Sometimes, in the interest of a greater good, some very painful acts must be committed. I have been thinking about this fact for the past few weeks, ever since we received a doomed flock of poults from the hatchery. At first, everything appeared to be normal. But then, a few hours after they had been installed in the barns, cracks began appearing in the facade. Hundreds of little birds were lying on their backs - not unusual, since for the most part their first twenty-four hours of life are so topsy-turvy that some of them have spent more time upside-down than right-side-up at this point - yet when we tried to flip them back over, they steadfastly refused to be righted. Most flopped right back onto their backs, angry and spatially disoriented, and waved their tiny legs like rotors in a tiny fan.
Some of these birds would recover, if we just kept patiently putting them back onto their feet. But the majority were too disoriented, too disfigured, or too close to death to benefit from our attention. The veterinarian, who came by the next morning to perform a miniature autopsy (what those in the business call 'posting', as in 'post-mortem'), declared our birds a disaster. He said some of them didn't even have the ligament attachments to allow them to stand on two legs. And so there was only one choice.
We had to cull them. Sterile as that word may sound, when applied to a living being, culling becomes gruesome. Each morning for the first four days, my brothers and I waded through the thousands of babies, picked up the hundreds that were unable to stand, and deposited them in the ring reserved for these 'rollovers'. Near the end of this painstaking process, my father would appear with his ten-gallon bucket and begin pulling the necks of these casualties. One at a time, he separated their skulls from their spinal columns and dumped their limp bodies into the bucket. By the end of the week, we had six hundred dead in one barn, and seven hundred in the other, an average of nearly ten percent of the flock, dead.
As painful as this massacre was, it was also distressingly necessary. Because what the hatchery had sent us were not viable birds - these were diseased and mutilated creatures that had no hope of surviving past the first few days, when they eventually would starve to death after being unable to stand up and get a bite of food from the nearby feed trays. What we were doing, as horrible as it was, was in fact merciful. Their blood was on our hands, but we had very little choice. Kill them before they had a chance to truly suffer, or keep out of their business as they starved and dehydrated beyond the limits of survival.
I know this isn't the most uplifting idea to begin the new year with, but I believe it is relevant. Sometimes, in the service of big picture, we must make some painful edits. These won't be without guilt, or misgivings, and they may be incredibly painful. But if they are worthwhile, we must do them, because to avoid them will be to allow whatever part of our lives we are choosing to ignore to continue to suffer.
Sometimes the most merciful act is the scariest, because it seems to be the most painful. But once you move beyond the initial act, you realize that the choice was never between pain or no pain. It was between mercy and blindness.