Contemplate meaning of life

Published 12:00 pm Friday, February 5, 2016

At the exact moment I shot the squirrel, somebody shot a deer somewhere in the country.

While those shootings were taking place, a chicken processing company was slaughtering 5,500 chickens. It takes a big flock of chickens to produce all those tasty wings in fast food outlets. The same is true of hamburger meat, which is why a meat processing plant was beginning the day by killing 350 head of beef.

One common thread in these events is that nobody who did the killing was arrested and charged with any crime. Also true is the fact that all those creatures were alive until that penultimate moment — they had life.

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Has the fluctuating (fickle?) value of life occurred to you? What raises the value of one kind of life over another? Why is it OK to kill some animals or sea life but not others? And why do some cultures place greater price on selected creatures than others do? Quite likely, the life of one thing overshadows that of another because of its usefulness to a society. For example, deer killing is limited but the slaughter of raccoons is not.

Shooting sparrows will not get you in trouble, but taking a few ducks out of season well may. I’ve even seen drivers swerve to run over turtles. No patrolman will stop them for doing so.

At the top of the life food chain is a human. Here the water gets murky and the lines of when to end the life of a person gets blurred. For instance, a soldier by his very oath is committed to take the life of an enemy if his country so orders. But the life of that soldier is worth less at his death than the life of a survivor or family member of someone who was in the 9/11 disaster.

Commercials playing funeral music is the background for pitches from groups like the SPCA, each telling us how crucial it is to send in a check to save an animal — as if that animal will be put down the next day if the money doesn’t arrive. Of course, the animals they protect for the most part are dogs and cats. No squirrels, deer, chickens. But even when dollars are sent in, at times the agencies themselves kill some little one.

And, too, states at times take the lives of some convicted felons. The American Constitution lists life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in its pages, but the U. S. government continues to permit public execution, even retaining that option in its own options.

Doctors are not a part of the procedure although they may do everything in their power to maintain life in a patient whose brain is blank. Only in Oregon may a person be assisted in dying legally.

The medical world also presents the complex issue of abortion, and in so doing asks exactly the question posed here: What is life?

T.J. Ray, a retired professor of English at the University of Mississippi, can be reached at