Sunday, February 14, 2010

We Die Of Heartbreak

“When sorrows come, they come not single spies, but in battalions.”William Shakespeare
Hamlet Act IV, Sc. 5

In the midst of a number of significant crises last week, Stone died. His back legs were nearly useless, but his personality and intelligence remained untouched until the end. He slipped away as I held him in my arms on the floor of an exam room at our vet’s office. He was ten years old.

I used to think the teacher was the guy who knew all the answers. Over time, I have learned that the questions are far more important. Stone’s death made me realize how much I do not know about this life, and how much I may never understand. How can such a gentle creature suffer so much? Where is he now, and is he alone? And how do we live in a world where we are destined to die? The teacher should be the one who asks the questions and is willing to follow those questions into the darkest parts of human existence to find the answers and bring them back to enlighten others.

So, I will continue to search for answers. Who are we? Why are we here? What does this life mean?

As I have watched friends and loved ones die, stood over the body of my mother, looked into the eyes of the sick, I realize I know nothing. I understand and comprehend only a fraction of what it means to truly live. I am left with tears, regrets and bitterness, but so little wisdom. And it is wisdom that I need right now.

I do not make friends easily. I use humor to attempt to diffuse my inadequacies, my awkwardness. People have told me I am a loner, someone more comfortable in solitude than with others. This is difficult for my wife; she enjoys family and friends. She likes being with others. For me, comfort resides in books, ideas, observations, anonymity. Outside of the classroom, I could be quiet forever. I push people away many times, holding them to impossible standards as I am hyper-critical of myself and my actions. Nothing is ever good enough. I do not think I deserve success or love or friendship.

That is why I connected so strongly with Stone. Dogs love unconditionally. They live in the moment. He was always happy to see us when we came home and was never happier than at dinner time or snoring soundly through the dark of night at the foot of our bed. He never growled or threatened; he loved people and brought peace and comfort to my life.

Our long walks, often late at night, taught me the importance of the moment. And whatever he had to endure with his myriad health problems, he did so without complaint. He had the highest pain threshold of any creature—human or animal—that I have ever encountered. No yelping, no whining, and he rarely barked. He was reserved, quiet, dignified in a way I have rarely seen in humans. I have had many dogs in my life, but Stone was the best. He was also with me for the shortest duration, and I am thankful I had him for the time I did, but I will always wish for more.

For me, mid-life is fraught with uncertainty: aging parents, difficult work, a poor economy, my own health issues, and my questions about what this life means. Ultimately, where do we go after? If all we are granted on this earth is seventy-five years, what does this brief flame of human existence mean in the scheme of time?

I will reexamine every work of literature. I will continue to study history, philosophy, science, and every other subject to find the answers. When the time comes, I want to understand our place in the world. I want to know death, and if possible, gather at least some wisdom about where we go when we die. Man should not fear death. He should fear the realization that coming to the end of his life he has not lived.

So I will live looking for the truth, endeavoring to understand the mysteries. I know that loss is inevitable. We bury those we love—parents, grandparents, children, friends. Pain and suffering are part of this existence, and nearly every religion devotes a portion of its sacred texts to a discussion of the darkness inherent in life. I will return to those texts yet again to search for answers. And if I find that we simply exist, than so be it. I am ready to confront whatever truth I find.

Stone resides in memory now, and even though his physicality is gone, his essence remains like an echo through my days. Those echoes will haunt me and leave me restless in sleep. I hear them still, and I hope I always will.


  1. I'm sorry you lost Stone. He sounds like a most beloved pet, a wonderful companion to you.

    Your musings here are filled with such sadness. I think when things like this happen we can feel bewildered. Losing loved ones doesn't make sense, not to the part of us that needs and wants them to be with us forever.

    Thanks for your beautiful and poignant post. I hope it helps to write about it.

    Stone will live on in your memory and maybe that's the best he can do for you now that he as gone.

  2. Thanks for the thoughtful and heart-felt post. I'm sorry to hear of your loss.

  3. Paul, let me begin by saying that your quest for truth is an inspiring constant in my daily life. You could not feel the way you do, and so deeply, if you were not also the wise friend and confidant that Stone was, and which in your sorrow you think you are not. For evidence, we need look no further than your blog. One facet of the truth is that sorrow is one of our greatest gifts; those who shun it and fear it remain outside its teaching and healing influence. Sorrow is joy in disguise. It binds us together. As Gibran says, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.” This is more than a passing poem from an old master. It is a statement that lives in the present, the same way that your love for your friend lives on. Stone’s departure doesn’t bring an end to your love and friendship. His absence helps them grow and and continue on their journey. Those you know now, and those you will know in the future, will benefit by this, and you too will be nourished. It’s happening even now: this entry about Stone is a gift for everyone who will take the time to listen. The value of your gift has no limit, and its message will not tarnish or age. And so in the end, the truth you seek, you have also spoken.

  4. I'm truly sorry for your loss. I think having a pet is one of the most amazing experiences humanity can enjoy. Especially a dog. It's wonderful that you had such an amazing time with him. I admire your quest as well. Most people are content enough with not knowing to search for the truth or maybe they're afraid of what they'll find and they stay away. Regardless, I applaud your will to delve into the deepest, darkest depths of a philosophy so mysterious yet not uncharted.

  5. I am so very very sorry about Stone. He sounds like a wonderful dog and how fortunate for him that you were the one to have chosen to adopt him. So much of what you wrote in this post were and are my thoughts as well. May the days get easier and your sorrow lessen. As hard as this was for you, thank you for sharing this. I feel like I knew Stone.

  6. Thank you all for your comments. It took me a while to have the courage to look at them. Once I did, I went into a tailspin. My grief for Stone brought me your care, concern and friendship, and I am so grateful. Is it possible to treasure friends one has never met in person? Your responses make it so for me. I only hope that I can return the grace you have shown me.

    Again, thank you.


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