Somewhere around a mile and a half it stops hurting. The muscles in my chest and legs loosen. My breath sinks into my low back. My abdominal muscles wake up, engage, and lift my feet from the earth. The chatter of my brain quiets and the swirling chaos of my heart calms. There is just the crunch of my sneakers on gravel. The sighing in and out of my breathing.
Today, I had just arrived at that lovely meditative moment when I saw a silver flash in the river to my right. It was a medium-sized fish, struggling to swim. It was flipped onto one side, trying to dive, but popping back to the surface, ultimately succeeding only in propelling itself weakly in smaller and smaller tortured circles.
I stood on the shore fighting the urge to wade in and touch it.
Because I can’t resist death?
Because if I could see the wound on the underside I could understand something?
Because I could soothe it? Because I could soothe it. Because I could help.
How could I soothe a fish? How could I think I could help it die?
I have held many animals and even a few people as they died. Sometimes I was calm and present. Sometimes I was a wailing mess. Perhaps, sometimes I was soothing. But I am certain that I never once helped. In every death I have witnessed, someone left. Alone. And I stayed behind.
I felt sad about the fish. And suddenly I couldn’t stand on the shore alone and watch him go. I turned back to the path and ran. I thought, “Murders. People who fish are bad.” And then I ran past some of those bad people. A man in a blue hat adjusted his line then leaned back and turned his face toward the cloudy sky and smiled as if it were sunny. The old dog lying next to him watched him closely, tail thumping the ground. A woman showed a little girl how to cast. She smiled at me as I passed, stroked the little girl’s hair. The little girl proudly thrust the pink fishing pole toward me. “It’s got Barbie on it!” she chirped.
And I thought of this:
Every single being is driven by the desire to suffer less. There is no recipe. We are, each of us, improvising our own unique alchemy in the laboratory of our particular and peculiar pain.
I don’t think this is profound. I’m sure others have said the same long before me and far more eloquently. Frankly, I’m not even sure it makes much sense in the context of a woman’s desire to ease the death throes of a fish, nor does it offer any clarity on whether or not fishing for pleasure is a morally defensible pastime.
But it stayed with me as I ran and it helped me feel the pleasure of simple aliveness in my body. And it made me think about the day when that aliveness will go, and I will go with it. And I wondered who would try to soothe me. Who would try to help?
I hope, whoever they are, that they won’t stand too long on the lonely shore after I have gone. I hope they fill their lungs and run on.