By Catherine Clyne
I rarely get excited about things
in a positive way these days, but I grudgingly fell in love with U2’s newest
song “Vertigo” last
month. And I simply had to admire their brilliant marketing scheme, using
the song to promote the new iPOD with a cool video. It’s a catchy
song and it was everywhere.
That said, I have to say the lyrics strike a chord: “Hello, hello—Hola!
I’m at a place called vertigo. It’s everything I wish I didn’t
know, except you give me something I can feel. Feel.”
Who hasn’t felt that inside-out moment, when the world shifts, your head
buzzes, your stomach sours, and the floor drops out from under you? When you
witness something so offensive, so obscene, you really feel like you’re
the only person in the world seeing it, caring about it.
I felt it the other day while watching a TV special on England’s young
Prince Harry. He was somewhere in Africa and had a bundle in his lap: a tiny
face that epitomized misery. She was a ten month-old baby who had been raped
by her mother’s boyfriend two months earlier. He believed he could cleanse
himself of HIV by having sex with a virgin. So he raped a baby. It was so bad,
they had to remove her entire womb. As my partner and I were watching, the room
shifted and I felt as though someone had taken a hammer to my forehead and kicked
my stomach. The tears involuntarily slid down my cheeks. “What are we doing?” I
It’s that vertigo I feel when I’m brought face-to-face with the psychosis
of our species. It’s beyond comprehension that a grown man could do that
to a baby—selfishly use her body in such a way that she’s disposable.
Just another thing to be used to try to cure his ails, to what avail? Her entire
life is forever altered. She doesn’t even understand what happened. And
these are the adults whom she has no choice but to trust, who are supposed to
take care of her. And there she was, wrapped in a blanket, incapable of moving,
It takes a lot to shock me now, but in a way, I’m kind of glad I still
have those moments. It shows me that I’m still capable of caring, that
I’m still alive. And it’s nothing less than shocking—what we
do to ourselves, each other and all the species we continuously stomp on in our
selfish pursuit of survival. And when we come across these moments, we should
pause to be shocked.
The Jungle is Your Head
The only way Jeanie knows how to stop the vertigo is to match it. She grabs a
rope hanging from the ceiling and spins her body round and round. And Rachel,
she can be a beautiful calm soul but has erratic meltdowns. She copes by screaming
and swiveling her head round and round in figure eights. Spinning and swiveling,
they can restore moments of normalcy.
Jeanie and Rachel were subjects of medical research, their bodies used against
their will just like the little baby—disposable products of people relying
on myths to rid ourselves of illness by abusing others’ bodies… And
the damage caused is immeasurable.
Jeanie and Rachel are chimp survivors of LEMSIP, a biomedical research facility
formerly run by New York University. They are retired to a sanctuary in suburban
Montreal, where human primates do their very best to do right by these severely
Our November/December issue was dedicated to sanctuaries and as a sort of consolation
prize, our photographer friend, Frank Noelker, took a few of us Satya staffers
to the Fauna Foundation, to meet some special characters, including Rachel and
Jeanie. Gloria Grow was a dog groomer who originally founded the sanctuary for
farmed animals. But several years ago she learned of the hundreds of chimps at
LEMSIP and took it upon herself to provide a peaceful retirement home for as
many as she could. She and co-founder Richard Allan negotiated and managed to
rescue 15. They currently live out their days in relative peace in a large enclosure
incongruously surrounded by Canadian farmland.
Meeting these damaged souls was a heartbreaking experience. For all my years
being concerned with animal activism, I’d never visited a sanctuary. I
know that encountering rescued animals can be very rewarding, hanging out with
creatures who have managed to escape their fates as disposable objects help many
continue with the good fight. But the many, the millions who cannot escape fate
hang heavy on me, and it’s hard to be positive when reminded of the many
who suffer and the very little I can really do about it.
I have a little confession. I played hooky one day last month to go
to a “secret” free
outdoor U2 concert at the foot of the Brooklyn Bridge. It didn’t take much
for my exuberant partner to appeal to my inner 17 year-old, reminding me of what
I would have done if the biggest band in the world was playing practically in
my backyard. (I traveled many hours each way to see them twice in 1987.) We cut
out of work early and made our way to join thousands of other giddy mostly 30-somethings
to wait as the afternoon faded into a gorgeous winter evening.
The band traveled across the Manhattan Bridge on the back of a flatbed truck,
holding up traffic and stopping trains, as only they could probably do. The band
played a full set, mostly of songs from the new album, and while Bono monologued
on the emotional backdrop of each song, the light reflected off the wings and
bellies of a flock of birds hovering over the water nearby. For a moment, we
were excited and happy and we could forget our worries and just enjoy some rock
After we pause to take in and feel the shock and grief of the evil we witness,
we also need to pause to regain our breath, to feel the moments of love and happiness
that remind us of how beautiful this world can also be, in all its complexity.
One of the perils of opening ourselves up is that it makes us vulnerable when
someone we love leaves for whatever reason. One of the people I love most in
the world is leaving, my friend and Satya colleague Rachel Cernansky.
going to Africa for many months, volunteering for the Green Belt Movement. She’s
taking her love to an area that needs it and we wish her well.
To learn more about the Fauna Foundation, see www.faunafoundation.org.