11 January

The Gift Of Feeling. Secrets Of The World.

by Jon Katz
The Joy Of Feeling, In The Waiting Room

It is no pleasure to have a dog who is sick, for sure, but it is, in many ways, always a gift to feel. I think trouble brings out the best in many people – their empathy, their compassion, their common sense of humanity. I am grateful for the things I can feel, I am never really more alive when there is fear and pain.

I loved seeing Maria holding Gus in the waiting room and leaning over to kiss him. There is so much love in my life, I sometimes cannot believe it is real.

At such times, Maria and I grasp our need and love for one another, we are pulled out of our selfish and conflicted selves and dragged into the shoes and hearts and souls of other people. At such times, people remember how much we have in common rather than how much divides us, we affirm our sometimes forgotten humanity.

In truth, I do feel lucky to have people and animals in my life than I can love and laugh with and worry about and, if necessary, mourn. The absence of feeling is a kind of death to me. And I was once kind of dead.

I remember what it is like to live a life without many people (and animals)  to care about and think about.

Gus is an especially appealing character, and his illness affects me differently than other possible losses. I believe that death and suffering are as much a part of life as joy and fulfillment.  I think we are ideas, really, as much as we are material things. The idea of Gus is the intrepid little man living a larger life than we expect from little men.

But being young or small offers no immunity, the fates play their own cards, not ours.

That is the drama of being human, sickness with health, light after dark, warmth after cold,  death after life, one comes with the other, one is often connected to the other.

There is no reason to expect Gus is dying, he is not,  but obviously, the specter of it hovers, i see in the posts and messages, and in my own writing. It isn’t that it is imminent or even likely, but it is possible, and we all fear it. At such times I realize what I love and why.

In my subconscious, I label and categorize deaths differently. I felt relief for my parents when they died, life was hard and painful for them, I had this feeling when they died that they were released from the heavy burdens of life, as I suppose everyone is.

Oscar Wilde famously wrote about this idea of suffering and death: “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow. To forget time, to forget life, to be at peace.”

Rest in peace, Mom and Dad.

In my hospice work, I learned that can be sad, but not only sad. Death, like life, can be beautiful and affirming. I admit that these things are in my thoughts tonight, and as always, I am grateful for the chance to be alive. Life is precious, and I do not ever take it for granted.

No one knows the author of this poignant exchange: “Life asked death, ‘Why do people love me but hate you?’

Death responded, ‘Because you are a beautiful lie and I am a painful truth.”

Gus is nowhere near death, but the sickness of this loving and happy creature, just at the beginning of life, opens me – and others –  up in a particular way.

Gus has not had all of his life, but his life is his life, just like everyone else’s.

My dogs have often taught me how to feel when I could not feel myself. They often kept my feelings alive when I thought they were dying. I do not mourn my dogs much, I believe they are spirit creatures, they come and they go when they want. The wonder of dogs is that there is always another dog to love.

Gus is different, of course, too young, too full of himself. His purpose has not yet been revealed to me. He is, therefore, not ready to go.

Trouble is liberating to me in a way, it reminds me that I am not in charge of much, I am powerless and helpless when it comes to life and death. We can fuss all we want about pills and treatments and chairs and medicines, but it isn’t me who will decide Gus’s fate or any other human or animal.

Even if we quibble and squawk and hate in the fractured human world, we shall all dance in the general dance together, I am pleased to be reminded that I am not God, and decisions about life and death do not belong to me. I am nothing, another leaf about to swirl and twirl to the ground.

“It is the secret of the world,” wrote  Ralph Waldo Emerson, “that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”


  1. I’m sorry this has happened to Gus. I understand what you and Maria are going through. It’s a very difficult journey. Your writing is so profound. So much honest feeling. I wish you and Maria peace…

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