Monday, August 30, 2010

Lady of Merciful Death

The wind blows strongly today, sweeping the pasture like a firm, persistent broom. It rattles the door to the barn, which creaks and groans in protest, the door to the window freely opening and closing in response to its insistent whisper. It flattens the grass, heavy with seed, and bends the tree branches, rattling the brittle wood like bones and catching the dying leaves, brushing them off the tree without afterthought.

With a heaviness, I walk toward the barn, resigning myself to what I might find.

For the last couple of days, a kitten has been slowly dying from "the sickness." A pretty little calico, who used to seem so strong and healthy, (and whom my stepdaughter named "Curious") suddenly stopped eating a couple days ago, and spent her time wandering around, mewing in frustration. Dismayed, I tried feeding her goats milk and re-uniting her with her mom, hoping she would start eating again. No, she wouldn't eat, or snuggle with her brother and sister and mother. Over the next couple of days she grew weaker, and her eyes became goopy and swollen shut with telltale signs of "the sickness". Yesterday, she could barely move her legs. I hoped she would die peacefully in her sleep in the night, and it seemed as if she had as I walked into the barn this morning, milk bucket in hand. Her limp little body lay outstretched and still, and I was glad that she had passed sooner rather than later.

Instead, about halfway through the milking, she woke up and started mewling pathetically in response to my voice. (I was yelling at the goats, as I usually do at milking-time.) I could plainly see that she was dying, and I remembered her brother, who had taken 3 days to die from "the sickness," once he had become too weak to move. He hadn't cried, however, just slept and waited to die. This little kitten was crying, the cry of a baby who expects you to do something about her problems. She couldn't move her body, just her head, which swung around as she yelled out, demanding some relief.

I did the only thing I could do for her. I "helped" her die, and then took her over to the "graveyard" behind the barn and laid her down by her brother. I wished it could have been less violent, quicker, less painful, even though I know that I did the best I could, and that crushing her head under a cement block was a much less painful way to go than lying in the barn for another day or two, crying for help and having no one answer. I fantasized about learning a secret way to simply sing an animal to sleep and then wait for it to pass peacefully, but death is not that simple.

The wind rustled the tiny body's fur, caressing it gently, as I stood guard while the soul fled, leaving behind a sad remnant of her long struggle, now lying in the midst of a grove of sumacs.

Sometimes killing is cruel, sometimes necessary, sometimes, in this case, a responsibility. In autumn, the wind comes, bringing a crisp refreshing chill, bringing the weight and responsibility of death to the farmer. Crops, carefully nurtured throughout the summer, must be harvested. Robust, happy animals must be slaughtered. Death is a word whispered on the breeze, hanging over the earth, which waits hungrily for its chance to feed on the dead. The Lady of the Dead makes her appearance, resigned, patient, merciful, with the weight of Life and Death on her shoulders. She and I share the same spirit, both standing in mourning over a garden of life that must too quickly wither, wielding the same sickle, the harvest weapon, waiting for the next red leaf to wither and the next small candle to flicker out.

1 comment:

  1. I like this piece, it seems very thoughtful.

    I'm sorry to hear about your cat. I tried to keep a little litter-mate alive with goat's milk once too, hand feeding it only for it to die.

    It's always tough for me putting one down, taking a life, but I do believe it is our responsibility. In these cases it's right to end the suffering. That's hard some removed from nature to grasp.

    Again, I like this one.