Monday, May 11, 2009
Existential Sadness and Infinite Kindness
I hope I’m no Blanche Dubois, but I have had to rely on the kindness of strangers often in my life. Another chance to reflect on this came up in the last few weeks, instigated a situation with my dog Keiko.
Once we moved to the island, it was jarringly clear that Keiko had a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. Sweet, gentle and loving when she was at our side, an unrepentant sheep chasing marauder when bored and on her own. Unfortunately the feral island sheep gave her ample opportunity to develop her Mr. Hyde side, and even though we thought we were keeping a close eye on her, she would use the brief lapses in our attention to set out on a 10 minute rampage. She would return without us even knowing she was gone, panting and smiling brightly.
Anyway, a few weeks ago, a neighbour appeared at our door, shouting and swearing and waving his arms wildly, threatening to shoot Keiko the next time he saw her. A few minutes later, another neighbour came to our door, much more gently, to tell us that Keiko had just killed a sheep and left it on her beach. We dealt with the dead sheep (it provided a much appreciated meal for the hungry eagles), but were now faced with the fact that our much loved dog now had a bullet with her name on it. The common wisdom is that once a dog has killed, it has the “taste” and will not hesitate to kill again.
I felt that I had to get her off island for her own safety (and for the safety of the sheep, who nobody looks after, but who nobody wants to see die, either.) After recognizing that, in spite of my best efforts, I couldn’t ensure Keiko had a safe home, I put a call out to the SPCA, but they refused to take her, saying that they would be legally liable if my “killer” dog ever hurt anyone or anything again.
A very kind person who runs a bulletin board for desperate pets listed Keiko on her site. After a couple of weeks of vigilance and worry, I got a call from another young woman who was willing to take Keiko. A virtual angel, she lived on a fenced acreage, had rescued a number of dogs in the past, including her current wolf malamute cross, and a Great Dane that had just died. She had found the Great Dane in a locked apartment laundry room and never allowed to see the light of day, and given her four happy years of freedom before she died of old age. The wolf/malamute had spent its life on the end of a chain, under a death sentence because wolf crosses are considered wild animals and therefore unadoptable.
This lovely young woman obviously had an open, brave, and generous heart, and had devoted her life to saving dogs (while maintaining a very respectable day job.) I was very happy to let her take Keiko, knowing she would give my baby an excellent home. Today I miss Keiko’s happy exuberance and undaunted optimism, I miss the structure her walks and meals gave to the day, I miss the feeling of being protected by a watchful canine friend. But those are my own little issues, and ultimately the best feeling comes from knowing Keiko is now safe.
But this all goes deeper than finding a happy ending to the story of a dog gone wrong. For the last few weeks I have been aware of my own feeling of a fundamental, existential sadness. From the time I was 14 and asked by a minimally trained counselor “Why are you so damn sad?”, through all my ups and down and periods of true depression, there has been lots of sadness, but it hasn’t been until recently that all the noise has fallen away and I am aware of a sadness that is most likely a normal part of the human condition.(The “undertow”, as Garp called it.) There is evil in the world, there are people that are so damaged, angry and in pain that they flail about, unaware of how they spread their affliction. As the lady said, “Abuse of power comes as no surprise.” We all know this and experience the manifestations of it every day. I, in my own tiny speck of existence on a remote corner of the world, could feel the waves of fear and powerlessness lapping at my ankles.
Recent events have reminded me that what keeps this unfathomable sea of sadness from sweeping over us and washing us away are the small, individual acts of kindness and compassion that ordinary people practice everyday. The simple civility of my neighbour who came to speak to me quietly about the upsetting situation with Keiko; the caring of a woman I have never met who makes it her job to find homes for animals in trouble; and the bountiful love extended to my dog by a woman who was still feeling the pain of her own loss.
Of course this is no great revelation or insight, but experiencing it in practice rather just in theory is always illuminating. I am filled with a renewed sense of appreciation of the friends and strangers who, through deliberate intent or natural goodness, have shaped my life with their kindness, compassion and fearless hearts.