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I had a dream the other night that my cat died; that I was gone traveling and returned home to find his tiny body cold and hard. My cat is not, however, dead. He's sitting next to me as I write this, his perfect tawny head resting against my knee.
Sometimes I dream about my boyfriend dying too, and wake up in cold sweats, sitting up to see if he's still there. Sometimes, when my cat is asleep, I stare at his furry white belly to see the barely perceptible rise and fall of his breath. I just want to know he's still here with me. I just want to be sure. My therapist called this "anxiety," but I don't feel anxious. I feel sad and curious and a little bit amazed. Death is one thing none of us have a solid grasp on. It's the one great unknown that also serves as the one great equalizer.
When you love someone and they die, who is to say what happens to all that love? It's still there, I am sure of that. But it has nowhere to land, no hard, tangible thing to grasp onto. Maybe the love dwindles over time. Maybe, we repurpose it and give it to someone (or something) else. Maybe we slowly forget, and subsequently, feel bad for forgetting.
Death is scary and loss is scary and there is no loss more final than death. The reality of an end is just as uncomfortable as it is obvious, but nobody thinks about the end at the beginning. Nobody thinks about the end until they're close enough to it that it becomes undeniable. Sometimes I dread the end of the book, because it provides such a sweet, delicious escape that I can hardly bear to give it up. I spend days, weeks, sometimes months, searching for another book that's just as good as the last. Just as sweet. Just as delicious.
We aren't just scared of death though. Many of us, most of us, are also scared of love. And love is scary for a million reasons, but the largest, I think, is the possibility of it ending. The inevitability of it ending, rather, and the dozens of ways it might hurt. Sigmund Freud said that "Dogs love their friends and bite their enemies, quite unlike people, who are incapable of pure love and always have to mix love and hate." Pure love is what we all want, and why we love our pets so much. Pure love might also be something we don't really think we deserve, and the feeling undeserving is why people despise their spouses or kick their dogs or yell at their kids.
Death is scary sure, and so is love. But while one is final the other might just last forever. I don't think that love, especially pure dog-love ever can end. Maybe love is something we give each other and pass along from generation to generation. Maybe it bends and folds and changes shape and changes color, but it's always there, because we'd be nothing without it.
I learned from the Sioux writer Charles Eastman that nothing can live without death, and that learning from those who came before us is the best way to re-enter the past. Children remind adults not only to be curious and innocent and joyful, but children also remind adults that life does not revolve around us. Children are new and there is nothing quite like newness to make one feel older and hopefully, wiser. There is nothing quite like watching a new beginning to make you more aware of your own eventual demise.
My cat is still resting against my knee, so I tell him I love him, "I love you buddy," I say. He looks up and me and meows soundlessly, as if to say, "I love you too." Maybe he does, or maybe he doesn't know what love means, where it all goes, or what it means to end.