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January 2005
Epilogue: Embracing Vertigo
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 gulped.

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, nevermind smiling.

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 damaged cousins.

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.

Escape
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 and roll.

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. She’s 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.

 


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