The Life in My Hands - Part 1 - Little Orange Buddha
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The Life in My Hands – Part 1

A multi-part blog post of a personal essay delivered at the Chicago Literary Society in January 2017.

The Life in My Hands — Part 1 Introduction

The Life in My Hands details the continuing journey both inward and outward toward a profound realization of what matters. It’s one of those personal essays that hopefully won’t prove too tasking after much fine dinner and drink. I promise I will not regale you with stories about my kids. I haven’t any of those. I also promise that I will not tell you all about my cats. I have too many of those. And in return for your attention, I promise to titillate your ears with some delicious bits of hypocrisy and Chicago history, as well as the most intimate details of my worsening addiction for which there is, sadly, no help to be had.

For those of you who don’t know me, no doubt most of you here in the room, I number among that lot who fall squarely into the category of the animal advocate. The category is one that usually invokes a snicker or two, and a knowing roll of the eyes, and calls to mind visions of house-coat clad women of every age, with cats in every nook and cranny of their hair and home.

But the category of animal advocate is a broad and variegated one, and perhaps some clarification is needed here. How does one define a category of identity with any precision? It’s like calling oneself a feminist or an environmentalist. What does that mean? I’m sorry I even brought it up. That being said, I’ll put a few parameters around the label so the concept doesn’t float perniciously around this essay like plastic in the sea. There are, of course, the far animal rights extremist types; those who believe our species has violated a social contract with the nonhuman others and who tend to end up on the FBI’s watch list by blowing up buildings to rescue long-suffering chimpanzees or beagles forced to sniff all manner of noxious things. La Résistance so to speak. Although I sympathize, I do not number among them. I would too quickly give myself away on Facebook. I also don’t number among those who cannot envision the death of any living soul till it has literally withered and dropped off the vine; whose mind is eased so long as an animal is alive, irrespective of whether it has a life. I’m also not just the practical mathematician type who can rationalize a whole lot of death of perfectly healthy shelter animals to diminish the problem of too many homeless creatures, and the perceived problem of not enough homes. Maybe I’m not doing a good job here of describing what kind of animal advocate I am within the fraught category of animal advocate. But it is, indeed, quite complicated and quite fraught.


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Susan Russell
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