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Facing Death

Posted on:June 5, 2024 at 09:55 PM

I let the dogs out one afternoon and one of them decided to stay out laying in the grass. I didn’t think much of it until it became strange, she never stays out this long, especially laying in the grass. I walked over to see a rabbit laying in front of her badly wounded. It had skin ripped up in several places and was clearly unable to move, but still breathing, wide eyed.

I, like many I know, think a lot about death. I think of how much suffering would be avoided if we, as a society, normalized good assisted suicide. How many people wish, only too late, that they understood what DNR means. I think a lot about how I want to go, what the best way to go is, how I would help a friend or loved one go, how I’m going to wake up one day needing to make some tough decisions about my two dogs.

Facing death through this rabbit was wholly unexpected, and I guess that’s how it usually is.

The day before this incident I was learning about the Buddhist precepts. One is to avoid killing when at all possible. Of course, there are exceptions to any rule and I quickly thought through a few. Killing malaria mosquitoes, killing to conquer evil and bad ideas when there’s no other choice, they all share a commonality. Ending life is the charitable, moral, objectively consequential and utilitarian thing to do.

Looking into the eyes of the rabbit I began to become mindful of my thoughts. I like to think of my consciousness as a plurality of conscious beings all living and discussing in my head. The pre-frontal cortex is the rational overseer who turns to a state of reflection of the other parts when meditating or being mindful.

What washed over me in the next moments was strange. Part of my mind took over I can’t remember sensing before. Not rationalizing/thinking or analytical, but also completely without feeling. It was a deep sense of knowing something really difficult had to be taken care of quickly and without debate, for the good of the world, to avoid regret, to do what’s right despite the others in my head yelling that it’s wrong.

Then, without going into details, I did what needed to be done. It felt like a trance or dreamlike state and I didn’t regain a sense of self realization until that night, co-sleeping with my 4yo. I found myself trying to calm my crying enough to not wake him up. Deep breaths, you did what’s right.

It was horrible nonetheless. As I sat and reflected in all the ways I could about the situation I remembered something I’d once heard about a very near death experience: “instead of horror, try to think of it as something sacred.” I found myself feeling like praying, not to a god, but just reaching out to something holy to reconcile what I’d done. To look at the events with reverence, an act of mercy and love in the best way I could. I know objectively I did the right thing, but I had to calm the feeling parts, the parts that would never, under any circumstances, kill a living creature.

In a way this experience has given me confidence. I know I’m not a murderer and that I feel deeply and care deeply about other conscious beings. But also confidence that when the right thing is incredibly difficult, there is something in me that can come to the surface to take action. I also see how, with some tumor or other abnormality, some humans out there may give over to this action taking part incorrectly, or lack the other regulatory facilities, and become actual murderers by no fault of their own. The full capacity for good and evil lives in all of us.

One final line of thought. Some may say, “it’s just one dumb rabbit”, and they would be right. How much more suffering is there in the world that I could be spending my time and resources preventing. How many local rabbits meet a much worse end every day in my neighborhood. Are you thinking this much about one rabbit but won’t even give $100 to save several human lives on the other side of the world? Certainly all of this is true. But we also each have our present lived experience to think about, and this experiences was mine to live through. I feel overwhelming gratitude that my version of a harrowing facing of death is so benign and I know it will not always be the case. I’m preparing for the next, bigger version of this difficulty, sorrow, and grief that is inevitable for all of us.