Recently, I checked off one of my bucket list items. I read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.
I learned many things after reading Tolstoy’s epic masterpiece. However, two points are salient. First, the human condition has not and never will change in that the tragedies of life are inevitable and that our lives are directly impacted regardless of our social standing. Second, I have always tended to believe in fatalism and that none of us actually possesses free will. I do not suggest a higher power is dictating our lives but that we as a group of conscious animals are products of our own environment and therefore act and react with frightening predictability. History consistently proves this.
I will never forget going for my daily walk after finishing War and Peace the previous night. I came upon a young raccoon sitting atop a snowbank by the side of the road. The creature beheld an odd position and its erratic behavior caused me to stand clear. I watched as the animal helplessly slid down the snow onto the road and then scrambled in great haste to climb back up again. It was then I saw the bright red line of blood against the frozen white.
The raccoon kept gnawing at its hindquarters with milky eyes and a steady tremble rippled throughout its body. Just then, an obviously well-to-do woman in a BMW pulled up. She lowered the passenger window as a hint of expensive but subtle perfume wafted through the air and I saw her fashionable clothes and bejeweled fingers. The lady was distressed because she had seen the raccoon earlier. She informed me that her husband had tried to save another raccoon a few days before but the veterinarian had the animal euthanized due to distemper.
Once the woman departed I realized distemper was the same malady cursing this poor animal. I reached into my pocket and withdrew some peanuts that I always carry for the squirrels in the park. I tossed several to the raccoon and he blindly but rapaciously began to eat. I noticed the squirrels (who always wait for me at the same time every day) sitting in the trees but not excited. It sounds ridiculous but the squirrels almost seemed to understand what was unfolding beneath them.
A rusted truck pulled up and two grizzled, bearded workers smoking cigarettes inquired as to what was wrong with the raccoon. I told the men of the situation. Expecting a shrug full of indifference, the men merely shook their heads with sorrow, wished me luck and continued on.
I stood there freezing and watching the raccoon suffering. I felt a lump in my throat. I retrieved my cell phone with numb fingers and called Animal Control. The nice lady asked if I could stay with the raccoon so it didn’t stray until some officers arrived. Obviously, I agreed.
Waiting for the Animal Control personnel, I spoke to the raccoon in soft tones and told him everything was going to be okay. You may laugh at this emotional display of mine but I love animals and they have as much right to be here as any of us. I fed him more peanuts and continued to wait for that merciful but dreadful moment. And it came.
The Animal Control men confirmed distemper and I was astounded by the gentle and sympathetic handling of the dying animal. I was told the raccoon had probably been hit by a car due to blindness. The men thanked me for calling because the raccoon would have perished from freezing to death, starving, or being hit again or beset upon by predators.
Broken-hearted, I watched as they gently loaded the raccoon into the van and drove away. It was at that moment the unstoppable tears came for many reasons; the decency and humanity of the wealthy woman and the seemingly rough men but most of all, someone had to cry for that raccoon and its circumstances as we hope someone someday will cry for us as we all have a purpose no matter how great or small.
Each day is a struggle for every form of life and perhaps it really was fatalism that I found that injured raccoon because I had no free will and there was no choice but to help.
It is no wonder Tolstoy is considered one of the greatest writers in history for he knew what we all share consciously or not: that despite life’s misfortunes and our caste, innate human decency must always prevail if we are to survive collectively.
I offer a very special thank you to Hamilton’s Animal Control Department. You are dedicated, compassionate and professional people.
Ben Guyatt is a stand-up comedian and a published author. Visit his website at www.benguyatt.com and follow him on Facebook. He also hosts The Ben Guyatt Show every Sunday at 9 pm on AM 900 CHML.