“A man in a suit, wearing beautifully shined shoes, took me aside and gave me his business card. He was a veterinarian, and explained that becoming a vet in France was not an easy process. He’d applied to the academy seven times before being accepted. In celebration his advisers and instructors had thrown a party in his honor in one of the laboratories.
They’d drunk wine, and the group had congratulated him roundly on his entry into the program. And at some point someone had given him a glass of wine doctored with a sedative. Because this is the tradition. He’d fallen asleep, and they’d removed his clothes and trundled his naked, sleeping body into a fetal position. Then they’d carefully, meticulously tucked him and stitched him into the gutted belly of a newly dead horse. “When you wake,” he told me, “you have no idea where you are at.” Your head pounds from the sedative. You’re shivering with cold. It’s dark and stinks so horribly you can’t take a deep breath. You’re compressed so tightly you can’t move, and you want to vomit but there’s not even space for that. Still, you can hear voices.
Beyond this dark, cramped space your professors and advisers are still having their party, and the moment they see you move inside the tight skin of the horse they begin to shout. “So, you think it’s so easy to be one of us!” they shout. They taunt, “You can’t just fill out some papers and become a veterinarian!” From all around you, unseen, they shout, “You’ve got to fight to join our profession!” As they demand you fight, calling, “Fight! Fight!” you begin to struggle and push against whatever is binding you.
And as you claw a hole in the tough, dead hide you feel someone press a glass of wine into your bloody hand. Slowly, you’re forced to birth yourself, naked and bloody, from this dead animal. And once you’re out your companions cheer you and accept you with genuine warmth, and you continue, naked and bloody, to celebrate, having earned your place in their ranks.
This man in Paris, with his business card and shined shoes, explained why the tradition exists. This grotesque, age-old ritual. Because it creates a shared baseline experience that will someday be a comfort. In the future, no matter how many beautiful little puppies or kittens die under your care, no matter how heart wrenching your job might feel, it will never feel as horrible as waking up inside a cold, dead horse.”– Chuck Palahniuk