Our family honors and respects life. Sometimes I don’t know exactly what that means when I look at the world around me and see the violence and harm people commit daily. I struggle to learn how to disagree with someone while still upholding their dignity. I forget how to discipline my kids without relying on subtle shame. I don’t always know how to eat ethically. I don’t always know how to spend my money without supporting unsafe work conditions. And sometimes I just want to stop thinking about the inherent outcomes of the millions of decisions I make daily. I count on grace for the things I have done and the things I have left undone, but I don’t think that excuses me from making deliberate choices to honor the dignity of life in this world.
Our 7 year old is reaching the stage of childhood where justice is very apparent, and injustice is unacceptable. The weight of every living thing is heavy on her heart. At our county fair she took a pony ride which she looked forward to all day. She struggled to be patient, waiting for her turn. And when it finally came she got on the little pony and started riding around and around. Surprisingly, she struggled to hold back her tears the whole time. Afterwards her Aunt asked her if it was fun and she said, “It was kinda fun for me, but I don’t think it was any fun for the ponies. I don’t think they do anything but walk in a circle all day.”
She is also raising some Painted Lady butterflies in her bedroom. Three of the caterpillars didn’t survive their life cycles, and one of the butterflies never fully expanded her wings. As an adult, I know that this is the reason why insects reproduce in such large numbers. Their delicate lives require the strength-in-numbers strategy of carrying on the gene-pool. Ants will cannibalize their dead so that they can reuse the nutrients for the survival of the colony. There are no individual ant’s right, or respect for the individual butterfly in the animal kingdom. But she doesn’t know that yet. She is grieving the loss of each one, and feeling terribly guilty that their short lives are happening in a mesh cage in her room, not the big green world of flowers.
People are animals. But they’re more than animals. The world is a ball of resources. But it is more than just resources. Having respect for the dignity of a butterfly is a small act, but it is one that I hope will translate into having respect for the dignity of all life. We won’t always know how to respond to that dignity, but at least we will acknowledge that it exists.