I had to put my cat down today. The very lovely Francesca - long black hair, gold-green eyes, regal bearing and sweet nature - lived a good life for 12 years, but has had a rough time the last couple of months. It wasn’t an easy decision – rather more on the gut-wrenching side, really – but it came to seem pretty inevitable. She was suffering, and this was the last act of kindness that I could show her.
But it comes with a weight of guilt, too. I tried many things, dealt with the chaos that her illness and behavior brought into my house, and then tried many more things; still, I am left with the question of whether I did enough, tried enough, waited enough. After all, when it comes right down to it, I made the decision that another being – and a sweet and loving one at that – should die.
As it happens I was working on the Bhagavad Gita today, and the story told there is still singing in my head. As Arjuna looks out over the field of soldiers arrayed against him and his army, he knows that all the leaders of the other side are friends and family members, people he has loved his whole life. He is faced with the impossible choice to either kill those he loves or to let tyranny and greed rule. In total despair at the choice that is no choice, he falls down, wanting to die rather than to fight. But Krishna, his charioteer and counselor (and, of course, the divine Lord of all the world), tells him that his sorrow is sheer delusion: the Self, the truest part of all beings, can never be born, never die. It exists from before all time, and for all time. It may change bodies, but the sheer universal magnitude of its existence is never diminished, never for a second. Arjuna must understand that he cannot kill those he loves, because what is truest about them cannot be killed. Krishna tells him,
Death is certain for the born;
for the dead, rebirth is certain.
Since both cannot be avoided,
you have no reason for your sorrow.
Before birth, beings are unmanifest;
between birth and death, manifest;
at death, unmanifest again.
What cause for grief in all this?
Bhagavad Gita 2.27-28 (Mitchell translation)
These words created thousands of years ago speak to me today, tonight, where I am right now. All beings that I love will die; all beings that I love will be reborn. I will die and be reborn. Every tree, every blade of grass, every brick or lightbulb or piece of paper is created and then dies or is destroyed, giving rise to something else. Every thought, even, serves its purpose for a time, and then its time passes, when it gives rise to a new thought. And if we move from the manifest to the unmanifest, what indeed is the cause of grief? Life and death are merely different points on the same circle, and that circle includes everything that ever has or ever will exist.
Tonight I mourn the passing of the sweet little kitty who gave me her kind companionship for 12 years. And I thank her, and the universal love that holds us all, for reminding me that neither guilt nor grief is ever the end of the story, because this story has no end.