Friday, August 03, 2007


One of the things I do well is mitigate risk. I do this through careful analysis of a given situation, weighing possible and probable outcomes, considering the effort and complexity required, and optimizing to the shortest possible path of greatest gain for the amount of work, erring generously on the side of caution.

I do this extensively both in software development as a profession, and life in general. Only in life, I have an additional cheat - I get to change what I consider to be risky. Long have I embraced the following:

"Live never to be ashamed if anything you do or say is published around the world - even if what is published is not true." -Richard Bach

The latter, counter-intuitive portion of this quote, has been a pattern for my personal strength. I do conduct myself according to my beliefs and principles, giving as little room as possible for slight; but I also can remain centered and unaffected by the darkest intents and perceptions of others. In practice, this means there's almost no such thing as embarrassment, humiliation, fear of rejection, or justified reprisal. A very clear conscience.

Sometimes I don't get to cheat, and the risk remains. Some things are permanent, or permanent enough for the sake of mortality as to be irreversible. While my philosophies can at times contribute to an appearance of bravery and inner strength, I do wonder if it's also a crutch for detachment; a dissociation from negative consequence, incapable of emotional injury simply because the opposition lacks barbs effective against this psychology. I hope this is not the case, but this is complex enough so as to be difficult to objectively assess.

Today I was deeply affected by such an irreversible event.

I'm an animal person, raised in a menagerie and easily connecting to a wide variety of species. I like it this way, and readily invest my personal care and attachment to those creatures in my care.

One of our 3 cats, the last we acquired, began shortly after her adoption to suffer from a series of infections. This, as it turns out, was due to FIV (think HIV for cats). Chronic infection is the third and final stage of the disease, and may have been the reason for her donation to the animal shelter (cats, in an effort to mask their symptoms, will attempt to disperse and hide their elimination; among other things, this can make an ill feline a messy experience to live with).

After her initial diagnosis, we had the worst of her symptoms treated and she rebounded well. She even began to play with and be accepted by the other cats again, a very good sign of healthy integration. Six weeks later, the decline renewed. She had new symptoms this time, in addition to some of the old ones, and it's been apparent for some months now that she's been in great discomfort.

Discussing her condition with my wife, it was apparent to us that we had two (reasonable) options: attempt a continual regimen of care to prop up her compromised vitality, cyclically as necessary until no longer possible, or put her to sleep.

A longer life with some joy and much pain, or a very short and predictable end.

Whatever emotional protection or detachment I possess grants no solace here. Yes, she's of a less intelligent and capable species, a lower animal if you will. Her perception and understanding would never have extended to the quandary, the situation meaningless. That also lent no comfort as we decided that the most humane option would be the path of least pain.

Earlier today I took her to the vet, explained her condition, and saw the end of her life. Apparently most owners will wait longer into an animal's suffering before making this type of decision, only when forced into it - at least, this was my impression based on the reaction of the doctor. This response amplified quiet nagging doubts, making the choice all the more difficult to see through. I'm still struggling with it, but as the deed is already done I no longer have the recourse of changing my mind. Now it is my place to live with the consequences, agonizing and rationalizing, and wholly resigned to the absolute reality regardless.

To be perfectly honest, I hope I never become conditioned to this kind of situation. May it always bear my spirit to wounds afresh, stripped of protection and at its most vulnerable.

And may she rest in peace.

No comments: