A few years back, I heard the doorbell ring. I got up from my chair, wearing nothing but a ratty pair of boxer shorts and one wool sock pulled up to the knee. Opening the door, I at first saw absolutely nothing. And then, I looked down.
It was a giant snail.
Now, by "giant", I don't mean "Oh my God, that snail is bigger than a building!" What I mean is, of course, "Comparatively Giant". Around other snails, I'm sure this guy would be like King Kong to those chimpanzees that smoke cigars and wear diapers.
But to me, it stood about a foot tall. Roughly the height of Tom Cruise.
"Excuse me, sir, but if I could...." it began, in a voice that sounded strangely like Art Garfunkel's.
"Get the fuck out of here," I said, and promptly kicked the snail in the air and went back into my house.
I have to admit, I felt guilty about the whole event. I mean, who was I to treat someone like that? Sure, can we really refer to a giant snail as a "someone"? Is a hermaphroditic wanderer of an entirely different, almost alien, species still something worthy of our respect as human beings? I mean, despite all that, people like Carrot top, right?
Okay, bad example.
But this got me thinking about the nature of empathy. It plagued me for months - I would lie awake at night, tossing and turning as I stared up at my ceiling, wondering... Who am I? Why would I do such a thing? And, most importantly, if I was able to treat another entity with such calloused disdain and hatred once, would I do it again?
Would I be able to stop myself?
Eventually, after a year of being plagued by demons, wondering about the nature of my eternal soul, I sold all my worldly possessions and went to Asia. I wandered Tibet, where I held long conversations with buddhist monks. I meditated in India, speaking with hindus about the nature of rebirth and reincarnation. And I did some other religious stuff in, oh, I don't know, China or something. Lit some candles and snorted rice or whatever.
After two years of soul-searching, I finally felt at peace with myself. While I could not change the past, I could at least accept my new understanding of humanity and the nature of empathy that keeps all of us individual organisms connected in one world-spanning web of interconnectedness and mutual debt.
I got home, got my house back, and got back to living.
One day, as I was busy repainting a wall in my living room, which was soon to be my meditation den, the doorbell rang. I opened the door, and saw nothing. And then, I looked down.
It was a giant snail.
In a voice, not unlike Art Garfunkel's, he piped up "What the fuck was that all about?"