Helplessness arises the face of death


Though it may not be obvious to the average observer, I am a softie when it comes to animals. I enjoy getting to know them, discovering their personality and relating to them in ways that are meaningful.

The opportunity to know one particular animal, however, will never happen. Call it fate, or just an unfortunate accident, it does not matter. Life—and all the experiences that encompass that word, all the beauty and all the harsh, brutal expressions of nature—happens.

Four kittens from a litter of seven born about four months ago survived a rash of predatory animal attacks, raising hopes of re-establishing a family of felines on our farm. Their mother, a victim of a predatory animal’s hunt, has left them orphans. Not long afterward, the kittens imprinted on yours truly as their “parent” of sustenance.

One evening, before we left for a meal on the town, one of the yet unnamed kittens ran under the vehicle and hopped onto the undercarriage. After riding about a quarter mile, it jumped off in front of the rear wheel.

Two hours later, upon our return, we discovered the kitten laying on the road. As I exited the vehicle, I called out to the still form, thinking it was dead. However, recognizing my voice and summoning all her strength, the kitten raised her head and answered with a loud, moaning, wailing cry. It was as if she were responding to my voice, “Where were you? Why did you take so long to come? I hurt so much! What happened? I cannot move! I wanted to be with you! I’m so sorry.”

Yes, those words are my interpretation of the cry of an animal. My translation’s meaning comes from a human frame of reference. I have been there before, as a child, as a parent, as a caregiver. Who is to say what those cries actually were meant to say?

As I picked her up, carefully, not wanting to cause anymore pain, her strength was fading fast as her cries diminished and become more like a whimper—evidence that her earlier response to me came from the last bit of strength she had left. Her pelvis and back was broken. Her front paws were unable to move. I knew she was going to die very soon.

At 4 months of age, her life is over. Done and done.

Why do I make such a big deal about a small, insignificant animal, and in a world where millions of people are suffering and dying?

Nothing is insignificant.

Just days earlier, I sent a text to our son, Ben, inviting grand-daughters Grace and Lucia to come up with a name for a cat. Of four kittens, two had names. The other two did not have names. This kitten would have received the name they came up with.

I received a text from Ben, but had not read it until just before the kitten’s demise the next day. Her name would be, Dora the Explorer.

Recalling the kitten’s cry in response to my voice and her fading strength, I am reminded of the fragility and brevity of life. As Loretta Swit’s character in the “MASH” television series says when a soldier dies, “One minute, you’re there, living and breathing. The next minute, you’re gone.”

It’s hard enough to try to rationalize situations that warrant killing in a war, let alone try to understand the reasons for dying in any other circumstance. There is a sense of helplessness that overwhelms the soul when confronted with reality of death and dying. As rescuer, nothing I could have done would have restored the victim, let alone provided a way to save the animal from a painful death.

How many times have we—even in situations that we created, where there’s no way out—cried out for someone to come and rescue us, to make it right, once again? Wounded, we wait and wait. We cry, but the noise of the world drowns it out.

Finally, recognizing that someone—our parents, our rescuers—is calling out to us, we summon every ounce of remaining strength and implore that person to rescue us, that we regret the choices we have made and ask them to restore what has been damaged or destroyed.

Perhaps the kitten’s brief time on this earth and her story compels us to place a higher value on life. Whatever our circumstances, we respond to the cries of those in need and work to restore and assist those who need healing.


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