship with life energy. When we are always presented with sterile food we have no intimate connection with, death can only ever be a terrible and traumatic thing.

Being a homesteader, participating directly in the circle of life and death, has given me a new perspective. Death has a role other than trauma. Death is absolutely necessary. If we participate in it ourselves, we enter into a powerful stewardship role with the life energy we too easily take for granted.


6 Comments on “The role of death”

  1. says:

    Are these rabbits that are dying? A raccoon ate our chickens a while back, and it was very tough. Actually, we eat chicken every week so I’m not sure why it seemed such a personal loss but it was. I guess it all depends on your ontology or world view. We are very connected to the animals we live with, and less so the ones we don’t see. Another example – I don’t mind deer hunters, but hope no one hunts the few that come through our property.

  2. You might consider not eating meat for a while. Why not?

    Also, the seed actually doesn’t die. From cells within it grows the plant. Of course, that wasn’t common knowledge back in the day, so I can’t blame Jesus for not knowing that.

    Maybe you can also allow yourself to focus more on life and less on death.

    • David says:

      Meat is delicious and meatless diets don’t work well for me or my family, we’ve tried them in the past. Plus, it’s not just about meat, vegetarians and vegans kill plenty of living things too 😉

      I’m not obsessed about death, I just thought it was an interesting perspective shift I’ve come to after having animals and wanted to share it.

    • Legumemnon says:

      To expand on David’s comment: While not eating meat might seem to be a removal of death of animate beings from your food chain, that is ultimately not fully the case. For example, any field that is plowed will kill mice, rabits, etc. And of course any patch of land used for agriculture has shifted an environment away from its natural state and caused natural selection rebalancing of the former wild inhabitants of that area.

      I am all for a more or fully vegetarian diet in people’s lives, and try to eat that way routinely, but I think the original point that as an apex predictor species we must by nature of being alive bring change (and death) to the world around us is critical to truly knowing and accepting our place in the world.

      Anyways, I enjoyed the post.

      • David says:

        Plants are a life form too. While there are plants we don’t kill by eating, there are many we do. The whole life requires death wasn’t exclusively limited to animals.

        I am all for a more or fully vegetarian diet in people’s lives, and try to eat that way routinely

        Any particular reason you say that? All sustainable, let alone regenerative, agricultural systems require animals as both part of the workforce (e.g. ruminants on pasture, chickens or ducks as natural pest control, etc) and as part of the fertility cycle. I’ve had some vegetarians and vegans come back with the “well, if you need them, you still don’t have to eat them” but all breeding involves culling to maintain physical and genetic health. It would be wasteful to not eat those culls. More importantly, meat can be raised on marginal land too poor for any other form of food production and with correct management gradually improve that land’s condition.

        I used to be mostly vegetarian for a mix of budgetary and what I thought were environmental reasons until I began reading the likes of Joel Salatin and learning about permaculture and various other schools of regenerative agriculture. When we increased the amount of meat in our diets our moods and health also improved quite a bit.

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