My religious mentor, Brother Edwin Reggio, C.S.C at St. Edward’s High School in Austin, Texas. told us (I was 16) that all humans have an inherent dignity attached and inseparable to them that has nothing to do with their morals or other questionable failings. He added thatsince every one of us was chosen by the higher being to come into the world, that action brought with it that Inherent Dignity (Brother Edwin was so forceful with those two words that I feel I must capitalize them.). We thought that by asking him if Hitler had an inherent dignity that we would put him in a position at best uncomfortable. But he insisted that even Hitler had those two words attached to his humanity.
I have never forgotten.
A few weeks ago I had to go to the hospital to have my bladder “tested”. The procedure was not painful and made easier because my doctor had two assistants, one a woman, the other a man and both had just the right kind of attitude. Particularly the woman as she would be witnessing (not a problem for her but certainly for me) an aspect of my body that is usually most private. The male nurse was Filipino so I (my mother was from the Philippines) told him that my nick name in Tagalog is Suput (sometimes written Supot). The nick name was given to me by Nonong Quézon (the son of the first Filipino president after the country was given its independence by the United States after WWII. The term, suput, means uncircumcised. I told the male nurse that he would soon confirm the accuracy of the epithet, not a good one in the southern island of Mindanao which is Muslim.
I left the session a tad minimized in my concept of being a human being. I thought that the procedure was simply an indignity (and of many more to come) of old age. On my way out I ran into a sprightly old man who told me he was 92 when I said, “Ah, the indignity of old age!”
Two weeks ago my 18 year-old female cat died in her sleep. She had the usual kidney disease and always wanted to eat but she was still getting thinner. She obsessively drank water all the time. But she became constipated so we took her to the vet who prescribed and performed an enema. I never thought such a procedure was used with animals. Although my Plata was a cat I still thought this was an indignity. We brought her home and by early morning she died with her eyes open. I had placed her by the kitchen heat register. Rosemary went down in the middle of the night called me to say, “I think Plata is dead.”
I have read too many crime novels as I told Rosemary, “I am going to put her into a shoe box before rigor mortis sets in.”
Only a week before Plata’s death, I had told my 13 year-old granddaughter that Plata would go to the new house (we are moving to a smaller house here in Vancouver mid January) one way or another. Lauren instantly understood. A mere three hours after Plata died I took her to the new house and buried her under our old garden ferns that I had put into the ground a few days before. Somehow in all my sorrow knowing that Plata will be with us on 7th Avenue is comforting.
Looking at Plata’s lifeless body, still warm, and not being able to discern any life in those previously lively eyes, threw me into a sadness that was most acute. At the same time I thought that death, at least as perceived on a cat inside a shoe box, was a most undignified occurrence. I would call it the indignity of death.
Brother Edwin, I am sure would have had some sort of comforting but philosophical words for this. But he cannot be reached as he too, in my eyes has suffered the ultimate human indignity, death.