Learning to live in a shifted world

16 January 2020
Earlier this week SEI researcher Danielle Celermajer published a heartbreaking essay about returning to her property in the wake of the fires with only one of her two beloved rescue pigs. Here, Dany shares an update on Jimmy, coming back to a place that no longer feels like home.

By Danielle Celermajer, Professor of Sociology and Social Policy, the University of Sydney

It’s six days since I wrote about Jimmy and Kate, and three days since the piece went out into the larger world of human communication. At the inception of the piece, Jimmy and the words were almost fused – well, fused in the sense that the words arose directly from my being with him. In the ensuing days, Jimmy has remained where he is, in his world of nests that he builds himself to hold his grief and the rhythms of his day (more in a moment). The writing has flown out into a completely different world, where people who know neither of us seem to have come to acquire some palpable sense of the violence that has been wrought on Jimmy and so many animal beings whose lives have been destroyed or devastated by the fires.

Many, many people have written to me, as the person who tried to speak of, but not for Jimmy. Their words have been gifts of concern and fury and a desire to make a difference to him. Astonishing. I wish that there was a way of conveying this to him, to give it to him in his water so to speak. At the same time, it’s critical to me to remind myself, that even as his story has hopefully opened many of us to think more deeply about the experience that other than humans are having of the climate catastrophe, we need to hold the space for Jimmy to be just Jimmy – not an icon or a representative of anything else. In this sense, I am glad that he remains in his world.

“Even as his story has hopefully opened many of us to think more deeply about the experience that other than humans are having of the climate catastrophe, we need to hold the space for Jimmy to be just Jimmy – not an icon or a representative of anything else.”

In that world, the days have not been easy. We suspect that things looked up a little for him when the other animals came back from being evacuated. We wondered if, when he returned to the land bereft of all the animal residents (save us humans), he thought everyone was dead. In the evening, he spends a little time in the field where the sheep and goats live, grazing, but generally they keep their distance from him. He is very big remember.

We have been cooking for him – pumpkin soup, barley soup, mashed potatoes, blended mango. Sometimes he likes what we make, and then not. Last night after refusing everything, he ate the soba noodles we had been eating. Often, he does not eat at all. He continues to lie for hours in the nests he has made himself in the cool of the woods. We go and sit with him, but then there are times where he seems to want to be alone.

It would be a mistake though to be a dualistic here – to think that the trauma of his mind and heart could be separated from the trauma in his body – so we have been attentive to what might be happening in his body. Fortuitously, two of the vets who had come down to this part of the world with Vets Without Borders stayed overnight with us, and so had an early morning consultation, recommending some herbs and supplements that Jimmy definitely does not love, but that we hope will make him stronger. The animal sanctuary hive has kicked in and we have advice coming in on how to keep him drinking, food he might like, medications that might support him, how to administer them without trauma, the wisdom or lack thereof of introducing a new friend. No illusions that Kate is replaceable, but I cannot imagine what it is like to be alone when life has always been side by side with another.

We want him to be better. I want him to be better. The people who are writing want him to be better. Part of what we might now have to live with though, for Jimmy and our world, is that irreparable damage is the state we must live in, and live as well as we can.

Jimmy, eating barley soup, 14 January.

Danielle Celermajer is a Professor of Sociology and Social Policy at the University of Sydney. Her research stands at the interface of theories exploring the multi-dimensional nature of injustice and the practice of human rights. She recently completed a European Union funded multi-country project on the prevention of torture, focusing on everyday violence in the security sector. Her publications include Sins of the Nation and the Ritual of Apology (Cambridge, 2009), Power, Judgment and Political Evil: Hannah Arendt’s Promise (Routlege, 2010) A Cultural History of Law in the Modern Age (Bloomsbury, 2018) and The Prevention of Torture; An Ecological Approach (Cambridge, 2018). She is now moving in to work on the relational intra-space between human and non-human animals.

Header image: by Chelsea Shapouri via Unsplash.