Lately, I’ve been thinking on the transitory nature of life. Maybe its been the passing of the seasons, with autumn’s beautiful foliage decaying into winter’s harsh cold. Whatever the case, a number of “big” things have happened over the last couple of weeks.
- The University of Kansas demolished McCollum Hall, a 50-year-old dorm and my home sweet home between January 2002 – May 2004….to make room for a parking lot. Granted, the parking lot will be for two new dorms, but still.
- Our almost seven-year old Boxador, Dakota, had a large mass removed from her side. The mass was sent off for testing and it turns out we’re dealing with an extremely aggressive cancer. The prognosis is not good, with an average lifespan after diagnosis of anywhere between two to five months.
- Our two-year old daughter went in for surgery to have tubes placed in her ears and have her adenoids removed. While the surgery is a routine one and we trust the surgeon (she put tubes in our other two kids’ ears), there’s still something about handing your kid off for surgery that brings up those “what if?” whispers from the recesses of your mind. Thankfully, surgery went well and Nora is recovering just fine.
In Buddhism, there is the concept of impermanence. It expresses the idea that “all of conditioned existence, without exception, is transient, or in a constant state of flux.” Now, I’m not a Buddhist, but I do think there is so much truth to be found in this idea. As an introvert, I hate change. I thrive on structure, routine, and sense of conservatism (not necessarily in the political sense, mind you.) I want to take my kids back to KU someday and show them where I lived for two of the best years of my life, but I won’t get to do that. Instead, we’ll marvel at the deep gray hues of the concrete and the neatness of the parking lot lines (“oh man kids….see that ‘NO PARKING” sign over there?!?! That’s where your dad partied after the Jayhawks made it to the Final Four!”)
And in the end, that will ok.
When it comes to Dakota, the feelings run deeper. While I’ve watched the McCollum demolition numerous times now, I didn’t shed any tears over it. As a pet owner, I’ve always known the time would come when we’d be call to journey down this road, I just naively (and perhaps ignorantly) assumed we had more time to prepare for it. We ended up adopting Dakota from a family friend when she was a little over four months old. She was a stray, wandering malnourished in a park in Missouri. The friend tried to take her to different shelters, but no one was looking for her. Because of how emaciated Dakota was, she looked part pit bull, and our friend was told that Dakota would probably be euthanized if she was surrendered to a shelter. On a whim, our friend included us in a group text that asked if anyone wanted a dog. It was love at first sight and she’s been with us ever since. We’ve built many happy memories with her over the years, but soon we’ll move into a time of transition. In the book Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, mortician and author Caitlin Doughty writes,
Accepting death doesn’t mean you won’t be devastated when someone you love dies. It means you will be able to focus on your grief, unburdened by bigger existential questions like, “Why do people die?” and “Why is this happening to me?” Death isn’t happening to you. Death is happening to us all.
While the quote is in the context of death from a human standpoint, it is a good reminder for my situation as well. I could spend all day asking, “Why now?”, “Why cancer?” and “Why can’t she live to 15 like other dogs?” At this point, those questions right hallow when death is metaphorically at your door. I have to recall what we told the kids, “death is a natural part of life. No, we don’t know when she will die, which is why we need to enjoy the time we have left with her. It is ok to cry and be sad. Even though she will die, you will always have your memories of her.”
Yet, it’s so true. How does that old quote go? “The only thing that is constant is change!” 50-year-old buildings get demolished for parking lots! Huzzah! Our lives and the things that comprise it may be transient, but they are not devoid of meaning. Our memories, histories, what makes us…well, us, they are more than just buildings and bodies. So one day I’ll take my kids to the parking lot where McCollum once proudly stood and regale them with tales from my college years. At some point yet to be determined, we’ll surround Dakota, tell her that we love her, and thank her for making our lives that much richer.
And in the end, that will be ok.