As a group, they were a slow motion parade - an extravagant display of panache, moxie, charisma, flamboyance, and supreme self-confidence. Not a group of mere mortals to know and love, but a magnificent cavalcade of richly feathered tails, quivering wings, shifting color, triumphant song and vibrant dance to experience and be awed by.
We WERE awed. These big, beautiful birds, whose bodies had been systematically mutilated and broken in the name of "Thanksgiving" dinner, never ceased to express with inexhaustible passion and panache not only their absolute love of life but, most heartbreakingly, their absolute certainly that life loved them back - missing toes, severed beaks, fractured joints, brittle bones, collapsed lungs, struggling hearts, terminally broken bodies and all. One on one, they were just regular turkeys: curious, inquisitive, sensitive, communicative, friendly, affectionate. Regular guys, with good and bad sides, good and bad days, ordinary and extraordinary qualities, personal errors and personal triumphs. Generally friendly. Sometimes shy, cranky, or foolish but always aware, always full of feeling, perception, memory and, astonishingly, always full of enthusiasm.
If I had to use only one word to describe turkeys it would be "enthusiasm". Not euphoria, not excitement. Enthusiasm, straight from the root of the word: "en theo", "with god". I haven't met anyone who is more connected with the throbbing grace of every living heartbeat, and more intent on communicating this awareness than turkeys are. And they communicate it constantly, contagiously, and with the touching certainty that they are heard and understood. They used to follow us around, issuing forth an almost constant stream of melodic replies, opinions, observations, remarks, wisecracks, and comebacks that our limited hearing range distinguished mainly as gobbles and clucks, but that their infinitely more sensitive ears discerned as complete and meaningful musical phrases that were constantly enriched with color and touch signals — colors we can't see because we are blind to ultraviolet light, and touch we can't feel because we are numb to the touch that can be felt only through the tips of feathers.
So we listened humbly to these beings whose experience of the world's colors, scents, and sounds is so vastly richer than ours, whose awareness of the world's beauty far surpasses ours, and we kept listening even though we were aware that we understood only a fraction of what they communicated. Probably, they voiced things that are interesting to all of us — friends, foes, finds, fears, pleasures, loneliness, hope — and things that are interesting only to other turkeys. Whatever it was, it was obviously worth expressing. Often, the six brothers approached sanctuary visitors as a group, but just as often, they separated from the flock and visited alone with their favorite people. Like most turkeys, they were both perfectly social and perfectly independent, blessed with a remarkable gift for both vibrant social interaction and quiet solitude — sometimes gregarious, sometimes, with equal ease, solitary creatures.
Today, it's just Melvin and me. I sit on the ground and he climbs in my lap, warm and pulsing with the mysterious life within, and the soft bare neck, the beating heart, the living stillness of his being. A wide open heart, a vast field, a free sky, a warm breeze, a human and a turkey, communicating about what matters most — love, loss, life — one being speaking to the being of another.
We have much to be thankful for.
Thank you for this moment of grace.
Thank you for Melvin's luminous presence.
Thank you for his brothers' glorious days of freedom.
Thank you for those of us who find it intolerable that countless persons like Melvin are forced in and out of short, miserable lives, mutilated, mocked, raped, forced to live in their own excrement, tormented, mass murdered, dismembered, burned, used for an evening's amusement, and flushed into mass graves.
Thank you for the growing number of hearts who refuse to ignore this atrocity, refuse to support it, refuse to perpetuate it, and certainly, refuse to give thanks for it.
© 2006 Joanna Lucas
If living ethically is important to you, please remember that there is nothing humane about “humane” animal farming, just as there is nothing ethical or defensible about consuming its products. When confronted with the fundamental injustice inherent in all animal agriculture—a system that is predicated on inflicting massive, intentional and unnecessary suffering and death on billions of sentient individuals—the only ethical response is to strive to end it, by becoming vegan, not to regulate it by supporting “improved” methods of producing dairy, eggs, meat, wool, leather, silk, honey, and other animal products. For more information, please read The Humane Farming Myth. Live vegan and educate others to do the same.