When Trying Is Not Enough
The family took a trip to Rockland today. One of the marvelous things about living where we do is that we’re technically “Mid-Coast,” and so much of the tourist trap Maine coast is day-trip accessible.
On our way out of our driveway, something cast a pall over the rest of the day. A blue Great Dane and a chocolate Lab were roaming our road. The Dane was terribly emaciated.
We stopped. I tried hard to lure it to our car. It barked and ran off.
We were heartbroken. First, it’s extremely cold, too cold for a Dane. Second, the ribs and backbone of the dog protruded more than they should. Great Danes are our preferred breed, we know a thing or two about how they should look. So it was either a stray or a severely neglected local pooch, which in either case, called for intervention.
When we came home from the coast, Leah drove around the area with a distressed Amelia, trying in vain to find the Dane.
Later, Leah bemoaned that we hadn’t picked up a Sunday paper with coupons. I used this as pretense to look for him again myself. Even now, as I type this, I leave the floodlight on in the yard in hopes that the Dane finds his way here to warmth, food, and love.
Bramble, our new dog, was a compromise. After losing Herschel, our beloved Great Dane, to cancer, we couldn’t bring another Dane into the home without feeling like we betrayed our companion. His (large) box of ashes sits atop our cabinet alongside the ashes of our (smaller) Bear. Herschel was larger than life; bringing in another Dane would make us feel like Herschel was replaceable with another of his breed. Bramble is a great fit in our lives, but Herschel left large tracks through our lives.
An immediate rescue like this would have been the exemption to feelings of betrayal. And yet we couldn’t convince him to come to us.
For Amelia, it’s devastating given a child’s love for animals.
For me, it exposed raw and familiar feelings about a world all too capable of defying our best efforts to alleviate the suffering of others.
I recall my first visit to New York City when I was a child, seeing homeless sleeping in subways. I wanted to help, it caused me so much distress. Our chaperone said, “there’s nothing we can do.” I couldn’t accept it. I hated him for being right. I hated myself for being 11 and so useless.
In my time in the developing world, I saw children that would die from a variety of conditions. Emaciated, hungry things that didn’t know anything but the absence of satiation. Children who would die in sectarian violence. Children who would die from diseases we’d never sweat at home. Children for whom prosperity, even just basic comfort, would always be foreign. There was a realization that anything I did was naught but a tease at a different life, and that realization stings. It haunts me that there is so very little that I can do.
So why in the hell, after all of that, does an emaciated, stray dog stick with me so?
I don’t know, but I’m not sure I ever want to be satisfied with merely trying to make something good happen. I don’t know that I want to find solace in some sense that “I did what I could.” It’s important to second-guess the notion that I extended my best effort, if only because I’ve seen first-hand that the distinctions between an effort that falls short and doing nothing at all are limited.
I will keep my eyes peeled for the dog. He may have a home. Another concerned party may take him in. He may even die in a ditch somewhere; cold, hungry, and exposed. Since I won’t know for sure, I’ll add him to my list of things that I swear I’ll do something about, if again given the opportunity.
I usually aim for quotes more reflective of a cultured dude when I write these things, but Yoda said, “do, or do not. There is no try.” Try is of little consequence when circumstances are dire. “Doing our best” should be of little solace. I will forever inhabit my failures to successfully act, and let those failures guide me the next time I can affect better outcomes for others.