What can you do when something, or someone, helpless is in front of you in pain? What are you supposed to do, and what is righteous? I mean, when the horrors of a situation are right before you is there some innate procedure that kicks in? Can anything be salvaged? Is there really something good in the bad?
I’m asking because a hundred Pilot Whales are stranded on some goddamn place called Farewell Spit in New Zealand. It was all over the tv this morning. I watched it at 4.30am, curled up in disgust and terror on my sofa, freshly woken half an hour earlier from a nightmare where the old Preacher from Poltergeist Two was chasing me around my house asking me to pray for my salvation.
The Pilot Whales lay there on the golden shore like huge black slugs in a giant sandbox. But around them, some in lifejackets and hi-viz vests, gathered together to share the intense Natural grief of the impending death of a hundred large wild animals, milled the local population. Some covered the whales in wet bed sheets, others poured water over their skin. Most stood looking from body to body, wondering, like me, what made these things happen. Some knelt lovingly next to the dying whales and patted and caressed them, talking to them and oozing anthropomorphic love. In my mind I heard a panpipe. The grief was all being sucked up by the humans. All the words and the knowing grim smiles…. The whales, as far as I know, don’t speak English, and I’m sure they don’t know why they are dying any more than I do. A few sandy tubs of water, baptising them as ‘touched by human kindness’, so worthy of allowing close contact, were pointless but they continued anyhow. The least the whales could do under the circumstances was to allow a sobbing middle-aged human the benefit of watching it pass away while being patted like a large, oilskinned cat. Get with the pro-social programme, you fucking ungrateful Cetacean.
Some people dug channels, waiting for the next tide, but the whales were already dying by then. Nobody could really help – which brings me back to the beginning: What? Why? How? Is doing something better than doing nothing and leaving these terrified creatures alone in their final moments together? Do Pilot Whales find humans comforting?
No. No, they don’t.
Those Pilot Whales will all die; causes unknown. But a lot of people will leave that beach feeling just that little bit better about their own shit because they got to watch a heart stop in the middle of several tons of marine flesh that should really be in water. There was a smugness that pervaded that beach which I found horrific.
Cuddle a whale, cuddle something, try to safely absorb some grief. It’s all safe unless, like me, you’re all washed up.