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All things die.  It seems our genetic codes have some sort of fuse that ticks down and wears away the life force that keeps our bodies vital.  There may come a day when mankind through the science and curiosity God has implanted in His divine creations will discover a method for slowing, halting or even reversing that ticking genetic fuse and controlling the march of time itself given that we in our limited perspective judge time by the progress of our aging.  At that point we will be faced with a choice we haven’t seen since the original Garden of Eden.  Shall we eat from the tree of life?  If we learned anything from the first choice and the devastating results of our decision to eat from the tree of knowledge, we might consider stepping away from the capacity to offer eternal life on earth.  That would be a fundamental shift in the concept of mortality and it would signal a challenge to God’s power rivaled only by the one third of the angelic masses who rose up behind the Archangel and were cast out.  Challenging God has no good track record.  A single heretofore undiscovered microbe could suddenly emerge and wipe out the planet.  An asteroid or part thereof could slam into the spinning globe and nudge it from its axis or warp its elliptical orbit and destroy the atmosphere for living beings.  A nuclear war or worse could…  God has many weapons at hand.  They are what we dismissively refer to as the threads by which life hangs.  When man can, however, he will.  That choice is hard-wired into our psyche.  We know it.  God knows it.  The fountain of youth and eternal life will be discovered through genetic manipulation and we will meet God’s justice just as we did as Adam and Eve so long ago.  Forgive us, Lord, for we know not what we do.

For now, we face mortality.  We grieve our losses, especially those cut short which come before the last tick of the internal genetic fuse.  A life foreshortened is untold precious moments unlived and opportunities for good untaken.  Even in the animal kingdom, long life is treasured.  The old alpha male will fight his last fight with every ounce of strength within him, and some supplemental power that comes from a wellspring of the life force which refuses to go gentle into that good night.

For farmers, animal life span is measured in its service to mankind.  Beasts of burden work until they can no longer.  The farmer may then slaughter the animal or put it out to pasture.  In either case, the life of the animal has run its full course. Food crop animals are raised for their contribution of protein to mankind.  We are omnivores and thrive on protein.  The farmer and cattle man serves this need as the hunter did once solely for the tribe (and let us have no illusions: just as we are peaceful gatherers, so we are the most lethal of hunters. Our teeth, both grinders and canines, define us.).  A food source animal has lived its full life when it has grown to maturity and is ripe for slaughter and consumption.  Many people balk at the idea of butchery and slaughter, and do this while chewing a fast food hamburger.  We are complex and paradoxical creatures who demand our wants and needs and often will not face the processes required to obtain those very items. Among us are few willing to step, sharpened ax in hand, through the abattoir door and into the process of butchery, just as fewer still are willing to stand beside the scaffold’s trap door gripping the latch handle which would send a condemned murderer to his death. Yet the many expect there will be and depend upon the few who will. So the farmer and rancher toil toward their ends.

When a farmed animal dies before it can be sold for slaughter it has not lived its full life.  The farmer grieves the loss of stock, the loss of money, and in his or her heart the loss of a life snuffed too early.  The farmer takes grave not of the death, unlike the urbanite who drives past a hit and run animal on the roadside unconcerned but for a certain sense of disgust and a wish that the animal control department would do its job more quickly; the farmer looks into the death and sees to it that others do not die of the same thing.  The death means something in its warning heeded and steps taken to preserve other life.  Would that the urbanite cared so deeply.  Would that mankind could look into the face of global famine, disease and war with the same eye toward analysis, and action toward prevention.

Death is not without its communicative skills.  It announces itself first in an utter and profound lack of communication.  The silence of the grave it has been called and grave indeed is the depths of its refusal to commune further with the living.  Once knowledge of the third bank of the river is attained, no further need of communication with the living is deemed necessary.  It is probably a kindness that the back and forth terminates, we poor inadequate beings so unskilled in interpreting the messages from beyond, the depths of profundity achieved in the utter void we perceive, a void we  allow ourselves to interpret, a void which is in fact knowledge expanded out to the universal and in to the infinitesimal, the elements of atoms and the structure of galaxies being equal and far beyond our mortal grasp.  Oh, what a kindness to find death’s first allowance as the rescinding of knowledge, the apple being only the first bite of kenning while the complexity of the tree continues denied us in God’s great awareness.  We simply could not have handled the more.

Yet death communicates further once silence is established.  Smell is a clear signal, a sign of death, a sign life has taken over and turned what once was into a new degenerative process odiferous and bold on a microscopic scale, bacterial and majestic, consuming what was and is and becoming already the basics of what can now be, what needs to be, for the future of growth and life.  The smell of death, so repugnant to our sensitivities, is itself beyond our frail understanding, a sign from God himself that all things go on and become one and one squared and one times the speed of such a thing squared and that is the whole of it in our nostrils and we recoil from the knowledge and appreciation of the grand plan.  Not, surely, the message we want, but the one we need. The olfactory message accepted/rejected, we focus and continue on in the present, content with the tiny space before us, our minds and hands to work saving the school, the flock, the herd, us, and happy to know no more of the passing beyond because the immediate presses upon us so heavily and absent the quick cannot matter now.

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