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On Cynicism

Posed on Tumblr, the question was simply:

Are you cynical?

And oh, what a wonderful time to pose this question!

Let me explain in the form of a short story that happened earlier this week.

Monday

I was out driving and spotted something on the side of the road, flailing around in the gutter – a cat, it looked like. It was a busy road – no doubt dozens had driven past this same scene earlier. Some distracted, some of them not. One of them had caused it earlier – the cat had been hit and was dying in the gutter – but whoever it was, they were long gone. I stopped as close as I could, was fortunate to have a box on-hand, and ran back up the road to see what had happened. It was a cat, as I’d thought, and it’d been hit hard. One leg was twisted at an unnatural angle and it was clearly in pain. I collected it in the box, and it promptly leapt out and made a dash across the road – or the best it could, considering that it was dragging a mangled leg behind it. The two oncoming vehicles stopped for it, and me, as I went out to get it. It was a pathetic sight, but I scooped the cat up and got them back in the box, securing it so he couldn’t escape again. Those two who stopped – it was a press of their brakes to do so, a decision with no lasting consequence to them. Still, some would not have done so. A degree of humanity was exhibited there, and I thank them for it. As I was getting this cat into my vehicle, another motorist, coming from the cross-street I’d turned on, stopped to make sure things were ok. More humanity. I was ok – the next steps were familiar, if depressing.

Deja-vu

If you know of Eby, what happened from here reminded me of him. I was effectively in the same situation moments later – a cat on the passenger seat in a box, horribly wounded, survival uncertain, meowing, trying to escape the box. I drove to a vet I’d taken Eby to for a checkup previously, trying to do what I could to hurry, not knowing the full extent of the wounds.

I had somewhere to be, but it didn’t matter. As it was with Eby, so it was with this cat – my life could wait. A small sacrifice of my time and energy to potentially save the life of something – even ‘just’ an animal – was an easy decision to make. Someone, or more than one person – to include whoever hit the cat – had previously seemingly come to the same decision crossroad and decided – for whatever reason – that it wasn’t worth it to them. A perspective difference, circumstances unknown, easy to judge harshly. Seemingly not a match of my own ethical code, but without having been there, how could I know? It’s easy to assume the worst. It’s reasonable to believe that it was, in fact, a cruel and cold decision on their part – I think statistically this was likely. Point is – it’d be an easy thing to become cynical from.

All the way to the vet, this cat reminded me of Eby. This was a black cat with white feet, with a white stripe that started below the nose and wrapped around the sides of the face. It made me think a fitting name would have been ‘Jaws’, for the way the white emphasized that feature. He tried to hop out of the box, much like Eby had – showing a great deal of determination despite his seemingly severe injury. At one point he poked his head out of the corner, and I petted him briefly before resecuring the box. This wasn’t extraordinarily significant to me at the time, but it stands out in retrospect. I could only talk to him otherwise; if unrestrained, he’d surely bite out of pain and confusion.

Arrival

I made it to the vet. As I pulled up, I realized I hadn’t heard a meow for a minute or so. I was reminded of Eby – a part of the story that I didn’t really talk about. When we were at the vet with Eby, as we were waiting to be seen, as he was hopping around in his box with a missing leg, at one point some lady asked to see him. She looked into the box, as did I, and I realized he wasn’t hopping. He wasn’t moving – he was limp at the bottom of the box. After all we’d been through to that point, he looked dead. I took him outside into the sunlight, reached into the box, and prodded him – repeatedly – thinking that it was over, that he’d died. It was the second time I’d thought I’d lost him, and if you’ve seen the video I made about him, you’d know that there was a severe third time as well. But no – it wasn’t his time yet. He stirred and came back, and we got him the help he needed. I knew we were extraordinarily lucky to have that outcome. I knew it at the time and I won’t forget it.

Snap back to the present, or rather, to Monday afternoon, sitting outside the vet’s office, so close to the possibility of help. I pulled back the box cover and looked in. I’ll spare the vivid details of what I saw, but it wasn’t good. I took him inside, set the box on the counter, and watched him with a profound sense of sadness as the front desk girl came up to see what I was there for. I’d seen Eby, post-surgery, when he wasn’t coming out of sedation and seemed surely to be dying. I’d looked into his eyes and seen them wide, black, dilated, dead. We’d watched the fleas leave him, abandoning ship, knowing that it was over… but as it had turned out, it wasn’t over then. It was close, it was damn close, it was the kind of near miss that leaves you shaking and wondering, but he survived in the end.

I looked into that box on Monday, and I watched this cat’s eyes widen, dilate. I saw his breathing stop. I was petting him as he died. I had suspected this wouldn’t end well, I’d known Eby was a fluke, but when the decision needed to be made, that wasn’t a factor. It was the ethically right thing to do. Black and white, clear cut. It was the same here – to leave an animal suffering is unconscionable,  unthinkable for me. There would not be a miraculous ending here – the damage was too severe. As I looked at the lifeless form, I was steaming at the notion that someone had hit him, left the scene, and then some – possibly many – people had driven past, uncaring. It’s easy to be cynical in a situation like that. I was angry, and yes, I was feeling very cynical at that point.

Dr. Smith

The vet, Dr. Smith, came to see the cat. I’d been to this vet once before and had been very impressed. He reached into the box, and with genuine concern in his voice, tenderly lifted the body out and laid it carefully on the examination table. He inspected for injuries – the back ribs were broken, one leg was destroyed. The extreme paleness of the mouth and ears indicated severe internal bleeding as the final cause of death. We talked about what had happened, and I was struck by his genuine and heartfelt nature. One could imagine – and I’ve seen in the past – how a vet, dealing with pets and animals who wouldn’t make it, or dealing with their grieving owners, might have to adopt a certain aloofness and coldness as a means of coping. Not this guy – he cared and it showed. He gave respect to a dead stray cat, treated it with a dignity that others could not muster themselves. I was impressed – I’d been impressed the first time I’d visited, but this was something else, and it had a special significance to it.

On Cynicism

So, cynicism. It’d be easy to make a one-dimensional monstrous personality out of whoever hit this cat, or those who left it dying in the gutter. Reality probably isn’t that clear-cut, but it’s not the point. One could adopt that mentality and focus on the negative of the situation – the death of an animal, the lack of care shown by key actors in the events. One could be very cynical about it. At times, that’s how I viewed it.

One could also look at the other side of the coin – the drivers who stopped to allow me to get the cat as it dragged itself across the road, the guy who stopped to make sure I was ok, the fact that I was there and willing to try to be a force for good. Most importantly, I think, is the vet – a person who has dedicated their life towards the health and welfare of the treasured companions of who knows how many people. A person who, despite the hardships that come with the job, has found a way to preserve their compassion and radiate that warmth and care to those around them. I find that truly remarkable. It’s a job I know I could not do.

The world is full of bad things. We’re constantly bombarded with negativity in all forms through the news. It’s a shame that so many choose to descend into unbridled cynicism in light of this. The world has much negativity in it. If you look for it, you’ll find it. If you dwell on it, you’ll suffer for it – whether that be through the emotional and protective distance that cynicism brings with it or in other ways.

The world is also full of beauty, of wonderful people doing wonderful things. They’re all around you – some of them you know, most you haven’t met yet.

The Decision

Ultimately, you have to decide which view you’ll focus more on. I am cynical at times, yes. I try hard to keep a more level attitude than that – and yes, it can be very difficult at times walk that straight and narrow. That Monday, though – for as heartwrenching as the situation was, I choose to remember it as an act of humanity that cast light across as a wide range of people, with several of them sparkling and shining brightly in the circumstances. I will remember those acts of kindness and compassion.

I’ll remember the cat, too – Jaws, let’s call him. I wish the outcome had been more positive for him, but I am comforted to know that at least he died with someone caring and trying to save him, and that his resting place was with a vet of such superb character as Dr. Darrell Smith.

 

Thank you for listening.

– Andrew

28 comments

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  1. Michael

    Andrew, you are a wonderful person and I am glad to know you.

  2. ChrisJSY

    That was a good thing to do, the description made me well up as my cat passed away today and was rather traumatic for me to see an animal in pain and unable to really do anything until getting to the vets.

    🙁

  3. Nillers

    Outstanding. That’s all that needs to be said.

  4. Phil

    My step mom (she’s as dear to me as my mom, I love them both equally) is a big animal lover. She once spent every day of a week and a half tending to neglected stray dogs around a hotel during a vacation she was on in some exotic place where people usually go to the beach, that sort of stuff. When I learned about that as a little boy I didn’t understand it much.

    Later in life, learning a little bit about the brutal facts of short animal lives in the wild and even worse in metropolitan areas, I rationalized it, that you could only pick a few battles and had to concede the rest. Then, bicycling out of the city on a regular basis, I would see the remains of roadkill almost every other day out – anything from a big elk in the blackness of dawn at 5 am, to rabbits, squirrels, birds …and I’d feel powerless about it. The most I’ve been able to do is call 911 about the elk, as it was dead and in the way of (sparse) traffic. Besides placing that call, frankly I don’t know what I could do if I had the opportunity you had in the story, myself without a box, without a car, on a 25lbs bike, with a dying animal on the road. It’s unfortunate but typical new yorker mentality to consider everything rush hour, to filter the world through blinders, to care about numero uno only, and I’m tired of it. It’s been two years now that I’ve actively avoided the subway as one cultivator of this ironically asocial mentality, instead biking to work year round. And it’s cleared my head.

    Sometimes I look inside and I consider myself a cynic because of where I come from, what I’ve seen happen, and what I know is possible. But then I meet people like you, like my step mom, and I get inspired. In reality, I’m a big optimist about everything around me, because that’s the only way I’ve been able to get anything done. Helping hands after all are better than praying lips. Optimism comes from actively working to experience the positive sides of life yourself, from seeing others do so, and I’m thankful for that.

  5. Erik Hägglund

    What is it that they say… “the only thing worse than the evil actions of bad men is the indifference of good men” ? Somthing like that…

    If we could all do only ONE thing for someone else every day, may it be another human or an animal, without benefit to ourselves, this place will be so SOOO much better.

    Another quote, by Edward Burke I think: To read without reflect is like to eat without digest. I shall now take some time to reflect.
    Thank you for this blog Andrew!

    Have an awesome weekend!

    Erik, SolitarySwede

    1. Banksy

      The quote is “ow, we must all fear evil men. But there is another kind of evil which we must fear most, and that is the indifference of good men”, and it’s from The Boondock Saints.

  6. Mason

    I just read this while in school, now I am tearing up in the tech lab. 🙂 Great post! Reminds me of my 3 cats that have passed away over the years.

  7. Tim

    This is so well written…if you ever need/want a career change, might wanna consider “author”.

    Tim

    PS: the harrier video with your cat giving you the business is hilarious !!!

  8. Benjamin

    This world, to say the least, is strange, isn’t it? Always full of surprises. I can’t think of much to say at the moment but thank you for being the wonderful person that you are and continue being one, to you and to every other wonderful person/being everywhere else.

    – Benjamin

    Also, I believe the harrier pilot/you were killed by Eby’s adorable kitty-ness, something I commonly refer to as “MOÉÉÉÉÉ!”
    What a way to go.

  9. John CANavar

    Andrew, I didnt know this side of you. I thank you for all your troubles to save that poor cat. You are a good person and this world needs more of your kind.

  10. debbie mcalear

    Just more proof that I have an amazing and tenderhearted son! 🙂

  11. Hund

    Heartwarming story dude. I had a similar experience once, however that cat was hit in the head and pretty mangled up, so I made the decision to end it right there instead of taking it to the vet.

  12. Eric

    That is a great story, and one that is very near to me as I had a very similar experience about a year ago I guess. There was a kitten found in the parking lot by one of the other evening staff members. I feared the worst at first as the said they thought it was dead, its breathing was shallow and he was very cold as it was early spring time still getting pretty cool at nights. I gave him my sweater and brought him inside the building while I finished out my shift and life slowly crept back into him.

    The pain the kitten was in was tough to see because he wanted to move around but to do so caused him pain, and his back half seemed to be dead weight for him, and he would often tumble around trying to move causing him more pain. When my shift ended it was to late to take him to anything but an emergency style vet visit which would probably be a bit expensive. I ended up taking him home where I tried to make him comfortable and get some food into him, all which made him more lively and further increased his pain levels I think. We graciously tried giving him some liquid pain medication out of gel capsules which seemed to help him out a little.

    Unfortunately the next day when we were able to get him to the vet he had a two broken legs and as far as the vet could tell his spine was most likely broken as well. There wasn’t much internal damage other than the broken bones, but the Vet didn’t think there would be much quality of life with the back half of his body just limp dead weight its entire life, and we decided that it would be better to end the suffering.

    I was very disappointed to see, on video surveillance, all of the people who passed the cat prior to him being brought to my attention and even more disheartened that it looks like someone who worked in the building with me was the culprit for hitting the cat, fortunately I do believe it was a pure accident in which she didn’t know she even hit anything due to the cat managing to get hit by the rear tires somehow.

  13. Chris

    Beautifully written!

  14. Marco de Rooij

    Thank you…

  15. Matt

    I had a cat follow me home a few weeks ago. I walk about 2km to work every day, to work is downhill, to home is all uphill.

    A kitten followed me just about the whole way, I wasnt trying to lead him home but he kept following me. Even struggling up the hills he kept following. I kept him at home over night and called the animal shelter the next day. We have a dog at our property and she likes to eat cats.

    I put him in the bathroom so he didnt get eaten during the time I was at work. I dont have a car so I couldnt drive him to the shelter and the man who was working that day was busy till noon.

    I ran, RAN home to make it there in time for the man to pick up the kitten. The kitten was very fond of me, followed me everywhere, sat on my lap. Not sure why, but I couldnt keep him. Mainly because of the dog, but im also too young at this point of my life, I can barely look after myself I dont think I can look after another creature.

    So I gave the kitten over to the shelter and never saw him again. A bit sad, but at least he wasnt abandoned and has a chance to get back to his home or find a new owner.

  16. Jules

    I began reading this story with immidiate flashback to moment when my around 14 years old cat died in my hands. My most valued I might even say – friend. At that time I was alone at home, noone to help, it was cold winter night. My brother which I woke up by calling him arrived shortly after it all happened.

    I had the same experience of life of living being slowly drained away. Last breaths and last heartbeats. Even though it was 2 years ago and “New Guard” arrived to carry on the duties of most valued household companions. To this day I still, from time to time, have these flashbacks of sound of slowly stopping heartbeat.

    Call me too optimistic but I believe that in life there is always balance. For every bad that happens there is also good, in one form or another. To live is to cherish the moments that might be described as wonders of the life.

    Thank you for sharing your story Andrew.

  17. John

    That is a real heart touching story.. I’m sorry to hear that jaws didn’t make it :'( and also I’m sorry to hear you had to watch jaws die in such a cruel and inhumane way. But it’s unbelievable how you took care of him until his last moments of life..

  18. Khaos

    That is definitely a sad story, at least Eby now has a home and poor Jaws is no longer in pain. I remember back when I was younger our family dog Charlie died and I clearly remember to this day waiting outside the vet with the rest of my family while my Dad stayed with him to the end. Now I treasure our newest dog even more and I hope that he can lead a happy life. I agree with CHRIS JSY I hate seeing animals (i.e. pets) in pain like any human being I would hope and you did a good thing there Dslyecxi.

    Thanks for sharing that tale.

  19. Jan

    Dear sir, I salute you.

  20. JB

    Thank you for that story.

    Now I’m welling up with three collegues standing around me. 😛

    Seeing Eby on your channel made me subscribe. This post made me even happier that I did.

    I have to write this after reading your story here. I’m swedish though, so please forgive my english…

    I lost my 14 year old baby last cristmas. My best friend. She came down with what in swedish is commonly just called “vingelsjukan”, I have no idea how to translate that but basically she just got dizzy and couldn’t stand up straight anymore. I took her to the vet several times but they said she was fine, just old. I couldn’t face reality I guess and accepted that. She seemed to shake it off though and was fine for two weeks or so. Then, on a friday I got home from work at about ten at night, to two huge eyes and pained breath in my couch. She gave me a weak meow and closed those eyes of hers.

    I transferred her to her favorite cushion and took her in my lap. I petted her, talked to her, and cried her wet until about six in the morning when I started to fall asleep from sheer exhaustion. Thats when her last shaky breath came. I feel as she waited for me to come home so she could say “Bye”.

    The worst night of my life so far. I miss her so bad. Silly as hell to most people, but hey, this is the internet so I can admit to this without losing any man-points here.

    Thank you for your story.

  21. Mark

    My faith in humanity has been both destroyed a lot and regained a little by this story… If only more people were like you and actually gave a …. about anything else other than themselves the world would be a much nicer place…

  22. Dan

    Very moving story, which in hindsight I probably shouldn’t have read on Christmas Eve…

  23. Damian

    Very touching. Knowing that there is still some good left in people helps me sleep at night. I know that I will eventually be faced with a similar situation as I have two cats; one of whom I adopted back in ’99 and has had severe kidney complications and the other in ’05. It pains me so much to think that I will be the only one with the memories of them when they pass, but your story gives me hope that I can move on once that fateful day arrives.

  24. Bill Krull

    That’s a compelling story–very sincere. My wife and I have 15 rescued dogs and five rescued cats.
    Bill Krull

  25. Steve Branham

    I’ll be honest.
    I really don’t like cats.
    It’s their personality, but I still respect them enough to give them my time if one brushes against my leg for a petting, or meows to me for attention.

    But what I truly hate, is people not respecting any animal, as a creature that shares God’s great Earth.
    There needs to be more people like you on this planet, and I believe, that this world would be a better place.

    Also hoping to possibly join or play with ShackTac soon.

  26. UnKnwnSldrX

    My mother owned property outside the small town I grew up in, and due to family problems out of state the property was left unattended for about 4 yrs+-. To get the property ready for sale I stayed out there for about 3 months doing what needed to be done. The first day there I had seen a black cat several times as we surveyed the property (35 acres, nearest neighbor +-1 mile). I figured out she was staying in the barn, would take a plate, rub my smell on it, put tuna on it then set it out in the barn for her to eat. Over time, while I was working, she would sit and watch from a distance, I would talk to her but if I got to close, vrrooom, off she’d go into the woods (forgot to mention she had a bell on her collar, more on that fuckin collar later). One day, my wife and I BBQ’d, it was mid spring, gorgeous out, so we had the doors and windows open and she decided she was gonna come in while my wife and I were watching tv, my wife, of course, instantly wanted to try to pet her, I made her stay next to me and let her familiarize herself with the house, apparently she was satisfied because she walked out of the back, got on the couch with us, and was with us ever since. That night I had to basically surgically remove her collar which I’m pretty sure she had had on since she was a kitten, and I have to mention how Boss she handled it too, all the cutting, scrubbing, and debreading I did all she did was hold her breath and close her eyes and as I said, the property had been unattended for 4yrs or more, so who knows how long she had actually been out there.This was in 2006-ish. Fast forward to this September, I was working the Okla. State Fair, came home for lunch, as I pulled into the drive she was sunning where my front tires normally sit, I pulled up so my bumper blocked my view of her and laid on the horn, unbeknownst to me, my other black cat ran across from my blind side, pretty much over her, onto my porch. What I thought was her turned out to be my other cat, I pulled forward thinking she was clear, but sadly no. I ran over her head, there was no saving her. My wife thought I was honking for her and walked out as I had realized what had happened, I had the presence of mind to catch her before she had a chance to see. Thankfully. They are fragile, and even if they live full lives they don’t live near long enough.

  27. The Fragr

    I had almost forgotten how to think like this.

    For a while now, i have been surrounded by a lot of negativity and cynicism. People who find fault with everything they see and take pleasure in putting others down. The kind of people that can be happily talking and laughing with someone at one moment, only to turn around and badmouth them behind their backs when they leave.

    I guess i kind of assume that i can handle it. After all, i’ve been dealing with these kinds of people one way or another for most of my life. But the truth is that when you are faced with that kind of cynicism every day for extended periods of time, eventually it rubs off on you.

    It starts to get easier to point out negatives and reasons not to act, while it gets harder and harder to look at things positively and see the rewards if you succeed. What is right gets replaced by what’s convenient, and what’s wrong takes a backseat to what you stand to gain.

    Reading this reminds me of who i used to be, how i used to think and act, what it felt like to have things that you care about and hold dear. And in turn it reminds me of how much of myself that i have lost to this situation that i’m currently in.

    But it also made me feel hopeful that there are still people like this in the world. That maybe i can change my situation and find my way back to who i used to be and leave who i’ve become behind.

    Dslyecxi.

    Thank you for posting this. I feel like it has helped me come to terms with something that’s been eating me for a long time. I can’t think of anything to say that won’t sound cheesy, but i hope you stay well and that your positive outlook remains unchanged. Given the times we live in, i get the feeling we’ll all need it.

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