A friend of mine, a fellow writer at Miami Beach 411 whom I dearly admire, recently lost a pet rat. Yes, a pet rat who succumbed to an all too common rodent condition involving tumors. The forum thread reminded me of one of the most interesting experiences I ever had on South Beach -- one that didn't involve sex or sand, but something far more important.
One night, I took a yoga class at Synergy on Hispaniola Way. I had parked a few blocks away, just around the corner of Tantra. After class, as I drove past the restaurant, I saw a dark, furry blob on the road but didn't stop. One block later, at Euclid, I turned around. I just knew I couldn't leave it there, whatever it was. It was calling to me, tugging at me. Well, it was a black cat in some kind of diseased stupor -- heart beating and lungs breathing, but body not moving, blue-black fur mottled with crimson blood.
Some of the valet team from Tantra were also investigating. "Was the cat run over by a car?" I asked. No one knew. The men stared kindly, yet clueless, at the dying cat and this frustrated me to no end. What's more, I was blocking the road, hazard lights blinking. I had to make a decision fast. "Bring me an empty box from your storage room," I demanded. "And a pair of gloves from the kitchen."
The valets obliged. With the gloves snugly fitting, I endeavored to turn the animal until it released a shriek that resounded with a familiar kind of primeval, feral intelligence; this unintelligible feline cry struck me to the bone. I knew then it was in pain and on the brink of death. I called a friend of mine who was into cats (because I'm a bird person, after all) in the hope that she might know what I could possibly do or where I could possibly take it. It was about 10 pm on a weekday night in South Beach. Should I even bother? Should I leave the animal to die on the sidewalk or take it to a clinic?
Well, I chose the latter. I put the cat in the box and drove across the 836 expressway to Knowles Animal Clinic in Miami. The veterinarian on the night shift told me the animal was probably dying from an array of conditions, so I replied yes to the option of euthanasia. And just like that -- this animal that was probably a stray cat from South Beach, died soundly while I petted the dirty, matted fur on its head.
I paid $80 just to walk into the door and another $90 for the mercy killing. That's about exactly what I had in my debit account that day. But this wasn't about the money, of course. What spent me was some of the deepest crying I ever experienced -- driving back home towards Miami Beach with downtown shining in the distance -- an empty box and blood-stained gloves in the back seat of the car.
I helped a stray cat into death that night. I was the minister of passing, the dark angel, the merciful hand of transition. I loved this cat unconditionally, even if for a span of a few hours. My heart expanded so during this time that it swelled to unbelievable capacity. And to this, and only this, can I attribute the quantity of tears.
This dying cat gave me a lesson in true compassion. The experience became, for me, a kind of standard by which to uphold all other relationships -- sexual, intimate, familial, friendly, business or otherwise -- and to this day, I always ask myself: "How does this relationship bring out the best in me? How does the relationship arouse my deepest compassion? If the person were dying, would I react differently?"
So I'll always wonder: who was the real angel here? Is the one in need not just as much of an angel as the one offering a helping hand?
The loss of animals touches us because without language, animals still communicate on a level that we are readily eager to dispel in our daily lives -- that unspoken language of the body and the spirit -- those words without words that echo in our hearts.