Thursday, December 10, 2015

Medi-Vet lecture evening

Last night I went to a lecture evening organized by our vets, Medi-Vet Pet Hospital. It took place in the Ramat Begin Community Centre, and about 40-50 people attended.

The first lecture was by award-winning wildlife photographer Roie Galitz. He has devoted much of his professional life to photographing animals at risk of extinction. As he showed us some of his amazing photos and videos, he told us a bit about the background stories to some of them.

He also explained what is required to take good nature photos. Of course, good equipment helps, but he focused on the personal skills a photographer needs, with patience mentioned repeatedly as the most important quality. It seems to me that patience has become undervalued in our fast-paced, short attention span society. It used to be considered a virtue, and now if someone says "you're so patient", it is often with surprise and incredulity rather than admiration. I would really appreciate it if more people could develop their patience.

Photographers need not just patience, but the willingness to spend long hours waiting, still and silent, for the brief moment when they can take the perfect picture. Often this waiting involves extreme physical discomfort and sometimes even danger.

Another thing that can help create a good photograph is looking around to see if you are missing something. Sometimes there is a different angle or a less typical way of presenting the same scene. This is also something that can be applied to other aspects of life.

We are all amateur photographers nowadays, to it is interesting to think about what can turn our photos from mere documentation into art.

Here are some of his photographs, taken from his public Facebook page.

The second lecture was by our vet, Dr. Yadin Yeshurun, who is the owner and founder of Medi-Vet. He talked about his trip along the Israel National Trail. This is a series of nature trails extending the length of Israel, over 1,000 kilometers. It is intended for walking, but some sections are also suitable for vehicles and bicycles. Yadin chose to ride his horse along some of the sections in the south, in the Eilat mountains and the Negev desert.

I don't know how many people have travelled this trail on horseback, but Yadin told us about some places where he had to backtrack, and others where he followed camel tracks. I don't have any of his photographs to show here, but I really enjoyed seeing the landscapes of the south again. This reminded me that I haven't visited the south (apart from Beersheba) for many years. I love the subtle beauty of the desert and the sandstone formations.

Also, I have never experienced travelling alone, as Yadin did. I have probably never been more than a few hundred meters from another human being, though I enjoy what solitude I can find in my daily life. It seems to me a very different sort of experience, one I have read about often, but will probably never seek out. On the other hand, he had his horse with him, and though he didn't focus on this aspect, it must be a special feeling having the trust of an animal and spending time alone together in the wild.

Apart from the lectures, the audience also received gifts, intended for their cats or dogs. My cat bag contained two samples of Hills Science Plan dry food, a toy mouse, and a leaflet about fleas. The importer of Hills pet food sponsored the event.

There were also t-shirts available for sale, with the words "we are all equal!", and pictures of cats and dogs representing various social groups: a brown cat = people of colour; a rainbow dog = LGBT; a cat in a kaffiyah = Arabs; a dog with a kippah = religious Jews. I like the positive message that people with compassion for animals are also more likely to support equality for all humans.

I really enjoyed this event, and hope these lecture evenings become more frequent.

Friday, December 4, 2015

A year without Pandora

Today marks a year since we lost our cat Pandora. Her illness and rapid deterioration was one of the hardest and most traumatic experiences I've had. I'm trying to look back at the past year to understand how I dealt with the loss.

Pandora's decline was rapid, and it was just three and a half weeks from when we first noticed something was wrong to when we realized nothing was helping and we had to let her go. Throughout that time I was determined to do whatever I could to help her. Despite my pain at seeing her suffering, I tried to be strong and pragmatic for her sake. I wanted to remain hopeful, but none of the treatments were helping, and eventually we decided there was no point in extending her suffering since she wasn't improving. I feel completely certain this was the right and compassionate decision.

On the day that we said goodbye to her, I felt such pain and loss that I could hardly stop crying. When we came back home with an empty carrier, the first thing I did was to remove the items that would most remind me of Pandora: her food bowl, her tunnel, her collection of boxes. I knew it would be a difficult adjustment.

I tried to pull myself together that same day to write her memorial post and do justice to her memory. Looking at her photos and remembering her life helped me see her as a complete individual, with her different moods and behaviours, and various moments and experiences from her 13 years of life.

Over the next few days, I seem to have started employing defence mechanisms to protect myself from the pain of loss. It seemed that every time I started remembering her and feeling the pain, I somehow turned my thoughts away from her, afraid that I would be overwhelmed by crying and loss and unable to function. This meant that after the first few days I was no longer crying much, and the pain was somehow suppressed or submerged.

One thing that helped was my determination to devote myself to our other cat Eleni, who was then 15 and is now 16. She has also had health problems, and since she was not close to Pandora, losing her and becoming an only cat has actually been good for her. I've always been physically closer to Eleni, and she is a complete lap cat and snuggler, so she gave me a lot of comfort.

After about four months, my subconscious gave me a little reminder. I dreamt that I was telling someone about Eleni, and suddenly thought "I haven't seen Pandora for a while. Where is she? Is she safe?". Then I woke up, realizing that Pandora was dead. I think that was about the time when I came to terms with having only the one cat.

As time went on, the stabs of pain whenever I remembered something associated with Pandora lessened into acceptance of her loss. It used to bring tears to my eyes whenever one of us said "Pandora used to do that", or when I remembered her sitting on my desk, keeping me company while I worked.

For a while I was worried that I wasn't mourning "properly" and that I'd suppressed the grief and wasn't "dealing with it". I thought this might be unhealthy for me. But now that a year has passed, I think that I just mourned in a different way, avoiding the pain because I'm so sensitive, and letting time and my subconscious do the healing. I think different people grieve in different ways, and perhaps even the same person mourns differently with each bereavement. So I've stopped judging myself for turning away from my pain. It wouldn't have helped me (let alone Pandora) to be in tears for weeks on end after her death.

I still remember and miss her, but now she has joined the ranks of my past cats and her loss is no longer an open wound.