Two weeks ago my oldest dog Nala (see her in an earlier post) turned up missing. None of my neighbors had seen her. I searched my property as best I could, tracing her various paths. She was nowhere to be found.
I have had many dogs during my lifetime. Only a couple of them ever wandered off to die. So, it worried me about Nala. She had grown very old and incontinent. Her bad hips were bothering her to the extent that she could not walk without daily pain medication. She was deaf and had not barked in months. Her peripheral eyesight was failing but she could see clearly straight ahead. She would still go for walks with me though sometimes she chose lay around and sleep.
The possibility of having her put to sleep was very real and near. I was hoping to get her into summer when she seemed to do better in the warmth. Maybe into the beginning of next winter. We'd have to see how it went. It is was ever-present mental debate about how much longer to let her live. She was clearly suffering, her quality of life had deteriorated. But, she loved to be petted and rubbed. She still could be seen walking slowly across our land to the neighbor's houses. They all knew her as well. She had been around this land longer than some of them had. She was part of the place and I was determined (as I did for our dog Parks before) to let her live as long as possible.
Then she vanished. For two weeks we had no clue as to her whereabouts until late on Sunday a neighbor was alerted by buzzards and found her dead. For two weeks she had laid in a fairly deep ditch near the border of my property. I had walked near her body after her disappearance but I did not see her and if she was still alive she did not bark or make any sounds. She would have had no way to know I was nearby anyway, being deaf she wouldn't hear me calling her name.
Finding her lying in that ditch on Monday was difficult for me. She must have gotten disoriented and fallen into it. It was a section of ditch tangled with privet hedge and briers. There was no way she could have gotten down there, she could barely walk. I crawled down to gauge the condition of her body after two weeks. There were no discernible signs of deterioration from above. Only near the corpse did a faint stench arise.
She was on the edge of a pile of brush I had thrown in the ditch over the years from various chainsaw cuttings and yard work. Her head was twisted with her nose pointing down into the brush between intermingled sticks and branches. I tested her with a small shovel. Her body was rigid and yet had unfortunately already started to liquefy. I could not move her without tearing her apart. The floor of the ditch was rock hard clay. The situation was horrifying to me.
What had I done? Such a terrible condition for a dog I loved and cared for when almost everyone else had either forgotten her or treated her as a nuisance at least. Now, to this end. She could not be moved so I had to cover her body in lime and then with several bags of cheap top soil on top of that to prevent the immediate odor from becoming widespread. Now, Nala is just a rough-made mound in a ditch. The unlikely location of her body turned out to be only about fifty feet from my house. How was I to know?
The magnitude of my compassion for this dog collided with the stark reality that she had died so near to me, so exposed, perhaps in discomfort, perhaps in fear. Why had she wandered off from her accustomed spots? Why did I let her live so long as to suffer such an end?
I was amazed at the weight of guilt that suddenly descended upon my Being. I was guilty of possibly mistreating this animal when the humane thing would have been to put her down months ago. Now I rationally understand that guilt is the most worthless human experience imaginable. There is no value in it but to serve as another tentacle for childish religion to sap your life. It has been years beyond my memory since I last experienced any degree of guilt in my life. It is just not how I operate. More harm has been caused by guilt than by murderers in human history.
Yet, from past personal experience I know that life will surprise you with how it affects you out of the clear blue yonder. So it is now with me and my guilt over Nala. I grieve at her loss. No event has saddened me more since I started this blog. I felt I was doing my best but it seems I ended up doing my worst. That line of reasoning is a classic guilt complex. I have to work my way through it somehow.
It won't be easy. This has lingered and I don't sleep soundly. I am not at peace with myself. My life is out of balance. I see Nala lying in the ditch after two weeks of mostly wet weather. Her hair matted with repeated dousing from the rains. Her body in a puppy-like fetal pose. Her face turned inward, mercifully away so I can't see her eyes. Her body decomposing slowly in the cool, wet, and mild spring conditions. I can't get her out of my mind. And I can't help feeling that I failed as a caretaker of this animal. I cannot escape my direct responsibility for this situation.
I am torn between by my sincere attempt to keep Nala alive one more summer and my utter failure to rescue her (if that was even possible) right under my nose a few dozen feet from our house. Like most blogs, I suppose, my posts often project confidence and alleged insight amidst the chaos and weight of existence. In reality, however, such confidence is a temporary thing, such insights often turn out wrong. No matter how much I might rationally understand that guilt is ridiculous and without value as a human experience, that does not mean that guilt will not grab me by the throat and attempt to force me to do its bidding. We are not as much in control of ourselves as we would like to believe.
So I am wrestling with it all now. Wrestling with a carcass I cannot properly bury. Wrestling with this tangle of emotions and the weight of the responsibility. Wrestling, sleeplessly, with what I should have done differently, if anything. This is the condition of my Lifeworld in this moment. Yet, already I see a path toward healing. The very fact that the tragic unfolding of events has surprisingly (to me) affected me so profoundly is indication enough that my imperfect human compassion was fully engaged with Nala. I was all she had left, really. And I stepped up to that challenge, attempting to love her as much as I could. To treat her ailments. To force her to get up and keep moving as much as possible. To be gentle with her ways and to accept her as she was, faltering urine-smelling body and all. I did my best and I loved my best and, ultimately, that is more important than the manner of her passing.
Jennifer told me yesterday morning that she had had a "healing dream." Nala came to her as the puppy she was 15 years ago when we first got her from the county pound. She was happy. Then she turned and walked away following her old self. Two Nalas retreating. Jennifer teared up telling me of her dream. For me, the healing still awaits.
Ecce Homo: Part Two
2 weeks ago