The Speed of Dark


No matter how fast light travels it finds the darkness has always got there first, and is waiting for it. Terry Pratchett

People keep asking me if I’m ok. On the one hand, that’s good; it means the people in my life are caring, considerate, attuned to the anguish of others. On the other, I wonder if they are questioning my need to be sad, to grieve.

Being sad and grieving over a lost pet is a valid process. I am ok. Sad, but ok. I know I made the right choice. I know, having spent twenty-one years with my horse, Saiga, that I made the right call. Last summer, he could still scale the five-foot fence. Effortlessly. At twenty-nine he was still the master of his universe, in control. He was everything one imagines a horse to be.

Something in him had already died on Sunday. Something wild. Untamable. When I first arrived home and sat with his head against my leg, he looked at me. It was a knowing look. He became very still and his eyes implored me: Make this stop! Not to fix it, but to end it. It was a pleading sort of look that broke my heart.

And then he pulled himself to his feet, and tried, again, to walk it off. Ultimately, surrendering to his pain and staggering to his knees and falling to the ground again. And that hurt me more.

He was a proud animal. Not a horse for beginners. Not a being for the feint of heart. He had opinions and preferences. And I respected them. So did anyone who spent time in his space. And it was his space. King of all the fenced land.

He was here because he chose to be here. The fences were merely a formality.  Here was the preference.  Here was home. Here was where the people who loved him wouldn’t allow him to suffer.

And yes, I’m sad. I’ll miss him. There will be moments of panic—did I forget to close the gate?—before I remember, ahh, no need. I’ll miss him galloping across the property for corn-on-the-cob, grapes, apples. I’ll miss him moving from window to window as I move through the house. His napping beneath whichever window I was sitting near in the living room. I’ll miss the sound of his nickering when I turn on the kitchen light to get morning coffee. The silence is deafening.

But there is a deep sense of satisfaction edging my sadness. An odd sort of serenity. We spent years in each others’ company. And he had a good life—after he came to live with us. A life that deserved better than what would have surely been his future if I had made any other choice… And there is a contentment in knowing he will not suffer that. He moved on without the shadow of fear of the future—will I colic again? Will it be worse next time? He knew no what-ifs. He knew I would read in his eyes what he needed—and he knew I’d do just that. His trust gave me confidence.

When I turned on my computer to “announce” that he had passed away, there was a post on Facebook by Terry Pratchett. Pratchett is one of my favorite writers. I thought about him throughout the afternoon Sunday—he understands where Saiga was.  He knows what its like to be proud—not for beginners.  He’s brilliant, witty. Timely.

Terry Pratchett has early onset Alzheimer’s disease. I cannot imagine the place he is in; knowing, that one day soon, he’s not going to know anything. He recently made a documentary about assisted dying. He knows his time is winding down. I can see him reflected in Saiga. I sense that look in his eye. I haven’t seen the documentary. But, I know it says exactly what Saiga said to me. My heart breaks for him, for his grieving. His knowing. For his inability to make the same choices I made for Saiga. One day, in the not to distant future, other people will be making choices for him. He will no longer be master of his own universe. And he, clearly, has an opinion.

I find myself wondering, if, as humans, we don’t struggle with our grief because of the choices society says that we should make. The choices we are forced to live with and reconcile. Death is the inevitable end—no matter how fully we live. So, why do we fight it? Refuse to accept that someone is moving on? Refuse to accept our own mortality?

I am sad that Saiga is gone, but I am also able to rejoice in the life well-lived. A life only briefly diminished by incapacity—a moment, less than a day, when light met darkness. And, as Pratchett said, darkness is always there first, waiting.

I hope that when the amazing light that is Sir Terry Pratchett draws close to the inevitable darkness someone is there to see the look in his eye and know when it’s time to say goodbye. Someone who will allow him dignity in his passing. Someone with the courage to accept his or her own mortality. Someone will acknowledge that he’s not afraid of that darkness, he’s ready for it.

Word Count: 879

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2 thoughts on “The Speed of Dark

  1. Mel, this is moving. Our society thinks the darkness is bad. Darkness is cool, and quiet, a place to be at peace, or come to grips, to reflect. Of course it facilitates my favorite activity, napping. No one should question your need to be sad, or a bit lonely. We’ve gone through a bunch of pets over the years, and some of the cats I barely remember, but there was Bill the Cat, (originally Merlin) and Norm the 28 pound lump, and both of them left a hole. My kids still refer to other cats as having “bill-ness” or not, and he died before they were in elementary school.

    On a different note, imagine my thoughts when I checked FB this morning and saw that both you and my son started with a Pratchett quote. Hmmm…

  2. Mel, this might be your next essay–and a place for the Pratchett segment that came out of “Learning to Fly.”

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