Follow or Face My Wrath

Thursday, May 16, 2013

An Expression of Grief

Two days ago, on May 14th, 2013, my wife and I laid to rest our beloved dog Sandy.  Sandy was my wife's dog for all her 11 years, and was a constant part of my life for the last 5.  A mass was growing on her heart, and with or without treatment, it would ultimately kill her, so my wife and I were forced to make the intensely difficult decision to put her down.
In the early hours of the 12th, I took Sandy and our other dog, Tini out for the usual morning constitutional.  Everything was proceeding as we have become accustomed to; Sandy was lagging behind, excitedly smelling every blade of grass individually, Tini was yanking in futility at her leash in an attempt to walk further up the block, and I was standing there between them, arms pulled out on either side like Stretch Armstrong.  As we made our way up the block, Sandy suddenly stopped.  It wasn't the ordinary, stubbornly planted stop that she made when she wanted to smell something, she just... stopped.  I can't explain it, but in that moment, I knew something was terribly wrong.  The life had just gone out of her, and I could see it.
She couldn't walk, so I carried all 62 pounds of her home, a good 2 blocks if you count the long courtyard in our building, which we are at the back of.  Once inside, she slumped onto the floor and didn't move a muscle.  I called my wife to tell her something was wrong, and proceeded to take the fastest shower of my life before driving her to the vet. (I would have skipped the shower, but I figured I was going to be spending the whole day at the vet, so I'd better do it then or I'd never get to).
At the vet, Sandy was completely herself again.  Sniffing, running around, trying to get in other dog's business.  In the small room where we waited for the vet, she was as jittery as all dogs are when they're at the doctor.
A cursory examination revealed nothing wrong.  When my wife arrived, I was full of apologies for the false alarm.  We concluded that it was something akin to a heat stroke, and prepared to be discharged.
Suddenly, Sandy rolled onto her side and vomited her breakfast onto the floor.  She went rigid and nearly rolled over into the puddle of half digested dog food, but my wife was on the ground with her and held her up.  I ran to get the vet, and once I showed her what had happened she initiated a more thorough round of tests.
It turned out that Sandy's heart was grotesquely enlarged by fluid in the pericardium.  The initial plan of action was to hospitalize her so that a specialist could come and get an even more thorough look at her heart, and then drain the fluid.  Unfortunately, this plan came at a cost of nearly $2500.  After some back and forth, the vet decided to take a quick look with the in-house ultrasound, just to see if the fluid hypothesis was correct.  The ultrasound, though not as accurate as the one the specialist would have used, revealed the top of what could only have been a mass growing just outside one of her ventricles. 
A thousand times since that moment I've asked myself if we should have gone ahead and paid for the specialist to come in, to be sure that what we were looking at was what it appeared to be.  If it was, then even with the best of treatment, our beloved dog wouldn't have lasted much more than 3 months.  The vet was 90% sure that it was a tumor, but I can't help but wonder if the right thing to do would have been to pay for that extra 10% certainty.
C.S. Lewis' character Aslan, from the Narnia books, perhaps said it best; "To know what would have happened?  ...Nobody is ever told that."
Finding out what we had up to this point had already cost us well more than we could handle.  It will be a debt we carry for the foreseeable future.  And given that, we made what we believed to be the right choice, based on the information we had.
I asked the vet what she would do.  She said she would take her pet home and spend some time together, to say goodbye.  We took that advice, and it was possibly the most bittersweet time in my life.
I love that dog like I love my wife.  I was only too happy to carry her the few steps she could no longer walk to the grass in the courtyard so she could relieve herself.  If I thought it was the humane thing to do, I would have carried her every day for the next 10 years.  But she wouldn't eat.  Not even a juicy chunk of hamburger.  Sandy has always had a finicky palate for a dog, but when a dog turns down meat, you know something is wrong.
For those two days, the most movement we got out of her was a shambling 50 feet or so on an afternoon walk.  And it was clear afterward that it had taken the very last inch of her to do that.  All day and night, she fought for every breath, and each time she did move it took her longer and longer to recuperate.
If she were human, that might have been our life for years to come.  And human or not, I would have gladly accepted the burden on behalf of a loved one.  I cannot express enough how I loved that dog.  I would have done anything to keep her around, and it might have been worth it to keep getting those big sloppy kisses.
But dogs lack something that we humans take for granted.  As much as I know that they are as sentient and self-reflective as you or I, as much as I can see the souls living within them, a dog cannot speak, and therefore certain large-scale choices are forever left to others.  In the wilderness, before dog & man first met, it was left to fate.  Now, in our society, it is left to their owners.  A dog cannot make the ethical choice to fight in the face of overwhelming odds.  It is left to us to soberly consider the many factors involved, and as vulgar as it seems to even say this, the financial side of the equation is one of those factors. 
I feel immense guilt.  Shame, even.  But what could I do?  We made our choice together.  To this moment, I truly believe it was the best choice we could have made.  It was the least of the available evils, and I now have to go about the process of living with that.
The experience is not something I wish on anyone, but in the end I have to say it was worth it.  Worth feeling as I feel now to get to know such a unique and special soul.  In a thousand years, we will never meet another dog like Sandy.  She was the most intelligent animal I've ever met.  I didn't need commands with Sandy, I could simply speak to her in English and she always understood perfectly.  She may not have been able to talk advanced metaphysics, but then I don't know too many humans that can do that either.  She had a way of communicating with her eyes, and the message was almost always empathy and unconditional love.  She was happy, sassy, expressive, playful and beautiful.  People literally would stop on the street to tell me what a beautiful dog she was.  Joggers would halt their morning run to pay her a compliment.  It must have happened a dozen times. 
I remember the first time I met her.  Stephanie was hardly even my girlfriend at that time, we couldn't have known each other more than a month.  I came to her apartment and sat down on the couch.  Sandy immediately climbed up beside me and settled her chest down in my lap and stared at me with the wide-eyed panting smile I've come to know.  The connection was instantaneous, and I loved her form that moment on.  Sandy loved everyone she came across, she was everyone's best friend.  When people asked me if she would bite, I would tell them that she would never bite anyone, even if they stabbed her.  I've never known anyone or anything as purely good.  And my wife will tell you, it rubbed off on people.  Being around Sandy made my wife into the woman I love.  Her words, not mine.
Now, Sandy sits on our bookshelf, safely ensconced in an antique box that we picked up on the way home from her last visit to the vet.  She is surrounded by pictures from her life, and little mementos from our time together.
If heaven is paradise (and I for one believe it is), then I know Sandy and all beloved pets are waiting there for us.  To me, any sane conception of paradise would be incomplete without them.  I wouldn't be happy in a heaven that didn't include Sandy, or my old dog Bud, dead more than 10 years now.  I know that Tini will pass one day too, as will all the dogs and cats we will own some day.  By the time I get to heaven, I'm gonna have a zoo waiting for me.
And I can't imagine anything better.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

I've Got Jesus on the Brain

I just got the first of what I hope will blossom into a collection of Christian tattoos, and as a result I've been thinking a lot about religion today.
I, unlike many, prefer to wear my faith quietly.  I don't hide it, I'm not ashamed of it, but I don't scream it either.  People who vigorously pronounce their faith to unwilling audiences generally work against their own purposes, in my experience.  In fact, the same could be said for any viewpoint, religious or otherwise.  Crying out your opinions to strangers just makes them uncomfortable.
That said, it is the job of every good Christian to attempt to spread their faith to others.  I, for my part, choose to be quietly welcoming when it comes to matters of faith, rather than condemning and confrontational, or even awkwardly vocal in a positive manner.  I believe we really lucked out with this whole Jesus thing, and it's something that should be celebrated.
For me, coming closer to God was like quitting smoking.  People told me all the horrible things that would happen if I didn't quit, and they bounced right off.  No impact at all.  But when I started thinking about the good things that would happen if I did quit, suddenly I had all the motivation I needed.  The same was true with Jesus.  When someone told me I'd go to hell if I didn't accept him, it didn't make a mark, because if you don't beleive in him in the first place, how could a threat hold any sway?  It's like saying "you'll turn into a unicorn if you don't eat this invisible hamburger."  Who the hell would be convinced by that?  But if you see someone who is at peace with themselves and the world they live in, who is unconditionally kind to others and always willing to forgive wrongdoing, it might make you wonder how they got that way.
One thing that I think turns a lot of people off to Christanity is that they think it's really just a big list of Dont's.  But what a lot of agnostics and de-facto atheists (the militant kind are somewhat different) may not realize is that Christianity comes in more than one flavor, and that the common ground between them is pretty basic.  The one thing that is universally agreed upon is that all you really need is Jesus.  That's what he's there for.  The rest of it is just ways to be better, closer to God's example.  But if you're down with Jesus, you're basically okay.  And from there, you can go in any direction that suits you.
In my opinion, Jesus is a pretty hard guy not to like.  He was nice to everybody, even the people who killed himAll he ever talked about is how we should be nicer to each other, and to love God as much as we could.  He healed people, helped people and gave people hope.  Nobody hates the Dalai Lama, or Ghandi.  Kind, generous spiritual folk are pretty much universally respected, even by atheists.
And the very existence of Jesus is proof that God is basically a good guy too.  He was tough on us in the beginning, but he saw that it totally wasn't working.  GOD changed his tune from confrontational to welcoming.  In the old testament it's all about "do it and I'll punish you", but in the new testament, he creates a neat little loophole for us flawed humans because the old ways weren't working.  So that's the example I choose to follow.
And if you don't want to hear what I have to say, I won't tell you.  It's okay with me.  It's not an easy thing to talk about most of the time.  I understand.  I can't prove anything to anybody anyway.
But If you really want to know, I can tell you how it happened for me.  And I can tell you what I think about the whole thing.  And if you've come as far as wanting to know in the first place, being convinced isn't that big of a jump.