“Spirituality has to do with the reality of the here and now, with living humanly as one is, with the very real, very agonizing, “passions of the soul.” Spirituality involves learning how to live with imperfection.” – Ernest Kurtz
The other night, I called a friend in the program to ask how they were doing. I had been thinking about them for several days, since they told me that they had to put their 8 year old cat down over the weekend. The cat suffered from an enlarged tumor, and they were told by the veterinarian that there was nothing more that could be done for the poor animal.
It was an awkward conversation, at least to start. I asked how they were doing under the circumstances, and they came back with “oh, alright, I guess. Its been a rough couple of days, and I break down and cry when I think about him. I mean, I’ve had that cat longer than my marriage, and it just seems too quick. I really miss him”
At that they started sobbing. I told them that was ok since heart felt grief is so impossibly difficult.
They went on, “You know, its not like I feel like drinking or anything like that, but I can’t get it out of my mind. I keep repeating it over and over. I remember all the good times we had. I remember when I adopted him, and he was in a little cage, by himself just looking for a home. I remember all of his little rituals about feeding, and drinking water out of the sink, and how he’d jump up into my lap whenever I was tired from work. I guess I must be too overly sensitive to be a good pet owner.”
I replied that they were a terrific pet owner – caring, compassionate, concerned, and very loving. I think you can pretty much gauge the quality of a pet owner by how much they grieve when the pet is taken away. It turns out that we talked for over an hour, sharing experiences and insights, but with me just listening for much of the time. When it was time to go, they thanked me for the call and expressed appreciation for thinking of them so much. I explained that in spite of not knowing precisely what to say in such situations, I was still, in some small way, very passionate about reaching out to anyone going through what they were going through. And I actually was quite honored to be there when they cried over their loss. Honest displays of emotion are meant to be honored, no matter how painful and difficult they appear to be on the surface.
Upon hanging up, I thought about our exchange. I realized that we are often confronted with small challenges, Like talking to someone who is hurting, but whatever compassion we enter into it with, far exceeds the imperfection with which we carry it out.