Yesterday, a dog I'd never met passed away.
Of course, thousands of dogs I've never met pass away every day, but rarely do their departures elicit a sensation of loss on my part. This is quite deliberate: I know I cannot bear the weight of thousands of daily dog deaths, so I avoid the cross-posted "URGENT!!! TO BE EUTHANIZED TOMORROW!!!!" messages that whiz around the internet and focus my attention and emotional investments on rescue groups that highlight the positive, the survivors.
|Skinny Girl, still skeletal after a week of feeding.|
|Birdy's cancerous lymph nodes|
|Birdy and her Nice Lady|
|Abbey's muzzle is going gray.|
And yet, my mind said to me, is it not a little ridiculous to feel sad about the death of a dog you've never met when there are so many larger tragedies out there?
My difficulty lies not in being insensible to the various ills that plague our world, but being too sensitive to their immensity. There was a time in my life when I had come to see the world as a terrible place filled with so much suffering and pain that it overwhelmed what light and joy might also be found in it. I felt helpless to rectify or mitigate any of the injuries and injustices being inflicted on the undeserving and staggered under the weight of feeling obligated to right so many wrongs. I felt guilty for enjoying what privileges I had and deeply ashamed that sometimes I just didn't want to hear any more. I started to drown in despair.
Prior to the onset of the chronic migraines, it was possible for me to maintain a balance between staying well-informed (as I believed was my duty as a citizen of the world) and keeping a sufficient emotional distance. After the migraines started, I found that I no longer even had the tolerance for being well-informed. In order to be happy within the confines of my disability, I have to prioritize what limited time and energy I have each day and I am not going to spend them on being unhappy about things I cannot control. I wish I could do more, but if I am to cope with the fact that I am not well enough to work, to see friends, to travel, to care for myself, or to even leave the house most days, I can't sacrifice any of my energy on distant causes.
In other words, I need to choose my sorrows.
That brings us back to Birdy. It is within my capacity to mourn for this dog who was sick and old but also loved sardines and sleeping on the bed with the Nice Lady and chewing on bully sticks and digging holes. It's a grief of a size I can bear. But my hope is that in mourning for Birdy, I am also mourning just a little bit for those starving African children, for casualties of war and hate crimes, for the impoverished and exploited: in short, for all those who suffer, but whose suffering I simply cannot mourn for individually. I don't think Birdy would mind. I may have never met her, but I know she knew about suffering and happiness and in the end she demonstrated she also knew all about letting go. These sorrows of mine, both the ones I feel deliberately and the many more I wish I could afford to mourn: she's light enough to carry them. She's got wings now, after all.
Fly away, sweet Bird.