Ashes to Ashes

On Monday, about 10:30am, I lost a loyal friend to the dark.

It wasn’t unexpected, we all saw it coming, but as with every foreseen wound, it was only marginally less grievous because we were prepared.

Jack, the Border Terrier featured above, had been with my family for near enough 13 years (a figure which clearly proved as unlucky as its legend) and has been a shining light of love and happiness throughout. His incessant licking (trust me, we tried our best to train him out of it) welcomed each and every guest to our home, even if they didn’t want it. I remember him as a puppy, curled up asleep in my arms, and recall how his personality grew to mirror my own (or, more accurately, an amalgam of my family).  Even when he would casually ignore a command and trot off in the opposite direction, it was hard to stay angry with the little guy.

In recent months, Jack’s light has been going out.

Late onset Canine Epilepsy pointed (in my mind) to the presence of a tumour in his brain, something which was politely ignored by the vets who treated him, dosed him with barbiturates and crossed their fingers. As his quality of life decreased, seizures became more common, joined by incontinence, a loss of balance and a melancholy which sapped his previously buoyant spirit. He was not the same dog.

On Monday morning, minutes before I was due to be on the road to work, I came down to find him lying in a puddle of his own making. Away from his bed, he’d clearly staggered out in preparation for a fit and when I arrived, was scarcely able to respond to my presence, scent or touch. My parents and I quickly decided that it would be awful of us to keep him in such a state simply for our own selfish wishes. It was devastating to know that this was perhaps the last time I would see him, but I’m stronger than that and I continued to work to the best of my abilities.

This is not my first death, by any means, and nor will it be the last I see, but whilst in conversation with my friends (who duly consoled me and soothed my troubles, such wonderful people are they) it threw into relief something that has always been in the back of my mind.

Perhaps you’ve seen the ‘Lion King,’ perhaps you’ve heard the ‘Circle of Life’ and thought; “that’s a lovely jingle.” My family emerged from Africa a mere generation ago and my parents still hold the same expat values as their own parents, conceived by war time struggles. We’re pragmatic about these things: old life must die so that new life can grow. It’s a fact. A universal constant. The old supplant the new, yada-yada, it’s been this way for millennia.

But now something’s changed.

All of a sudden, human healthcare has become so effective that our average life expectancy has (probably) doubled in the past hundred years or few hundred years. Our pets live exceedingly long lives, with the best veterinary medicine that we can afford. Our population has exploded and expanded around the planet into the most remote areas where we previously would never had been able to survive. Where previously disease and illness would have sapped our numbers and kept a natural control on our impact on the planet, now we combat it so effectively that we may choke the life out of our little blue marble all on our own.

Recently, in ‘Avengers: Infinity War” (the latest in those colourful action flicks produced by Marvel Studios), an antagonist was revealed whose goal was to dispassionately commit genocide throughout the universe by decimating exactly half its population with a snap of his fingers. I’ll keep the specifics fairly vague and not bore you with the comic-book-ness of it all, but the motives of this villain blew me away in the watching of it. He wanted no glory, it wasn’t out of spite or vengeance or some other concept which is harder to grasp, it was simply to enable Life to flourish, without the slow-choking noose of overpopulation.

Personally, in this moment of morbid reflection, I believe that overpopulation will be the downfall of our species. We’ve grown too fast and not understood the impact that our fledgeling species has on the universe around us. We’ve littered and polluted and been so fired up by the hubris of our own achievements that we’ve been blinded to the fact that things are going wrong. They have been for a while. The overriding opinion of the majority (prompted by religion and the kinds of people who believe that veganism is the only option for continuing the human race – my own incendiary opinions, you’ll be glad to hear) is that life is sacred. I can agree with this, up to a point. My counter-argument is: Life demands respect, but to hold the preservation of it sacred above all other things is just fucking stupid. Some things need to die, to be replaced by something new. We’ve forgotten that basic universal tenet in the past few hundred years and it will kill us, but perhaps if we were all to become a tad more pragmatic about the situation, as my family and I have been about Jack’s passing, then perhaps we (the species) might live to see a new millennia. A brand new day.

I have no truck with afterlives, heaven or hell. I don’t believe in the Great Hereafter. But I do believe that death was the best thing for Jack, after the condition he was in and although I shall miss him terribly, I firmly believe that returning his ashes to the dirt, where they might nourish roots (which might nourish trees which might nourish squirrels which might nourish birds of prey which might then die and once more nourish roots again) is the greatest destination that any of us might aspire to. I’m not afraid of the mystery of death, so long as it allows the chaos of life to continue that little bit longer…

I plan to finish a short story for Jack soon. Expect it to be posted in my literature section. Have a great weekend, folks.

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