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Tears of joy, tears of sorrow


Oakland went CRAZY on Saturday when news of Biden’s victory was announced. Spontaneous celebrations of joy erupted around the city, as they historically did in so many other American cities. The tens of thousands who turned out here comprised the greatest public demonstration of happiness since the last time the Warriors won the NBA championship. The streets around Lake Merritt were gridlocked with honking cars, flag-wavers, posters, people flashing the “V” sign, cheers, and above all, smiles.

I was returning from the gym when I heard the honks. I really wanted to get home and see how Gus was doing, but I just had to get involved. After taking a few pictures, the fever hit me, and I joined in the street dancing. Jumped up and down, waved my fists “Hell, yeah!”, and yelled my bloody arse off. Everybody was grinning and high-fiving, music was playing from every car stereo, and even the weather gods cooperated: a stunningly clear, blue sky, with mild temperatures and a clean, pure breeze. Biden weather.

Wasn’t it a pleasure to see the news reports from around the country? Millions of ordinary people turned to the streets just to express their sheer joy after the stress and tension of the last few months—no, make that the last four years. “Our long national nightmare is over,” were the words that occurred to me—Gerald Ford’s words–when the networks announced Biden’s victory early Saturday morning. I don’t think Trump was in the White House at the time, but if he had been and looked out the windows, he would have seen massive gatherings of citizens, celebrating his humiliating loss.

I just had to reach out to people. I made phone calls to friends, started conversations with perfect strangers. It occurred to me to buy a bottle of sparkling wine, so I went to Bay Grape, which my friend Josiah Baldivino owns. There was a line at the door. When it was my turn, the front door guy scanned my forehead for my temperature and let me in. I had some questions, so a floor staff guy helped me make my choice: a Cremant de Loire, made not from the traditional Chenin Blanc but from Cabernet Franc. As I was paying for it, I told the guy—he couldn’t have been more than 27—that he was witnessing an important day in American history. He said he knew. I was crying. Honestly, I haven’t cried as much in the last forty years as I have in the last three weeks. Between Gus (tears of grief) and the election (tears of stress), and then, when Biden won (tears of gratefulness and relief), I’m just a soggy old mess.

Which got me thinking. I find myself crying for two completely opposite reasons: Gus and Biden. But the tears feel the same: somehow, they’re both cleansing. Purifying. I don’t really understand it. I Googled “purifying tears” and came across this interesting comment. “The role of tears is to purify the souls of people in critical situations or of happiness. Tears help us to deeply penetrate into our being and to demonstrate [to] ourselves that we are capable of feeling something. The role of tears is well defined, because as there are tears of joy, so there are tears of pain. As a matter of fact, once with us, cry even our soul, which feels every emotion, every feeling. The tear is a symbol of joy and suffering and we must accept it because it represents our purification regardless of circumstances. The role of the tears is like rain, only that it does not wash streets, but souls!”

That’s what crying feels like to me: a washing of my soul. And it’s so strange that, in my life, two profoundly moving things are happening simultaneously: Gus’s impending death, and this miraculous election of Joe Biden. It’s almost too much to wrap my brain around.

Well, Gus isn’t getting any better. Sometimes, I put my lips on his swollen tumor, on the left side of his snout, and draw my breath in, to take the cancer out into myself. I know this is silly, but it can’t do any harm, and besides, Gus seems to like it. He’s always been a needy dog; he likes being with me, in close physical contact. But lately, he’s become even needier. Not in an annoying way. He’s an extraordinarily sweet little dog, with big, soft brown eyes, and his sweetness has been magnified over the last three weeks, like the elemental quality of sweetness in the Universe is coming through his body. I’ll have him euthanized when the time comes, but I find myself struggling with this dilemma: how will I know when the time comes? Marilyn told me she realized, in retrospect, that she’d kept her first dog alive too long, even when it was very sick, not for the dog’s sake, but for hers. “Don’t feel guilty if you put Gus down sooner than you think you have to,” she said. I think that’s a profound insight, but it still begs the question, how will I know? People say, “You’ll just know.” And I suppose I have to assume that’s right. I’ll just know.

But not yet. Maybe in the next few days, maybe a week or two. Then I’ll have to decide whether to get another dog. I can’t imagine coming home and not having Gus there waiting by the door. “Hi Little Baby,” I say, as he hops up with his front paws on my knee and looks at me, his tail wagging. But I’m old; I don’t know how much time I have left, and I don’t want to get a dog only to drop dead the next day. It wouldn’t be fair to the animal.

My wonderful next-door neighbor, Wendy, just got the cutest little puppy, Ish (short for Ishmael). I don’t know the breed. The little thing is so full of energy, a four-pound dervish of playful dogginess. Old Gus doesn’t quite know what to make of Ish. I see them together, and I think, “Gus is life leaving this plane, and Ish is life entering it. The cycle goes on.” Hardly the most profound thought, but it makes me cry. As do so many things these days.

  1. Steve

    I have a Chocolate Lab who is just four years old with terminal lymphoma. She is a wonderful, sweet, loyal, creature who is far too young to have this disease. I ache every day for her but I although I have been through this eight times before. Euthanasia is the last act of love an owner can bestow upon their beloved pet. A vet once told me that they will always tell you when the time is right and I have always found that to be true.

  2. I take great solace in the fact that so many people have gone through this. Thanks Paul.

  3. Judy French says:

    With my pets, when it was their time they just look at you and they seem very tired, and could see they weren’t getting any joy from being on this plane anymore. You can tell if there’s any pain involved easily, but that isn’t always there. One of my cats just left(Oscar). We could tell the night before and said it was okay if he wanted to leave, and he was gone the next morning, just went in his sleep. But have had many that we had to take in. Gus will always be right with you❤️

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