When sympathy and regret hold hands
There’s a scene that is inextricably etched in my mind. The sun is just breaking above the trees in an explosion of pink and purple while I’m driving to work one morning. Just ahead of me, a squirrel darts out of the underbrush and across my lane directly into the path of an oncoming car. The driver had no time to brake or swerve – even if the driver wanted to respond. One of the front tires crushed the back half of the squirrel’s body sending it squirming and writhing and flipping and jerking back in front of me.
I imagined that I could hear its screams of pain as I passed over it, trying my best to keep it between my tires. It must have hopped up off the asphalt at some point because I heard it bump against the underside of my car. My heart raced; I held my breath; tears came to my eyes; I broke out into a sweat and cold chills ran down my spine as I slowed and looked into my rear view mirror.
Yes, it was only a squirrel, but it was a living creature that was obviously in excruciating pain and wracked with terror. It was a hopeless situation that came to a grinding halt with the vehicle behind me put the squirrel out of its misery. I like to think it was unintentional.
But, would it have been so bad if the driver behind me had intentionally run over the dying squirrel and cut short its suffering? Still, I knew the first car had not planned to hit the squirrel, and there was a part of me that hoped the driver had accidentally killed it.
This memory flooded my mind once again, complete with the image of the erratically flopping squirrel and the flood of empathy and anguish in that moment of death as I pulled the limp body of the zombie off of my friend. The remnants of its head thumped against the concrete spilling blood and grey matter onto the floor. And below the twice dead creature my friend writhed in agony.
The bite wounds were evident on his neck and shoulders and arms. Blood was spurting through the missing fingers of one hand that he had pressed against his throat. The other arm hung useless at an odd angle, a large chunk of flesh, muscle, ligaments, arteries, and perhaps bone missing from the joint of the arm and shoulder.
The grisly scene is not what caused the image of that hopeless squirrel to pounce on my memory. No. It was his eyes. I know that my friend was in pain. I assumed that the nerves all over his body screamed with fire and ice at the same time. But, his eyes did not show pain; they showed futility.
He knew what had happened, and he knew what was about to happen. He may have minutes; he may have an hour. But soon, his pulse would stop, only to restart a few moments later reanimating his broken body to an existence devoid of life as we know it.
Hopelessness. His eyes dripped with hopelessness even as the moans and groans escaped his lips. He unwrapped his mangled hand from the gushing wound on his throat and raised it toward me. Without hesitation, I took it in one of my own hands and dropped to the floor beside him. His blood was hot and sticky against my cold skin as pieces of flesh and bone scraped against my fingers.
I didn’t say anything; there was nothing to say.
I looked at my other hand and the semi-automatic handgun that I had just used to dispatch the zombie. When my eyes turned by to my friend, I noticed that he was staring at the gun as well.
“I really don’t think the driver meant to kill the squirrel,” I thought to myself, “But would it have been so bad if it was intentional?”
His eyes locked on mine again. Was the hopelessness melting away from his eyes, or was death taking over. I assured myself that he looked more hopeful as I placed the barrel of the handgun against his ear.
Fire and Ice
by Robert Frost
Some say the world will end in fire,
Some say in ice.
From what I’ve tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice
Is also great
And would suffice.