Becoming our truest selves

How I found myself slaughtering a goat

The month I turned 17, I killed a goat.

The air was thick with dust. A persistent mosquito buzzed in my ear as a rough Ethiopian man grabbed my hand forcefully. He pushed down the dull knife on the poor victim’s throat, spilling bright crimson on the dark clay. The goat’s eyes bulged, and its feeble whimpering soon grew quiet. My hand trembled after what I had done and my eyes welled up in tears. Despite the turning of my stomach and the nagging fear that I had contracted anthrax, there was a small, absurd glimmer of pride in my chest.

This wasn’t punishment or some religious sacrifice but rather the preparation of the evening meal. I had gone on a class trip to a small rural area in Ethiopia and this was the last night we were there. To celebrate all we had experienced that week, a prime goat was chosen to be roasted for the whole community. In many African cultures, the slaughter of a goat is as much a part of celebration as turkey is at Thanksgiving. Animal rights activists might have fainted — I almost did too — but in this community, to be chosen as the slaughterer was an honor.

In light of finals week quickly approaching, it’s odd that this experience came to mind. Perhaps my subconscious is trying to tell me something drastic. I’m picturing myself standing triumphantly over a slain biology textbook, pages ripped to shreds in piles around my feet. Though I don’t think my brain is telling me to butcher my textbooks with the butter knife in my dorm room, there is something to a little bit of spontaneity.

Every decision or action in my life has been guided by logic or common sense. Slaughtering an innocent creature had no place in my analytical mind. I’m not proud of the blood on my hands — the ordeal almost made me a vegetarian. However, in that moment I shut off my screaming subconscious and let my primal actions — rather than my mind — take control.

What I’ve realized since coming to college is that nothing is quite what I expected. So much is radically different than what I was used to. My high school self would laugh at how deviant my class schedule is from what I thought my interests were. Yet if I were to rigidly hold on to all my rational proclivities, I would likely be in an asylum right about now.

Thinking back to that grotesque moment in the Ethiopian dirt, I’ve now realized how liberating the experience was. It wasn’t liberating in any sadistic sort of way — my heart still aches for the poor creature — but in the sense that I let go of a little bit of myself. In the same way, the many uncertainties and surprises of college have slowly helped me relieve my rigidity.

Thus, as finals speedily close in on me and this semester winds down, I’ve come to be thankful for the spontaneous and somewhat frightening moments. Though nothing was quite as bloody as killing a goat, many occasions have made me tremble just as much as I did then.

From those experiences, a little bit of myself was freed and a new bit of myself was embraced. I’m not suggesting we should all “spontaneously” let go of the voice in our mind telling us to study for finals. What I am suggesting is to let the moments of life come as they may and not cling so tightly to whatever your mind thought was the perfect plan or perfect experience. Sometimes it takes a little bit of spontaneity — or maybe even a little savagery — to find our truest selves.

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