It’s a little after six am and the air is already weighed down by moisture. The sky hangs heavy; gray clouds tying to decided whether to launch a storm or disperse. I am standing in the garden wearing only shorts, short of breath. I have just hurriedly dug a shallow hole into the red soil, clumps of clay are stuck to the shovel, my shoes, and calves. I feel the tension in my shoulders and think about how I really need to start exercising this year. I like the way my thin muscles pulsate and throb. I look beside me and see it.
A underdeveloped pouch of skin and bones, made stiff, emptied, extinguished before any muscles could form. His mouth is snarled open revealing a set of tiny useless teeth. The two eyes encrusted with infection and sealed shut, seem to be miraculously staring straight into the newly dug hole. A mob of ants crawl, uncharacteristically about the hole, out of formation, as if they are expecting the body. I quietly monitor their sinister motives, until I remember their role. I go inside to get Kaia.
I want her to see this. I want her to be a part of this. I want her to understand that death is a part of life. I want her to understand. I will not hide the dead kitten and make up some clap trap about heaven and lie to her about the need of some mythical creator to have his kitty back. I respect her too much for that. There is nothing scary or sad about death when seen through the eyes and heart of mother nature.
Inside she is still asleep in bed. She is so precious lying amongst the sheets, her porcelain skin flush with life. I rethink my thoughts on the gravity and sadness of death as I see her lying there so full of life even when asleep. I don’t want to wake her. I don’t want to take her into the yard and show her the tiny kitten we rescued just yesterday. I don’t want her to see the lifeless body and process what that means in her tiny brain, but I know I must.
“Kaia? Sweety, it’s time to get up.” Nothing she is motionless.
“I have something important to tell you. Can you hear me? You really need to wake up. Okay?” She begins to rustle. A tight stretch. Rubbing of the eyes. Consciousness.
“Open your eyes and sit up okay? This is serious.” She springs up and releases a massive yawn. Her cheeks are stained red and scarred with pillow marks. Her hair a tangled wildness.
“Good morning Sweetheart! Are you awake? I have to tell you something that might make you sad.” She is instantly awake. Somehow exited by the possibility of sadness or an emotion that may overwhelm her. I am wondering if this is the best idea.
“Remember the kitty we found in the yard yesterday?”
“The one with the hurt eyes that the mommy left behind?” Her voice is pure and uncontaminated by anything that is not innocence.
“Yeah, that’s one. The one we brought inside, fed, and put in the box upstairs.” I try to hold her hand, but she pulls it away and looks to move upstairs. As if her running up stairs will assuage any anxiety that I may be creating. But she turns back, knowing that my explanation will be easier to understand than anything she may see up stairs in the box. I find this strange, because death is still a very foreign notion to her, so what could she possible think could have happened to the kitten.
“He didn’t make it through the night pumpkin.” Silence. I let the idea sink in. She is motionless. More needs to be said.
“Did he died?” She is looking straight at my eyes not for confirmation, but understanding.
“Yes he did. Do you know what that means?” She is motionless. More needs to be said. She shakes her head.
“It means that he will not wake up anymore. He is done with his body.”
“Where did he go?”
“Well that is the most amazing part. Do you want me to show you?” The excitement is building. Death need not be an ending.
We are standing outside near the hole and the stiff kitten. The shovel leaning against the tree. Her fuzzy white pajamas appear so foreign against the mud, the grave, and the dead animal at which she gazes. There is so much I want to tell her. I want to explain to her the notion of existence beyond birth and death. The power ot letting go of attachments, the beauty of impermanence.
“You see Kaia, nothing ever really dies.” She doesn’t seem to believe me. She looks at the corpse and back at me, as if to say that orange ball of fur looks pretty dead to me.
“Remember yesterday when we were talking about how some animals eat dead thing and poop.” Yesterday in the car we were talking about maggots and insects. Don’t ask.
“You mean the baby flies like caterpillars, but for flies not butterflies.” She is an excellent listener.
“Exactly! Remember we said that they are very important because they help move things through nature.” She is staring at the cat. I need a new approach.
“Let’s look at these roots.” I hunch down and grab a set of exposed roots from the mango tree at the base of which we have dug our hole. She gets down near the mud as well.
“Do you see these roots and these ants? “ She nods her head. Affirmative.
“They are all part of nature. Those flowers, the grass, the clouds, even the sun is all part of nature. Can you show me anything else that is a part of nature?”
“Exactly, that is a very important part,”
“Are we part of nature?” She interrupts.
“Of course we are. Good one. What about the kitty?”
“But the kitty is died.”
“That is okay. Things that have died are still a part of nature. They are actually very important parts as well. You see, they help feed everything else. We are going to put that kitty into this hole so he can help feed our garden. His body will slowly become part of these ants and this tree. It will become part of the soil and some of those flowers.”
“The kitty will turn into a flower?”
“Exactly!” She is motionless. Nothing more needs to be said.
I place the kitten into the hole and quickly bury him beneath the dirt. We stare in silence as I pat down the mound with my foot.
“See, the kitty is not gone, he has just entered nature.”
“What does entered mean, daddy?”
“He is now part of our garden.” Silence.
“But I really wanted to keep him Daddy.” Her lip is quivering and her eyes tear up. The lesson on attachment and impermanence will have to wait.
“I know you did, sweetheart. I know you did.”