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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.