Life is precious. From humans to microbes, each organism arranges itself to energize itself, repair itself, avoid danger, resist death. A tomato plant defies death by its very persistence in living and by living beyond itself through its seeds. Life must be precious, for living is what organisms do at almost any price. Love is real, even with its roots in biology. A cancer survivor I know travels to the ocean once a year to celebrate her life. We search other planets for signs of it.
Life is cheap. The number of all organisms on this planet, from humans to microbes, is beyond counting. Life must be cheap, for living is what all these organisms do. Every body is vulnerable, dependent on the right heat, light, and water, built from ordinary materials, prone to breakage. Big fish eat little fish, and humans eat big fish. Fear, depression, hunger, illness, disability, poverty, discrimination, or fatigue cramp many of our days. Love seems real but is only biology. A healthy, fortunate man asked me last week, “Is this all there is?” I said “Yes.”
Lives are precious and cheap, one-of-a-kind and a dime a dozen, self-perpetuating and ephemeral.
Escher’s “Ascending and Descending”
After growing weaker each day for a week, no longer eating or drinking, her ribs visible from weight loss, her look glassy and, I thought, a little frightened, and no wag at all in her tail, Ginger was put to sleep this morning.
The family had been crying on and off for days. On a quilt on the floor of a room at the sympathetic vets, we watched her fall literally asleep from a tranquilizer and then deeper from a heavy shot of anesthesia. Her breathing slowed and stopped.
We thanked her for her love and promised her our memory. She looked peaceful, except for an angle to her head that she never had while she was alive.
I’m shaken by how quickly a life can blink out, like a light bulb that has glowed for years, then flickers for a second and goes dark for good. We take the persistence of being alive for granted. Any living dog or human seems as if it will go on forever as it is now. What a stomach-churning shock when the life machine breaks down and quits, and life is gone like a puff of air.
Sadness is said to have its roots as a way for children to manage their separations from mother as they grow and change. That feeling of a disappearance, a hole in the air, helps us adjust to a new order of things. We slow down, pull back, find support, and finally regroup and revive. Ginger’s last gift to us.