In the 2002 movie “Signs”, the character of Graham Hess at one point says “People break down into two groups. When they experience something lucky, group number one sees it as more than luck, more than coincidence. They see it as a sign, evidence, that there is someone up there, watching out for them. Group number two sees it as just pure luck. Just a happy turn of chance.”
For some reason, that idea stuck with me for a long time after. I asked myself many times: am I the kind of person who sees signs, or am I in group number two? Many times in my life I saw bald eagles as some kind of sign of something more. It was always when I had been struggling with a problem or had been having some kind of spiritual crisis when I would just unexpectedly see an eagle flying high above me. I was sure it meant something. I even wrote a song called “Eagle’s Eyes” where I connect spirituality and eagles. As time went on and I began to explore my interest in Buddhism, I made the decision that I was, in fact, in group number two. Human beings feel a strong need to attach meaning to things. It gives them hope, it gives them comfort. And who can blame them? When difficult situations arise, we really do want hope and comfort. But as far as I see it, “signs” are really only created by us.
A couple of days ago, I remember saying out loud to one of my daughters that I was looking for a sign from our cat, Picard, that it was his time. I was looking for a signal that he was in pain or discomfort, when I’d know that we would have to take some action. Our 17-year-old cat had been suffering from failing kidneys for several months and we knew that at some point soon, he was going to go. He had gotten much thinner, and we had him on medication and special food, but he kept going. This cat had almost died from getting his vaccinations once, and on another occasion he’d been hit by a car, which, among other things, knocked a front tooth out and left him with what we often joked was an “Elvis lip”. His remaining tooth would push one side of his lip up in a kind of curl every now and then and it looked pretty comical. He had also been the neighbourhood bully for a number of years, and he had been in so many cat fights over his lifetime that we figured if any cat could keep living with hardly any kidney function, he could! But the last couple of weeks, he had become weaker and had several bouts where he wouldn’t eat for a day or two. Last weekend he had another bout, and he stopped eating entirely. I was hoping that he would simply curl up and die in his sleep, at home where he was happy.
I held off the notion of having him euthanized, but yesterday morning, he was so weak that he could barely walk. He wanted to go outside and I wasn’t going to let him, but he was so insistent that I finally gave in. I watched him for an hour or so as he would move from spot to spot on the back lawn, not able to get comfortable, not able to stay still or to sleep. I came outside and he stumbled to his feet and walked towards me, and then I heard the sound of his voice. It was high-pitched and so very weak. And it sounded like a cry rather than a meow. And that’s what made up my mind.
Before I could second-guess myself I made an appointment with the vet. It was for 2pm. My girls and I cried and cried and watched him for four hours as we waited to take him in. At one point, I was coming from the livingroom into the hallway and he was sitting with his back towards me at the other end of the hall. I stopped for a moment and looked at him because he almost looked normal the way he was sitting. Over the morning, we would pick him up so gently, kiss him and pet him as much as he could stand.
When we finally brought him to the vet, it was a quiet, utterly sad and, thank heavens, a quick and painless end. Then we tearfully brought him home and buried our old Picard in a spot in the flowerbed where he used to love to lie in the summertime. Later in the day, one of my daughters and I went to a hobby shop to buy the materials we needed to make a garden stepping stone that we will personalize with his name and place over the spot that he is buried.
Today I went for my first long walk since he died. One of the places I usually pass on my walk is the vet’s office and I was dreading it a little. But as I passed it, I realized to myself that it was just a building and that even though it had been the last place he took a breath, it was just wood and plaster and glass and nothing more. I thought again about signs and how I no longer really looked for them. For one brief moment, I said to myself that if my beloved cat sent me a sign, I don’t even know that I would see it. And then I brushed off the whole notion of signs.
As I walked further I remembered another cat. Sometimes I see him on my walks, and on other days he’s nowhere to be found. He has the same colouring as Picard, but is short-haired with a big belly. I thought to myself that this would be a good day for me NOT to see him. I wasn’t ready to greet another cat yet.
As I turned the corner, I caught my breath as I saw him. He was sitting about 20 metres down the sidewalk, with his back towards me, in the same position as I had stopped to look at Picard a day earlier. I almost stopped walking, it took me so by surprise. This neighbourhood cat is usually pretty friendly and he often comes to me when I call. But I didn’t really want to call him. His ears bent back as he heard me approach and then he turned around and started to walk towards me, but instead of greeting me as he normally does, he seemed aloof. I passed him, but then he started walking along with me. I looked down at him and he flopped on his side, ready for a belly rub. And that’s when I saw his tooth pushing up on one side of his lip. I couldn’t believe my eyes, and bent down to give him his belly rub.
I continued to walk, pondering the wonders of the last few minutes. I saw people with their dogs, and realized I couldn’t say I had a cat anymore. But then I said to myself that I’d always have Picard, whether he’s around or not.
Finally I got home and decided to visit the spot where we buried him. I stood there for a minute and realized I was hearing something high above me. A screeching noise. I looked up and the screeching stopped. And there he was.
Soaring high above me…an eagle.
|Picard’s last time on the lawn|