October 8, 2005

Beginning of the Road

By Dane Sorensen

The quest to have a pet I think is one of life's goals. Who has not as a child gone out and sequestered a caterpillar in an old mayonnaise jar? Of course, one adds the leafy branch and grass at the bottom. And everyone learned how to use a nail and hammer to make air holes in the lid.

Having three children we went through all the usual critters. We had Greenie the snake who was always a hit when we filled his domain with crickets to eat. We rescued a turtle on the highway and had to glue the shell together because it had been hit by a car. We had Spidey and Spidette the pet spiders. The kids even had Mayflies as pets that thankfully did not require any food purchases. We helped three robins after they were abandoned in a fallen nest. They started as featherless blind chicks and became flying adults in a mere six weeks. We successfully released the robins and they rejoined their brethren in the wild. Intermixed in our children's rearing were fish, rats and even a frog or two.

However, it is the four-legged pets that kids enjoy the most. By that I mean the pets that meow or bark. They have a lot more character than a snake or fish. They actually become part of the family.

A case in point was our little Shih-tzu, Kira. Or as she was sometimes called, Snort. A Shih-tzu communicates with their sinuses as well as by barking making them rather unique.

I admit it, I was not too keen on having a dog. They ruin your lawn, need baths and often require as much attention as a two year old. However, Kira's charms eventually won me over. How can you resist a buggy-eyed dog that follows you everywhere and pays such close attention to your every move?

Now with all our kids off to college, having a lively dog helps keep the household full of life. For dogs there are no Mondays where all you have to look forward to is work. For dogs, everything you give them tastes good. For dogs, every walk is an adventure of places full of discovery and interesting smells.

Sadly, all good things must come to an end in life. When it is a pet fish or a caterpillar, children usually can take it with few tears. They discover how much fun a funeral can be. My two violin-playing daughters have been known to have very musical send-offs for some of our pets. The youngest has sung dirges that would make the angels weep.

However, for little Kira, this was not to be her fate. She died suddenly of a heart disease that comes on quickly and is untreatable. In the grown up world, college students can't drop everything when the family dog dies. All they can do is hear the sad news from their parents and find a quiet place to cry. It is amazing how we humans can really take the death of our four legged pets so hard. When a dog or cat dies it is like losing a family member. We know intellectually that pets are just animals, not as important as humans, yet the tears can flow when they die.

What surprised me was the fan club that Kira had. In the course of two weeks after her death we had cards of condolence and even a phone call from Europe. Holly the mail lady sent us a card as Kira always wagged her tail when she delivered our mail.

Kira, like many of our relatives was cremated. She is now mostly air flowing forever around the world. Breath is life - it is part of our human condition. I once heard a speech where a scientist said that the average breath of air we take contains around 10 to the twentysecond power [100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000] atoms. In each breath you breathe a few atoms that were once part of the breath your mother gave out when you were born. In each breath are a few atoms breath by everyone who has ever watched a sunset. And those whom you have loved that were cremated flow into you with every breath. Perhaps the poet best describes this:


We breathe and smile at one another,
Glad for the company of family and lovers
To share the joy life brings to all hearts
While working and playing our short part
Sharing until breath leaves the quiet heart.
It is not our way for flesh to stay and stay,
Our wills do not control our bodies' fate,
Our genes dance and twist our youth away
And the dangers of life must have their say
Of death's end we can but hope to delay.
Once still they share not our mortal pain
No word or smile can we witness again.
From cremation's mill comes ash and haze
Now joining the wind's orbiting flight
To soar and float amongst cloud and light.
I breathe and they are breathless
I breathe and my lungs hold and gives
Much more than air within my ribs
I breathe and they are next to my heart
With every breath I take, we meet and part.


In reflection we miss not only Kira, but also all those whom we have had the honor to know and love. Just as they still live in our thoughts, they give us life with every breath.


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