Wow…has it been 5 months since my last post? I wish I could commit to writing more frequently. I’d like to put out more of my thoughts and feelings on a variety of matters; but the truth is if something doesn’t move me beyond my natural laziness barrier, I can’t find the motivation to write about it.
So, like the title says, my dog died Saturday night. He was a little Jack Russell Terrier named Elric (named after Elric of Melnibone). He was more my wife’s dog than mine. He had been in declining health over recent months. My wife and I had begun the conversation about putting him to sleep. Then, Saturday evening, he passed away on my wife’s lap.
To be clear, this is not some tear jerker post about how awesome a dog he was. I have no cool photos or heroic stories. Much like my sentiments regarding my father, he was in my opinion not a great dog. He was a dog. A loyal companion. A member of the family. My wife will miss him. I will not. Though his passing did not please me, it also did not truly affect me. Until this morning….
This morning on my ride in to work I began to think about a number of things relating to death.
My wife sat on the bed holding the deceased dog for a while. She called me in to say good-bye. When I went into the bedroom our Dobe “Kyrie” (his AKC name is Fate’s Kyrie Eleison) followed me in. For those who wonder, yes… he’s named after the Mister Mister song, taken from the Latin meaning “Lord have mercy”.
Anyway, Kyrie walked over and put his nose against Elric’s nose and sniffed. Then he laid down. Not a sound. Not an odd look. Not even an extra sniff. He just inhaled, knew what he needed to know, and moved on. And I stood there asking myself one of life’s unanswerable questions. “What does Kyrie think happened to Elric?”
A little later that evening Kyrie walked over to the bowls set aside for Elric and ate his food, and then he laid down on the couch and went about his normal day. And I began to think about life and death.
It is a fact that all living things must someday die. But, I think that when we witness the death of an animal or a person it brings to the forefront how fragile life truly is. We confront our own mortality. We begin to think about things.
I began to think about things. I will try to convey those thoughts and the way in which I thought them by putting it like this. Read each of the following sentences as fast as you possibly can, and then times that by two. After a period of time I slow down the spinning cacophony of thought and focus on one or two at a time. But in the beginning it happens like this:
What does Kyrie think? Kyrie doesn’t seem to think anything. I wonder if Elric dying makes Kyrie think about dying. I wonder of Elric knew he was dying. I wonder if he was afraid to die. I am not afraid to die. Of course I’m afraid to die! Everyone is afraid to die! Why am I afraid to die? Because I don’t know if there is anything after this. Which scares me more, the thought that there is something, or the thought that there is not? Hmmm…good question, let me get back to you. Bev is hurt. Bev’s a big girl, and she knew this was coming. Yes, but you should be kind to her. I AM KIND TO HER! (in my own way) She’s calling people. I will probably call people. She posted his death on FB. So will I. Why do people share pain with strangers (or friends for that matter)? I don’t know…but that’s another good question, so let me get back to you on that one too.
And thus we arrive, finally, at today’s post.
Why do we (specifically I) fear death? Why do people share pain?
The easy one first…
We share pain IMHO for essentially two reasons.
We want to feel connected to other people. So, we share our pain so that we might receive comfort in return. We are assured in these moments that our losses are felt by others and that we are not alone. This is the likely reason Bev shared the loss of Elric via phone to those who knew him, and via FB to those who did not.
The second reason is a bit more nefarious, but still true. Having grown up in church I watched on countless Sundays as people stood to give their testimonies. It seemed that with each passing week the circumstances from which the Lord had saved folks got more and more dire. What started out with “I’m just an old sinner saved by Grace”, became detailed accounts of drug use, prostitution, prison, child molestation…you name it. It seemed to me the point was to say “look at me and all I’ve been through”. Like the Lord had to take a couple extra steps to reach down to where I was at. Or maybe simply to say, “You wouldn’t have made it through what I made it through”.
This is essentially the basis of Münchausen syndrome and Münchausen by Proxy. When it reaches the level of full blown mental disorder. Prior to that it falls under the age-old axiom that misery loves company.
Now, with regard to death…
It is the essence of life to know and be known; to see and be seen; to love and be loved. Many people have a serious fear of being lost. When you boil it down, what does that fear actually represent? “What if I die out here and no one even knows?” So too I think with death.
Tomorrow something will happen, but you will not be here to see it. Your kids will grow up (or not); your wife will remarry (or not); your job will get done (or not); and you will not be here to witness it. And so, in a very real sense, because you did not see it, it did not happen. Much like a child does not remember their birth. They were simply here when they first became aware that they were here.
So death is the end of the story. A story you very well may have not finished. Suddenly, it’s over…and you have no idea how it ends. But the truth is, it’s a circle…it never ends. As such it is also, in many way, utterly meaningless. You’re born, you procreate, you die; and the universe moves on unaware of your passing.
Unless of course you are religious. Then you move on to a “better place”. You live on eternally. You break the circle, and suddenly life has meaning! Wouldn’t that be awesome?!
Unfortunately, I’m more of a first scenario guy. So I reckon I fear death to the extent that I do because I cannot imagine life going on without me. I also imagine that the inability of a whole lot of people to face that simple reality is the reason there are so many people searching for spiritual meaning.
Perhaps not the deep psychological epiphany you were looking for. But IMHO it’s the truth. We fear death because we fear that we will be forgotten, and thus our lives had no meaning. We seek comfort in religion because it promises us that we will remain. Alive and aware, eternally a part of the story (and the best part if the writings are to be believed). But then you have to ask yourself why it is that Christians cry at funerals…
Anyway, it’s about time to go home and bury the dog. He deserves that.