Estimated reading time: 4-8 minutes
As a quick warning, I was inspired to finally write about this topic by a truly sad incident that occurred a little over a week ago. So if you’re having a rough day, maybe save this post for tomorrow, or skip it and read part two next week.
This is the first in a two-part piece I’ve wanted to write for a long time, though I haven’t previously found the courage. I know that some readers will find my take (covered more heavily part two) disagreeable, perhaps even unpleasant or upsetting. However, part of baring my soul through this blog has been making peace with knowing that certain people will inevitably find what I have to say about any topic some combination of boring, uninteresting, or plain wrong.
And though my reader list has doubled in the past year, it’s not like there haven’t been some “unsubscribes” along the way. At the end of the day, I can only hope what I write is challenging and thought-provoking, occasionally helpful. With that, here goes nothing.
The Fragility of Life
Today (11/5/23), Tess and I spent some time at my gym before running our usual weekend errands. After we left and prepared to battle the Sunday afternoon grocery crowd, an odd shape caught our attention as we drove down Indian School Road.
Lying down right in the middle of this busy city street was a small, brownish gray kitten, probably no older than four months. We barely missed hitting him, and immediately parked on the next side street with the intent of getting out and moving him to safety. Luckily, two other drivers saw exactly what we had and blocked traffic so they also could exit their cars and help the little guy.
With three good Samaritans on the scene, the kitty was pulled safely out of the road, and Tess and I volunteered to take him to the nearest emergency veterinarian. Fortunately, it was only about of a quarter mile away.
The little cat calmly accepted Tess picking him up and holding him gently, but our initial relief that his legs or body didn’t appear to have been run over quickly vanished, as we saw that he was bleeding badly from his nose and mouth. Tess hurriedly carried him to the car, where he rested quietly in her lap as we drove the short distance to the clinic.
When we arrived, front desk workers told us that we’d need to transfer him to another office that could take care of him overnight. One such facility happened to be a mere six-minute drive away, so we prepared to head over there as fast as we safely could. Before we left, we requested a towel to keep the kitten wrapped up more comfortably and to prevent any more blood from staining Tess’s clothes.
When the vet tech brought us the towel and took a closer look, she hesitated and said that actually, she’d better confirm with the doctor that it was even worth transferring him to another location. She took him to the back of the clinic while we waited anxiously.
She did not return with good news.
This poor kitten’s lower jaw was badly broken, mangled beyond repair. A fractured mandible can be fatal for a cat on its own, and he’d sustained multiple other injuries, so the veterinarian sadly confirmed that there was nothing anyone could do. The humane course of action would be to administer euthanasia to end his pain. And because the kitten already been taken away from the waiting area, so we didn’t get to say goodbye. Perhaps that was for the best, as it would probably have made things even harder. With nothing left to do, we signed a few forms and tearfully left the building.
Animals and Death
My family always had cats growing up, so I’ve sadly seen a number of these incredible creatures pass away. But despite the intense emotion this always brings, something has stuck with me through interacting with multiple animals in their very late stages of life.
When an animal knows it’s going to die soon, it rarely seems afraid. In fact, they often seem to have a sense that their time is up. But they show no great struggle in the face of this reality, merely peace and acceptance. The kitten we found today was no exception. When Tess, a complete stranger many times his size, held and carried him, he never once cried out, hissed, pinned his ears back, or gave any indication of alarm.
He made eye contact with us, instantly relaxed into Tess’s arms, and seemed to understand that things were out of his control now. And he didn’t appear to fight against or resist that in the slightest. I can hardly think of a better embodiment of the “serenity to accept the things I cannot change.” This lack of fear in the face of death, particularly from animals, often seems to move me beyond words. Perhaps it’s the seemingly contradictory combination of deep wisdom and utter innocence, effortlessly embodied, that I find so powerful.
But it all seems so…arbitrary
As I sat here writing this, one of my two cats, Fury, was curled up under a blanket in my lap, and the other, Callie, sleepily watched over my shoulder from the comfort of the couch. We adopted these wonderful ladies as 12 week-old kittens back in September 2020, and one of the conditions from the foster organization was that they remain fully indoor cats.
Given that we live on the fourth floor of an apartment complex, that was a pretty easy rule to follow. However, I’ve occasionally indulged feelings of guilt on this topic. It seems to me that cats probably thrive when given the opportunity to engage their natural curiosity outdoors, getting into mischief in the fresh air. I’ve wondered if it’s fair of us to deny them that life.
But, as was so brutally illustrated the morning of this incident, such a life in the outdoors clearly comes with potentially heartbreaking risks as well. And usually, all I need to assuage feelings of concern is the look our kitties give Tess or I when they roll over, expose their bellies, and start happily purring away during tummy rubs. They clearly feel safe and loved, for whatever that’s worth. Not all cats have the same experience.
Which life is “better?” I certainly don’t feel confident in choosing.
One of the reasons the incident with the little kitten in the street hit me so hard was that he looked extraordinarily like one of my family’s cats, Winston.
We found this cutie pie on a bridge in San Antonio twelve years ago, at an away game during my senior year of college soccer. You can read all about that heartwarming story (especially if you need a palate-cleanser after this one) right here.
For the short version, San Antonio didn’t have any “no-kill” animal shelters that would take him in, so the entire team pitched in to help pay for Winston’s airline ticket back to Kenosha, Wisconsin. There, he would live for a year at the “soccer house” with me, my roommates, and our giant black lab, Dexter. My parents took custody of Winston after I graduated and he still lives with them today.
But, why was Winston so lucky and his Arizona doppelganger wasn’t? Why did Callie and Fury get adopted into a loving home while another cat’s life ended so shortly after it began?
I genuinely don’t believe questions like these have satisfactory answers. In fact, I think it can be a waste of time and energy to seek them. And yet, accepting the seemingly random, “unknowableness” of queries like this can be incredibly difficult. It’s why we search for answers, significance, and meaning everywhere we look. And it’s one of those “big questions,” namely, “What is the meaning of life?” that I’m going to tackle next week.
Wish me luck.
Thank you for reading today. As I’ve mentioned before, I view this blog as 50% public diary, 50% information I hope readers will find interesting and useful. Obviously, today was much more tilted to the former end of that spectrum, and the topic was undeniably an upsetting one. For those of you who read the whole thing, I’m incredibly grateful.