December 15th, 2010
In early December when I was 15, my dog died. She passed away unexpectedly at the veterinarian’s office while they were trying to treat her for a sudden illness. It had been unseasonably warm in the few days leading up to her death—sunny skies and temperatures in the mid-70s. Although my dog always had fun playing in snow, it was this sort of summer-like day that she clearly loved the best, so it was nice to know that she got to enjoy a few more. She died in the afternoon and, oddly enough, that night the temperature plummeted and it started snowing.
Although taken before her time, she had been around long enough to have played a very large role in my life growing up. I remember that day vividly, much like you do with any emotional punch in the gut. I decided that since she had died while away from the house, I would go and see her body for a little closure. When I got to the vet’s office, I saw something lying on a table, covered by a blanket. The vet pulled the blanket off, and underneath was a dog that looked very much like mine. This was her body, to be certain, but it definitely wasn’t her. Having never seen a dead body in person at the time, I was somewhat taken aback. I stared at this thing in front of me that used to be my friend, but it meant nothing to me anymore. I wasn’t getting closure. It was like saying goodbye to the shell of a hermit crab who has moved into a new one.
We all know that our bodies don’t define who we are as people. But seeing something once familiar rendered nearly unrecognizable by taking something as abstract as life from it struck me in an unexpected way. I realized then that there is an intangible element that gives something or someone life—in essence, living beings have a soul.
I’m not necessarily talking about a soul in the spiritual sense, although if you are spiritual then you’d probably like to think of it that way.
I’m talking about something that religious followers and atheists alike can agree on. We’ve all seen it and felt it any time we’ve met that certain type of person that resonates with us. We’ve all felt that connection with someone that, though intangible and conceptual, is undeniably there. We’ve seen and felt the energy that makes those we care about whole, unique and alive. It’s an energy that connects us, this “human spirit” that we feel the strongest during the best—and worst—moments of our lives. It’s abstract and it’s ethereal, but we’ve all experienced it. And that’s enough to make it real. It makes you “you” and it makes me “me,” and it was no longer in what remained of the dog I saw lying before me.
During the holiday season, somewhere between the advertisements for Honda sales events and the influx of sappy Christmas movies, there is a message to celebrate this very spirit that unites us all. So I try to do just that, regardless of religious affiliations or philosophical ideology. I also remember my dog, knowing that someday I’ll leave behind an empty shell of a body myself. And as I try to contribute something to the world that long outlasts that shell, I can’t help but marvel at how an animal could teach me so much about the human condition.