Monday, November 08, 2004

A Truth Not Easily Learned is One You Don't Forget

"After all these implements
and texts designed by intellects,
we're vexed to find
evidently there's still so much that hides.

And though the saints dub us divine
in ancient fading lines
their sentiment is just as hard
to pluck from the vine.

I'll try hard not to pretend
Allow myself no mock defense
as I step into the night."

"Saint Simon," The Shins

If you're lucky, in your lifetime, you get to know one person or creature that is so pure in his or her beauty or divinity, that having known the person enriches your life more than you can measure. and yet having to endure going on without them is nearly unbearable.

I want to preface this by saying that I know having a pet is not even 1/100th of having a child. I would never try to compare the two, and don't mean to belittle anyone's experience where they have lost a child; I don't have any pretensions to that effect. But since I don't have any kids yet, I figured it was best to get this thought on the record while I still have my innocent perspective.

Earlier in 2004, my little orange kitten, Simon, died. Got him in November 2003, he died in April. He was the singular most purely sweet and loving creature I have ever known. I truly loved him. He would climb into my hooded sweatshirt and take a nap for two hours, listening to my heart beat. He would run up to me and "knead" my stomach or my chest for a half hour. I would wake up and he would be lying on my bed, staring at me. He was the cutest and most playful little animal ever created, in my opinion. He would hide in the upper branches of the Christmas tree. He carried around a little stuffed mouse, and if you came near him he would growl at you. He had smoky blue eyes, and you could tell by looking at them that he loved you back. He was a divine little prince. He loved me unconditionally.

And yet he was born with a fatal disease that wasn't discovered until the day he died. He never saw a summer day.

The veterinarian told us he should be put to sleep that day, and if he wasn't he would probably have to endure a very painful demise. The vet called about 8 PM on a Monday night and asked for the OK to put him down. We knew it was the right thing to do, to let him go. Having to make that decision was excruciating, giving up on someone you love so much, even though it was clearly the right thing to do.

When we hung up with the vet, I ran to my room like I was 4 years old again and cried. And cried and cried. I couldn't stop. I was wailing, moaning involuntarily. It was one of those cries where you feel there aren't enough holes in your head to get all the tears out, and so your head feels like a garden hose on full throttle that someone is stepping on. My eyes were beet-red and I was out of breath, desperately trying to purge the anguish I was feeling. I felt like I had gone through all seven or eight stages of grief, or however many there are, in about 20 minutes. I feared my own death one degree less that day, knowing that I when I pass on to the other side, my little Simon will be the first one to greet me at the gates.

Was it better to have never known him? Having him and then having to be deprived of him, seemed cruel. Had I never met him, I wouldn't know that the I was ever missing the light he provided. Having seen his blazing radiance, and now being without it, things seemed darker now than they ever had.

(Look, I know he was a cat, but you had to know him.)

It took me a long time to realize that, as painful as losing him was, knowing him for the brief time I did was worth it. It's one of the most valuable life lessons I've ever had from a big-picture perspective. Taking risks and embracing people is what life is about. Otherwise, we are so gun-shy, we're too afraid of getting hurt to let anyone in.

For much of my early life, I was afraid to become close to people for many reasons. For some, it was that I felt I wasn't worthy of being a friend, part of the inferiority complex I still have to a certain extent. For others, it was I was so scared they would find me obsessive that I was afraid to tell them how I felt about them; or worse, they wouldn't feel the same way. Even to have a girl find out that I liked her back then was tantamount to wearing a scarlet "C" for crush. It wasn't until early adulthood that I felt comfortable telling someone how much they meant to me (family excluded, they can't reject you), and even now it takes almost infinite trust and lots of carefully chosen words to do so.

I'm sure in my life, I will feel some heartbreak and rejection because of becoming too close to people or allowing myself to become too attached to them, only to lose them for one reason or another. But these are the events that create us, our true selves. I would not be the same person I am now if it weren't for the people I knew who died or who left me. And while the loss of a friend stings for a long time -- sometimes forever -- it's a red badge of courage I would gladly wear, especially when the alternative is building up the foreboding callouses of being too safe and self-protective to care about someone.

So if Simon taught me nothing else, he taught me that every friendship you pursue is a risk. Some friendships end with devastating pain. Some fizzle. Some last forever. It wasn't until I began taking that risk that I ever found happiness. What is life worth if you don't try to fill it with other people?

So if you have the address to this blog, chances are you know me. And if you know me, you are crucially important to me. And yes, I do mean you.

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