Suffering and indifference
A COUPLE of weeks ago, I posted a status update on my Facebook wall calling out for someone to foster a little crippled cat I picked up from the street. The post largely went ignored. After all, no one really likes sad and petty sob stories, let alone a story about a plain and broken street cat.
But this is not just a sob story about the poor unwanted cat. Neither is it an attempt to proselytize. This disconcerting observation resulted from events that unfolded during the past few weeks. It is, in a way, a personal reflection on what Catholics commemorate during the season of Lent, a time when we are called to contemplate and repent for our transgressions—both in the things we have done and those that we have failed to do.
While everyone has the right to commemorate the season in whatever way they see fit—whether it is an extended weekend getaway or conducting acts of penitence—it should not be too difficult to set aside some time to reflect upon uncomfortable truths that face society today.
This reflection of mine begins with an encounter with the street cat I named Margaux. She wasn’t always a street cat. She used to be an indoor kitten until a neighbor of ours moved out of the block, consequently abandoning her and her canine sibling outside their property. Both Margaux and her brother eventually realized that their owner was not going to return, and thus began scavenging for food and taking shelter underneath cars parked on our street.
Some of our other neighbors were kind enough to bring out some scraps after meals, but when I approached to see why they wouldn’t take the animals in, I was faced with reasons ranging from “they will not get along with our pets,” “they could be carriers of mites, ticks or fleas” to “it’s too much work.”
In my frustration, I reached out to the barangay hall and civil societies that look after the welfare of animals, but no one would take Margaux in. It was either not their responsibility or they simply did not have the space or personnel to attend to my request.
As fate would have it, both Margaux and her brother were eventually struck by passing vehicles, resulting in trauma to their hind legs. Fortunately, the dog survived and expanded his horizons in search for a new home. Margaux, on the other hand, sought refuge in our plant box and pleaded for help.
Seeing that no one else would respond, I came out, slid her listless body onto a piece of cardboard, and brought her inside. It was a feat that scared the wits out of my mother, who was concerned about my health and weak immune system.
The next morning, I took Margaux to the vet. The consultation concluded with a diagnosis of muscle trauma and a dispensation of painkillers. That afternoon, I posted a couple of photos and a call for adoption on my Facebook page.
Days passed and not a single response came in to my call for a foster home. Margaux began to settle into the comforts of our living room, but some more serious health complications began to surface. Her stomach was beginning to bloat, and she had not passed urine or feces in four whole days.
When I brought this to the vet’s attention, he suggested a blood test to measure her BUN and creatinine levels—routine tests that I, too, have become familiar with in the course of chemotherapy for metastatic colorectal cancer.
A day later, I received the heartbreaking news. Margaux tested positive for FIV—the feline equivalent of what we humans know as HIV/AIDS. Her immune system was struggling and her condition would only deteriorate from then on. Though it was never explicitly said, we all knew that her death was nigh. I knew in my heart that this made her even more undesirable, and the hope of finding her a foster family was slowly fading away.
After two days of religiously cleaning up after Margaux’s bouts of incontinence, changing retrofitted baby diapers, and trying to keep her as comfortable as possible, I witnessed her having a seizure and quietly taking her last breath. During her final moments, I was reduced to heartbreak and tears—tears of guilt for not having acted sooner, and heartbreak at the failure of humanity to be compassionate toward the unwanted, unloved and uncared for.
As my husband, our household helper and I quietly wrapped Margaux’s body and laid it in a box, I could not help but think about the other uncomfortable truth that we have to face in life. The message of Pope Francis at the beginning of Lent suddenly came to mind: “Indifference to our neighbor and to God represents a real temptation for us Christians… We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this were someone else’s responsibility and not our own.”
We are often swept away by the current of our daily lives, and are forced to grapple with ebbs and flow of our own existence. This instinct to protect ourselves often leaves us little time and room for others, and consequently, breeds apathy toward their struggles and suffering, whether it is financial difficulty, health troubles, hunger, loneliness, personal misfortunes, degradation of our environment, or even a poor cat’s attempts at survival.
When we do acknowledge the existence of these social ills, it is easy for us to point out reasons behind those problems and attribute the blame to something or someone else. It is as if society now reveres one’s aptitude for logical reasoning rather than one’s capacity to perform acts of kindness.
In a few cases where we do genuinely feel sympathetic toward the hardship of others, we are often stumped with the uncertainty of how to extend sympathy. Perhaps because we do not have the words to convey how we feel. Maybe we do not know what it is like to be in the given set of unfortunate circumstances. Or simply because we are idly hoping for the problems to be solved on their own.
What is most disturbing about this is we are slowly being swallowed up by a downward spiral of resignation without being aware of it, because we live in an age where society is fixated on quality of life, pursuit of happiness, personal interest and other notions of success.
Lent has come to a close. I hope all of us, in the likeness of Jesus Christ, would take up our cross and make a conscious effort not to turn a blind eye to the suffering and pains of others in society. To echo what political theorist Edmund Burke once said, “the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Natasha Cruz-Gutteridge, 29, is a former marketing communications executive battling stage 4 colorectal cancer.
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