“Life is so dang fragile,” I wrote in an email to Adam, informing him that the 16 eggs in our incubator didn’t hatch. They’re a day overdue now—maybe still alive in there, maybe dead.
We put 18 eggs in. I dropped one on the floor at day five. A smear of blood inside marked a tiny life ending. Another showed signs of never growing at all and we discarded it at day ten.
There are so many things that might have gone wrong. The temperature too high, the humidity too low, the eggs too old, their mothers’ diets wrong. I find it hard to believe chickens ever hatch at all.
This week we pray for a friend told she likely is about to miscarry her baby. A week after the diagnosis, the baby appeared still growing, but no heartbeat yet. No one could say what’s happening, what might have gone wrong or right. I find it hard to believe that babies ever survive at all.
In class today I learned about a time when the U.S. government paid bounty hunters $5 for every California Indian they could kill.
Five dollars for a life. Is life so cheap? I’m sure they made justifications: Those people are poor anyway. Their culture and their tribes will soon be dead and gone anyway. Who are those Indians—are they even human like us? We don’t know them, we don’t understand them, they don’t matter. Their land is valuable, and can be used better by someone else. By someone more human, like us.
I’m sure there are justifications like these for abortions: That baby wouldn’t have a good life anyway. Space on this planet is limited—why bring into it more people who aren’t wanted yet? And is this even a human, if it isn’t known, isn’t loved, isn’t understood? Why not give preference to someone we know, the mother, the human?
Is an egg broken on day three holding a tiny smear of blood any less alive than the chicks crowding their eggs today? Whether on day 5, 10, or 22, or sold for $5 when it’s fully grown, a dead chicken is still one less chicken.
Chickens I can lose and go on living. Life is fragile, after all, and I haven’t got it in me to mourn long for every bird I’ll lose in this crazy operation of farming.
But as my friend facing miscarriage knows full well right now, everything in us says mourn when even the smear of a tiny human is lost. Whether at week 3, 8, or 30, or held in its mothers arms, it’s one less baby. One less human. Are we so heartless to argue that just because we don’t know it yet, it isn’t human yet? Who are we, in our care or not caring, to decide whether a human life is real? We have stopped bounty-hunting Indians, but we haven’t stopped measuring human life by small price tags.