Those in the paths of mighty hurricanes will often refuse to evacuate unless they can keep their beloved family pets with them. They will stay in their flooded homes, cradle their animals to their breasts, and keep moving the cans of Purina higher as the waters rise around them. Dog food which, by the way, is made from big-eyed cows and highly intelligent pigs and soft and cuddly lambs.
The difference between, say, an oversized pit bull with an adorable polka dot bow tie and the cow or pig or lamb that we, or our representatives, slaughter for dog food, is that most of us do not have a relationship with what we call farm animals.
Relationship is everything. Assuming responsibility for the nurturing of another sentient being floods us with hormones and chemicals which we interpret as love. Over time a history of shared moments further binds us with our loved one. At some point frustration over the chewed table leg, anger at a slow-to-housebreak puppy, irritation at a dog that runs away every time he’s off lead – this leads us to a choice. We either give the dog away, or we make a commitment based, not on warm fuzzy feelings, but on an adult’s understanding of responsibility.
Yes, in this long-winded analogy, Jack is the dog that destroys things I love, refuses to be housebroken, and runs amok at every opportunity. And, the intellectual maze I’m attempting to find my way through here has, at its exit, the answer to the question, “Why am I sacrificing my life in order to care for Jack?”
The simple answer is that he is my husband. I actually did take a solemn vow to love him and care for him for better or worse, in sickness and in health. At sixty-six my word means something to me.
But the cheese at the end of this maze is much more complex than that vow. If you’ll forgive me another convoluted metaphor, the reason I’m trying so hard to hold on to his care is not sliced, plastic wrapped, homogeneous American cheese, it’s more of a well-aged, and extremely complex French brie. Why is it important for me to follow my nose to the source of my decision to keep Jack home with me? Because, we may be coming to the end of this particular arrangement. We may have reached the point where my keeping him home and insisting on caring for him is providing Jack with less care than he needs. I may actually be doing him harm.
To leave behind the image of the maze-running rat with the twitching nose and return to my doggie-in-the-hurricane analogy, I may be at that point where rescue workers attempt to pry my drooling companion from my arms in order to take him to a safe shelter and me to sanctuary. I admit to identifying with those folks in Texas sitting on their roof tops clutching a shivering dog and waving away the rescue boats.
At some point, the responsible action will be to override every protective instinct I have, ignore the flood of nurturing hormones and chemicals, and do what’s best for Jack.
That is, after all, what I vowed to do all those years ago.