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Some people know me as OrangeBlossomer because that's me on Twitter. This blog is a random collection of daily musings about life and stuff I love, such as journalism, dog (sadly my dog died in 2010 so probably no more), women, love and lack of love, boobs (only seldom but it does get me extra online traffic), taichi (I practise) and spirituality (should practise more). I have a day job as a jetsetting publishing foreign rights manager but I am also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and a writer/columnist at heart. Writing is my opium.

Sunday, 26 September 2010

My dog, my shepherd: mortality revisited

Binks reminds me everyday of my own mortality. He is 112 years old. Or, he would be if he were human rather than a four-legged mutt.

It amuses me to think that, had he been an old age pensioner, he might have received a birthday card or two from the Queen by now. In fact, his survival record as a starving dog in the streets of Germany, and more recently, as a victim of a string of serious diseases, might well have entitled him to a CBE, or some such honour, from Her Majesty.

In the past two years Binks has had testicular cancer, a number of major and minor strokes, one of which led to the total loss of his sight, several eye and ear infections, skin allergies and ongoing arthritis. But like a cat with nine lives, after each ailment he made a remarkable recovery and re-adapted himself to his new disability.

He is still an attractive mongrel, who turns dog lovers' heads in the street and often gets taken for a pedigree dog, but his eyes are now opaque, he has difficulties sitting up and lifting himself from a lying position, climbing up stairs takes up all his stamina and he misses steps as he runs down the stairs because his rear legs won't bend so well anymore.

Yet he is "a happy dog", as everyone who visits us has commented again and again. He rejoices in our care and love, his small daily treats, his cuddling and tummy-rub sessions – and that is all he seems to require.

Next to Binks' valiance, my constant whingeing about the lack of this and that in my life, mostly material things of little importance, sounds pathetic and superficial.


Expiration
I have blogged before about about my admiration for animals' ability to accept and embrace all vicissitudes in life with the enlightenment of monks.

But even monks do not live forever, and, at 16, Binks' lifespan is about to expire.

His latest complaint is an infection on his chin, which developed into an open, oozing wound, producing a foul smell of rotting flesh. His first course of antibiotics only made him temporarily better. He is now on a second course, while we clean his reeking wound daily with a disinfectant.

The vet has already warned us "it could be something altogether more sinister".We are steeling ourselves for the worst.

If the wound doesn't close up and stop smelling, it could be a sign that the bacteria has entered his bloodstream, which would eventually kill him. I shudder at the thought of such a seemingly painful death but, as his guardians, our policy is clear: we aim at giving him maximum quality of life, not prolong it for longer than necessary. We would never allow him to suffer.


Nirvana
Because dogs and cats do not normally outlive their owners, we can observe and learn through them that life is a gift we cannot hold on to forever. We learn that getting old, and the natural weakening of our bodies, is an organic process, which should be as natural as being born.

Ageing can feel like skiing. Once the process starts, there is no stopping it, But who said it must always be downhill? Even as flesh and bones weaken and rust, the spirit should become more lubricated, more able to set itself free.

Lately I too have felt significant changes to my body and energy levels. I could talk about grey hairs, sagging skin and weight gain, but there's far more to ageing than that. The body may be "going", in the sense of not having the same fast metabolism as in one's teens and twenties, but I have noticed I am also slowly "letting go" of the body itself, detaching my mental focus from the physical and material to turn more and more inwardly for harmony and peace.

As a child, growing up as a Japanese in Brazil, I always felt my soul had no connection with the way I looked. My greatest frustration was that people only ever reacted to your appearance, judged you for looking white, black or yellow, for having black, brown or blonde hair, dark or blue/green eyes, for being fat or thin, tall or short. I never wanted to be Japanese. But I did not feel like a Brazilian either. Why did I need to be framed by a definition of who or what I was? Why could I not be a citizen of the world?

The identity questions that tormented me as a young person, made me understand in later years, that our appearance, our physical bodies, are but a burden we must carry all our lives, like the shell on a snail.

I am far from reaching anything akin to nirvana, but at least I am now able to zoom out of self-pitying situations in order to get a macrocosmic view of myself in the wider universe. The awareness of my staggering smallness and insignificance bring everything into perspective.

If ageing is a a slow preparation for our spirits to depart from our restrictive and restricting bodies, it can only be a good thing.

Nothing ultimately matters.


Destination
I have heard animals instinctively know when it is their time to go. Maybe that is because they are more in touch with the now than we are. When Binks' turn arrives, I pray I will be prepared to accept his acceptance of his destiny with equal nobility.

My husband, to whom Binks has been an inseparable companion for more than 13 years, says he would like to have him cremated when he dies. I asked him where he would ideally like to bury or scatter his ashes, and he mentioned a certain hilly location in Germany, where he thought Binks was happiest. I have mulled over the idea since, but my intuition tells me he may be mistaken. Binks was only happy running on those hills because he was under the care of his master, whom he adored.

When Binks' moment comes to leave us, and the time may be rapidly approaching, I would like his remains to be buried somewhere close enough for him to keep an eye on us at all times. He would like that. He was our shepherd, we were his sheep.

Without our shepherd, we might feel lost and directionless at first. Even that we must learn to accept as part of the cycle of life. He would have done.

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