My cat died early last month, and by Halloween the dog was not seeming right. He spent weeks looking for the cat, who he seemed sure would turn up behind a door or under the sofa. He missed the cat, for sure, and was definitely pining for her, but there was something more physical as well. I told myself there was no way the dog could be getting sick so soon after the cat.
But he was eating poorly and acting lethargic, and I finally took him in last thursday. An ultrasound revealed a giant tumor on his spleen, and he had surgery the next day. He recovered while being boarded at the vet and I went up to Wisconsin for Thanksgiving. The lab results finally came back Thanksgiving eve, an aggressive and fatal soft tissue sarcoma. Taking out the spleen fixed the immediate problems, but there will be no recovery from a cancer that pervades his blood vessels. I drove all the way back to Asheville on Friday to bust him out of doggie hospital.
When a person gets a diagnosis of fatal cancer they grieve to know their end is coming. They plan. They make peace. They ponder regrets. They do the things they've been putting off-- taking trips, reuniting with family, living well, relishing every day.
Tiko doesn't know his end is coming. He doesn't even know if there is an end. He doesn't delude himself into thinking he knows anything about the future, or anything about the past.
But if he did know, I don't think he would do anything differently. He lives in the now, never putting off til tomorrow anything I let him do today. What could be better, for him, than today: where he sleeps next to me while I work, romps with other dogs, goes exploring in the woods, drinks freeflowing creek water, and eats (on doctor's orders) a pound of boiled chicken laced with salmon oil for dinner?Tiko at the three bridges over the creek: interstate west, interstate east, and the venerable old bridge closed to cars but so useful for quasi-legal bike routes. The vet shaved his belly fur off for surgery, making him look even skinnier than he is. The sunny side: he adores belly scratches on the newly shorn skin.
On the path along the creek more energetic than he had been in weeks, the temporary benefit of the splenectomy evident. As we walked today, I knew that in his death he will teach me something tremendously important about living. Dogs meet the future with the grace only attained by being fully present in every day. My sadness comes from knowing my time with him is limited, but maybe I can release that. I don't control this: I am just his steward, not really his master.
I've been shouldering burdens lately, but as they pile up they're breaking me down. Like I said in July (before the move, before the big DNF, before the pneumonia, before the cat, before the dog, before the innumerable work issues and life issues that go unmentioned here) the harder the journey, the less you should bring. It's time to soften my white-knuckle grip on the present, trust myself, and try to live carefree without living careless.
Maybe my favorite me-and-the-dog photo of all time. 2005, fast-and-light backpacking a big loop in the southern Sierra Nevada. Snapping at fierce hordes of Sierra mosquitos, he made such a ruckus outside that I finally invited him inside the mosquito-free mesh confines of my one-hoop bivy. Knowing how good he had it, he didn't move a muscle the rest of the night.
Up next: some lowly sketching out of some bike race plans for Next Year. What would I do if I could do anything?