Written some time ago...
This has been the most difficult, most painful, and most instructive holiday season of my life.
And it has been the happiest.
Life is not just about happy endings. It's about learning, about miracles, about powerful forces and our ability to access them; about the power of love and our ability to change reality.
Several years ago we knew our Scottish Terrier, Watson, was ill in some deep core sense. When one has a core illness, it means that the illness has gotten hold at the center of the being and has compromised the life force.
We took him to many veterinarians. One wanted to turn 'Little Dog' (one of our pet names for him) into a bionic android by removing this and that, and by attaching tubes to this and that. We fired that idiot immediately. The issue was and is always quality of life; life at any cost can be worse than death.
Sometimes it really is time to die.
We visited another who (rightly) assessed Watson as having periodontal problems. Watson had just turned 12, and his breath wasn't exactly 'mint-fresh'. Other than that, he seemed fine, if a bit lethargic, and so we accepted the diagnosis as being the root of his problem and started regular brushings and implemented some dietary changes (hard food to remove plaque, bones, healthy snacks).
For several years now, Watson has been the same faithful, guileless, noble friend he always was; but last month, food started falling out of his mouth as he ate, and he began to lose weight. His lethargy became chronic, and often he'd have sleepless nights. He never barked, and his interest in squirrels and alien kittens vanished.
On the advice of a good neighbor, we took him to Dr Miller, a veterinarian, animal lover and healer who has earned the reputation of being thorough, optimistic (a very important trait in any healer), and compassionate in ways that few folks are in any field these days.
He initially concluded that Watson needed 'multiple extractions', perhaps complete removal of all teeth. This was an acceptable option, as the gums harden over time, and toothless dogs can bite with the best of them. The relief from pain and the treatment of the infection will often bring a dog back from near-death.
He also did a blood panel.
The panel wasn't good; Watson's liver enzymes were extremely elevated. He might have liver cancer. But Dr Miller rightly felt that Watson had a will of steel (many Scotties are noted for their stubborn attitudes) and a healthy constitution, and so may have a few good years of life and squirrel chasing left to him, and we opted for 'multiple extractions' under general anesthesia. We prepared him for surgery with two courses of Baytril (a strong antibiotic) and SamE (a new drug just approved by the FDA and used predominantly in humans for the treatment of various liver diseases).
After three weeks of preparation, several days after Christmas day, we took him to the animal hospital and dropped him off at 8 am, expecting the usual call around 4 pm telling us we could pick up our friend.
At 10 am we received a call from Dr Miller. But we hadn't noticed. We had returned home moments after the call had come in, and it remained on our answering machine.
I had been playing the piano and chanting for Watson's health.
I discovered the call at 11:30 am, and called Dr Miller immediately.
He had discovered two massive tumors on the top of the tongue, one the size of a golf ball, far back in the throat; the masses had made intubation almost impossible! A third tumor was found outside the stomach lining. He had called to ask for authorization. Did we want our Little Dog 'put down', or did we want to go ahead with what amounted now to major surgery, on a dog that might not survive at all?
Of course we authorized the surgery, made all the more dangerous by the fact that he was in recovery already (because I hadn't caught that call) and would have to be re-anesthetized.
Those few long hours before the next phone call were excruciating, with emotions ranging from guilt (WHY didn't I check the answering machine?) to sadness (how will he survive this at 14 years old, so weak and so deeply ill?) to guilt again (WHY hadn't we been more aggressive in finding the root of his problems? He had suffered for years, and it was OUR fault!)
I sat down at the piano and played a tune by Coltrane, a tune I did not know, Crescent. Not knowing it, I played it wrong. I didn't care right then; I improvised a new framework, using what I remembered from the record (Crescent, by John Coltrane, on MCA Impulse, with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison, and Elvin Jones). Tears streamed down my face as I played this tune, one that I had never ever played in my life, not knowing why, just playing and praying and crying.
Finally the call came. A very happy and somewhat amazed Dr Miller told me that Watson had done wonderfully; the tumor detritus was excised, the throat was clear, the mass on his stomach removed, and three teeth had been extracted. Also the doctor had done a vigorous and thorough teeth- cleaning. Watson's vitals were strong, and he was hydrated, stable, and starting to gain consciousness.
We were elated.
He's home now, it's day number 3, and he's eating chicken broth and rice, taking his Baytril and very mild pain medication, sleeping through the night, and making guttural, open sounds deep in his throat!
I spoke with Jane Librizzi on the phone recently. She has a radio show out of Syracuse, NY (WAER, Jazz 88.3 FM), and plays my Music all the time. She tells me that she played Crescent by John Coltrane and dedicated it to me. It turned out that she had played it on her show at the exact time that I sat down and tried to play it (she knew nothing of Watson or of his surgery)...
Today I put Crescent on the CD player and played along with it once, and learned it RIGHT. It is in D minor, the 'key of this time'. There's a section where McCoy drops out and it's just Trane with Jimmy and Elvin, and I comped all through that part, and it was such a revelation to play with them. I started to cry again, this time in joy. It was a time of epiphany and of release, of realization and of redemption.
A tsunami has just visited immeasurable horror and death to many many thousands of people in Sri Lanka and neighboring nation-states; a little dog has survived; a woman living in the mountains with her wonderful family feels the presence of the universal life-force, and the world now spins a bit faster. The earthquake was of such a magnitude that it sped the rotation of our planet by a fraction, thus shortening our days forever.
My heart bleeds and it also sings. Such extremes of events, such range and variation, turbulent as Beethoven, unpredictable as Stravinsky! Life is a high-wire act without a net. All moments are divine, and no moment is without meaning.
I no longer believe that our souls are so different from other animals. I believe that there are different WAYS to be conscious, and different KINDS of sentience. I do NOT believe that we are conclusively the dominant species on Earth.
My FRIEND, my FAMILIAR, my ALLY Watson has enlightened me in ways that no human has. I am humbled in the face of his nobility and courage and inner strength. I am amazed that Crescent came to me in this fashion. I am amazed that the world spins faster than before the tsunami, amazed that so many have died on the other side of the world, amazed that some people can not see the value of life and our moral obligation to worship and protect and respect it in all of its forms.
I am amazed at many many things, and I am also humbled, inspired, overcome, enraged, awed.
A 'certified health care professional' once told me that my passion, my elan vitale, was a form of mania, a liability in this culture (and, strangely, an admired trait in the romantic and artistic cultures, like Spain, France, and Italy). She told me that Wellbutrin or Paxil would stabilize me, narrow the range of my responses, flatten my emotions, and make me 'more like everyone else'.
From what I can see, the one and only spirit that I want to be more like is my little friend Watson. Got a drug for that, doc?
You can be sure, absolutely sure, that I will be playing, exploring, discovering, and rediscovering the piece called Crescent for the rest of my life. And you can be sure that I will fight for the lives of those I love, against any enemy of life, with all of my passion and will and spirit.
Life is a treasure beyond price, and Watson has taught me that it is worth the fight.
The squirrels are not sleeping quite so soundly tonight, I think.
To Dr Miller
This is an expression
for such a valiant man
who would give his
and use his blessed gift
to preserve this life-
to value this life-
to understand the
importance of a soul
so guileless and innocent
as our noblest and most
revered friend, Watson.
With our deepest
The Little Dog Update:
1.04.05: I feel bad for the squirrels. Watson is like a brand new dog. A puppy, actually. He's eating his new (very healthy, very expensive) gourmet food with unfettered enthusiasm, he's sleeping through the night, and he's even barked a few times! We have him back for a while. All any of us have is a while! This really has been a wonderful holiday season, and we're thankful to have our friend with us... he seems equally happy to be here, eating, barking, chasing squirrels, playing with the other dogs in the neighborhood, taking walks, enjoying his life again.
Meanwhile, even the kitty is relieved. Kayla really loves her dog; she just feigns disgust and disapproval, because he's... well... a dog!
As of 1.09.05, Watson continues to amaze us with his newly-won health. He is positively frisky. He is chowing down, bouncing along (Scotties swagger when they walk) and is generally acting like a young pup again. Don't anyone say there's no such thing as a miracle. Watson rocks. And he thanks you for all of your e-mails! (Well, he would if he could...) and I thank you also.
And today (1.10.05) was so sad.
He's still feeling wonderful, but the biopsy came back and reveals a very aggressive and fast growing cancer. He may have weeks or months. As I wrote to several friends this evening:
'We were doing so well. Watson had major surgery to remove the tumors in his throat that prevented him from eating and breathing freely. He had felt so terribly bad. He is still so very much better now. But today we went to the Vet and found the results to the biopsy... a very aggressive form of cancer that could put him in the same position in days or weeks.
'I don't believe much of what the experts say. I don't disbelieve either... Watson is 14. But no one can see the future. I could walk out tomorrow and get hit by a meteorite. We are going to love him and play with him every day and enjoy every single moment. When he's ready he'll tell us. No more surgeries or antibiotics or heroic measures. he is a heroic figure and his little life has changed us forever.
'Shalom and bless you - Jessica'
It's a truth none of us escape. We may not go softly into that good night, but we go anyway. I am very blessed to have had so many wonderful years with the Prince among dogs. Hopefully, we'll be given more time. Anything now is a bonus, icing on the cake. As so many of you wrote:
Miracles are afoot. He's acting like a pup. He sleeps through the night. Please keep chanting, praying, thinking of him in your thoughts. It's working. I dare not say more. I am amazed. I am so happy! So is he! Life is a beyond our capacity to predict or fully understand.
Watson passes quietly in our arms (with the vets assistance). We grieve.
b 7-17-91, d 2-2-05
(When we got to the vets office, the cancer had hit the bone, and he was in pain. I'd given him a pain med, but it wasn't enough. The nurse sedated him and still he was awake. We just held him and talked to him, tears rolling down our faces. Dr Miller gave him the euthanasia drug and he was gone in 15 seconds. His spirit went through my body and stayed in my heart for a moment before leaving. The love was a palpable presence in my heart. The room was filled with this noble spirit's love. In a very short time, his body, swollen and lumpy from the cancer, was no longer him, but a shell. He had loved the last weeks of life before his transition; practically pain-free until yesterday, he had chased squirrels, played with the big neighborhood dogs, and filled our lives with profound joy.
As we left the vet's, weeping and mourning and in shock, we were both struck by how banal the world had become in such a short time. A car passed us on a two lane country road and almost killed 4 people to get by us.
When we arrived home I checked the e-mail. 12 people tried to plant malicious code or spyware on my computer (business as usual), 14 were peddling drugs like O.x.y.con.tin (a powerful pain med), V.ico.din, V.ia.gr.a, and Va.li.um. 25 e-mails were of a nature unmentionable here; 2 were legitimate correspondences.
Later, to try and escape our grief, we (accidentally) saw, on TV, someone (a man who told us he had a mandate and lots of political capital to spend) making plans for our future in an ego-driven megalomaniacal display of contempt and disregard for any form of human decency or compassion.
This is not about love. Watson was about love. We need to strive for that in our lives.
Being driven by love, there can be no fear.
So that's that. No lessons, really, except that we need to appreciate every single day that we're here, and love who we love with a totality of being and an abandon of spirit. There can be no illusions about beginnings and endings. Things end. People end. So we have to do the best we can while we're here. No time for agendas, lies, games. Mother Teresa said, 'Every day is a gift from God. What we do with every day is a gift to God.'
I will always have the beautiful memories of Watson at the beach, doing things that Scotties are not supposed to be able to do, like swimming and fetching. He sat at my feet as they worked the pedals of the piano as I played (he is there on almost every recording I have released to date on my own label) and he stayed by my side throughout every personal storm and every joyous moment. Every time I came off a road trip, we'd play on the floor together and 'nuzzle'. He sat up late as I wrote poetry, and kept jazz musician hours. He was my friend.
Thank you all for caring and for sending cards and e-mails. He had a regular fan base. You can be sure he'll be in all my Music in some form, and that tunes will be written for him.
I just miss him.