Dr. Campbell said that I had to sign a document certifying that Midnight hadn't bitten anybody in the past 15 days. Midnight, the gentlest of dogs, had never bitten anybody in more than 4500 days on this Earth.
I suppose that this is a ritual that dog lovers everywhere go through: putting our dogs to sleep. Along with the cancer, Midnight had now developed a degenerative nerve disorder, like Lou Gehrig's disease, and he was having a hard time raising his hips off the ground. It was time to release him from the suffering, from the daily incontinence and from the indignity of having to be lifted offhis own excrement in the mornings. For his breed, Midnight was in his 95th year in human terms and had lived long already. I signed the release at the vet's office on Oct. 27, 2011, on my mother's 75th birthday, a fitting day for Midnight to join Amma, who loved all animals as if they were her own children.
It was a little over twelve years ago, in 1999, that our son, Akhil, insisted on a black labrador puppy and we called a breeder in our New Jersey neighborhood and went to see the puppies at his farm. Midnight had such a cute face and expressive eyes and Akhil picked him out as the one to adopt. Midnight was born to a yellow lab mother and a chocolate lab father, but he was pitch black, for Nature is a strange color chemist.
As soon as we got Midnight into our family, Akhil ceased to be the "baby" and Midnight began answering to that moniker as well. For the first year, I used to enjoy taking Midnight out on a daily walk and stop with him as he smelt the story told by every bush on the way. Then he tore his left rear knee ligament while chasing after our children in the front yard and had to undergo surgery. The daily walks were no longer enjoyable for him and he used to stop half way, turn around and pull me back home. He developed arthritis on that knee soon after.
Despite the bad knee and the Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) for which he underwent stomach surgery, Midnight enjoyed playing fetch in the backyard. We adopted a companion for him, Shadow, from the local shelter when Midnight was 3 years old. They had been inseparable since then, except when I used to take Midnight for swimming therapy for his arthritic knee. That dog loved swimming and knew precisely when the last traffic light before the pool was and would start whimpering and getting excited as we waited for the light to turn green. It was with sheer joy that he would wade into the heated pool, looking back to ask me to throw the toy that he could fetch from the pool.
His arthritis got better with the swimming therapy, but it was when we switched him to a vegan diet that he finally stopped limping on that knee. I had read an article about V-dogfood, a veterinarian formulated vegan dry dog food, and how it had helped some other dog's arthritis problem and decided to try it out. Soon thereafter, we stopped all the injections that were needed until then to keep Midnight's rear left leg down. Both Midnight and Shadow have been vegan for the past seven years - four years longer than me - and it has been great for their health.
When we moved to California, we rented homes that have pools so that both dogs could swim at home every day, if need be. Though Midnight hadn't availed himself too much of the pool lately, he had stopped limping completely until his demise. It was the veganism that relieved him of the limp in his leg, not the swimming.
Midnight loved our children and was very protective of them. Whenever I yelled at the children, which happened occasionally when they were teenagers, Midnight would bark at me, while wagging his tail furiously. It was his way of telling me to calm down. On happier occasions, the children used to wrestle me to the ground while pretending that I was being rough with them and Midnight would wade in to rescue them, barking and play-biting me to make me stop.
Though Midnight was gentle with humans and other dogs, he was a menace to machines. He would always growl when we turned on the vacuum cleaner and pushed it towards him. In the beginning, he used to try and catch the vacuum cleaner from behind, to put an end to its mechanical life. Later, after he discovered that we wouldn't let him kill it, he would growl and walk away. But then there was the poor Roomba that lasted precisely one minute in an encounter with Midnight. Roomba was one of those robotic vacuum cleaners that was supposed to clean a room of any shape without supervision. It was a marvel of robotic engineering, invented by a scientist from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). But, once Midnight got through with it, the Roomba was upside down on the floor, with all its rubber belts and brushes hanging in tatters. It never vacuumed up a single speck of dust since that fateful encounter.
Midnight and Shadow understood each other and understood us better than we understood them. Midnight would stare me in the face and bark suggestively, waiting for me to "get it," and I would ask him various questions until I hit upon the right one that got him excited. And that's what he was trying to tell me he wanted to do.
It has been three days since I signed the release and said my goodbyes to that handsome dog, but it feels like an eternity. I will miss Midnight tremendously for the rest of my life, but I'm so grateful that he chose to hang out with us on his journey through life.
Thank you, Midnight, for being such a kind, unconditionally loving, gentle dog and for teaching me that animals feel joy and pain, have emotions and experience the universe in their own way, with their unique senses. Thank you, Midnight, for teaching me how to live life to the fullest with joy and abandon, to treat each morsel of food as delicious, to treat each act of play as delightful. Finally, thank you, Midnight, for teaching me about the power of life and death that we, humans, wield over animals, and the dilemma, the "Dharma Sankata," that we face as we wield it.
Rest in peace, my beautiful baby!
If only we could all transfer the compassion we feel for our companion animals towards all other creatures! In the Indian ocean island of Mauritius, the Dodo bird evolved without fear of predation. When it encountered the first humans on the island, it walked up to them innocently and promptly got killed. For the Dodo bird had never encountered a creature that killed for the sake of killing. And pretty soon, the Dodo bird became extinct.
The Dodo bird was not alone. As we now possess technological capabilities that make every creature on the planet as vulnerable to us as the Dodo bird was in the 17th century, we are now consigning tens of thousands of species to the extinction list, each year. But it's time that we re-evaluate our tendency to kill first and ask questions later.
I was reminded of the Dodo bird during my technological past, in 2002, the first of my bonus years on this Earth. I was in Haifa, Israel, helping to bring Intel's Gigabit Ethernet networking chips to market and the second intifada was raging throughout Israel. On my way from Tel Aviv's Ben Gurion airport to Haifa, I had seen the smoke from a burned out bus that was the casualty of a suicide bombing. The nervousness over suicide bombings was palpable throughout Israel during those days.
Late one night, after a long and exhausting "debugging" session at the Intel Haifa Lab, I was deep in thought, hurrying along on the boardwalk on the beach towards my hotel and my comfortable bed, carrying my laptop case and wearing my jacket against the cold, when I felt a bright spotlight shining on me. I looked towards the spotlight and could barely make out the silhouette of an Israeli military vehicle on the road that was parallel to the boardwalk. At that moment, I realized the precarious position that I was in. There I was, looking like an Arab, carrying a bulky, black laptop case, and walking towards a posh, seaside resort hotel at a time when suicide bombings were rampant. I was a Dodo bird for staying so late in the Lab during those difficult times. I became terrified that the driver of the vehicle, who was most likely a young Israeli teenager compulsorily drafted into the military, would shoot first and then ask questions later. But that spotlight and the military vehicle followed me for the next five minutes as I walked towards my hotel and entered it, without firing a shot.
Since then, I've always wondered how that soldier decided that it was safe to let me enter the hotel with my bag? Was it the Intel badge that was dangling around my neck, which I had forgotten to take off when I left the office? While I will never know, I still feel tremendously grateful to that soldier for giving me a second lease on Life. And now I savor every moment of that Life.
In Africa, there are tribesmen who trap a baboon by fashioning a hole in an ant hill which is large enough for the baboon to put its hand through, but which is too small for the baboon take its clenched fist out. The tribesman places some treats in the hole in full view of the baboon and retreats behind a tree and waits. The tempted baboon walks up to the hole, reaches into it and gets hold of the treat, but cannot withdraw its fist. And that silly baboon stands there squirming and screaming as the tribesman calmly approaches and captures it. It never occurs to the baboon to let go of the treat and escape. But it remains to be seen whether we, humans, will let go of the animal products that we've gotten used to and escape the approaching tribesman, whether we are truly wiser than the baboon.
For, as a species, we are now in a "Haifa moment," as we have triggered the Sixth Great Mass Extinction event in the Earth's history. As of today, a future paleontologist would deduce a Great Mass extinction event on two-thirds of the ice-free land area of the planet that far surpasses the previous five great Mass extinction events. In all the past five such events on Earth, the dominant, apex predator species didn't survive the event. Here's wishing that as we consciously work towards undoing the damage that we have done so far and towards the betterment of all Life on Earth, we will get through the coming existential constriction without suffering the same fate, without joining the Dodo bird in the fossil record of this era on Earth.
That instead, the 21st century will become known as the "Century of the Butterfly," when a documentary about it is made decades from now.
I began this journey four years ago, full of questions, because of my intense love for our two sons, our Miglets. Four years later, I intensely love all the Miglets in the world and indeed, all Life.
Four years ago, we felt financially secure as a family. Four years later, in the aftermath of the economic doldrums in America, we are ex-millionaires and we have officially joined the ranks of the "99%."
Four years ago, I felt as if I was a total failure as a parent and as a human being. Four years later, I've stopped making such judgments and feel truly at peace with myself.
As the saying goes, four years is enough to change anyone.
During these four years, the more I searched for the answers to my questions, the more I realized that they were right under my nose, but I had been too preoccupied to see them. What was happening in my life was a microcosm of what was happening in the world. The Karmic feedback was always there, but I had been too busy with my professional career to "get it.” What the late Steve Jobs said in his commencement address at Stanford University is so true: "You can only connect the dots looking backwards."
And I feel truly blessed that the dots in my life connected to lead me on my present journey.
While I don't know how events will unfold into the future, I have complete faith that Life is still trying to reach a balance, to heal the wounds that we have inflicted on it. And that Life is the most powerful force on the planet that can turn things around. Therefore, as long as I'm breathing, I shall believe that things will turn around as the Metamorphosis unfolds. And I intend to use every fiber in my being to help it along.
Our granddaughter, Kimaya, who triggered this literary output, is now crawling all over the house, but she has still remained a Butterfly. She has a favorite song, which is from the Hindi movie, Sant Gyaneshwar from 1964:
Jyoth Se Jyoth Jagathe Chalo (sung by Mukesh):
Awaken the Light within
Let love flow like the river Ganges
If you encounter anyone troubled or sad
Embrace them all and let love flow like the river Ganges
He's present in everyone
With the burden of false sentiments
Humans are caught in the web of deceit
Hoist the flag of Dharma and let love flow like the river Ganges
He's ever present in even the smallest particle in the Universe
His light burns eternal in each Being
There is only one Creator and only one Truth
There is only one Supreme Being
While we have this gift of Life, let love flow like the river Ganges
What an appropriate poem for a born Butterfly! But I wish to conclude this book with another poem by Marilyn Cornelius, a Ph. D. candidate in the Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and Resources (E-IPER) at Stanford University:
The Caterpillar and the Butterfly
a poem by Marilyn Cornelius
unable to unsee
what i can see
unable to unbe
what i am
what i must be
a caterpillar eats
it lives on
it sips from
we cannot live
while we kill
we cannot breathe
while we allow
will you choose
or a butterfly
that lives so lightly
setting the hearts of flowers
my path has chosen me...
there is no turning back
we must embrace a new way
a sea change in culture
not a change
in what we believe
but in what we feel
what we call nature
is not just the ocean
or the forest
nature is you and me
we come from the soil
and to the soil we will return
what will our children say
when they awaken to a world
in which we have left them
which path will you choose?
a path to change and healing
or a path to satisfy
whatever you're feeling
we live in one world
and whether our one world
or even survives
is up to me
and to you
which path will you choose?
the caterpillar eats away at its own life
until one day it transforms
into a butterfly
gracing every flower it touches
the potential for
being a loving butterfly
dwells within every caterpillar
the potential for flight
it's just a matter of
living for a fleeting time
living so very lightly
and giving all it can
the butterfly makes
now is all we ever have...
i want to be that butterfly
so that all may know life
all may live
unable to unsee
what i can see
a world in chaos
hearts craving healing
as our primary compass
and our own Nature
The Miglets are awakening. And that is such an awesome sight to behold!
In the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna assures Arjuna, "Whatever happened, happened for the best. Whatever is happening, is happening for the best. Whatever will happen, will happen for the best only!" Perhaps there are 7 billion of us now because there is plenty of clean-up work to do around the planet?
Therefore, let's arise, awake and get to work - as Butterflies!
 Scene from "Animals are Beautiful People," 1974. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NxkvY2FZRQg
 Steve Jobs, "How to Live Before You Die," Commencement Address at Stanford University, Stanford, CA, June 2005. http://www.ted.com/talks/steve_jobs_how_to_live_before_you_die.html