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.