Friday, November 26, 2010

Simon and Garfunkel -- "Bridge Over Troubled Water" (1970)

I'll take your part when darkness comes, 
And pain is all around, 
Like a bridge over troubled water 

"2 or 3 lines" has three kinds of posts.  First, there are the wiseguy show-off posts.  Second, there are the pedantic show-off posts.  Finally, there are the sentimental -- sometimes maudlin -- posts.  

This post fits in the third category.  You may want to get the Kleenex out.

I wrote about our dog, Hannah, shortly after we found out a few months ago that she had an aggressive form of bone cancer.  Many of you already know that we had her euthanized a couple of weeks ago.  I wasn't planning on writing about her any more, but here I am, doing exactly that.

My family had a fair amount of time to prepare for the inevitable, and Hannah did very well for a long time after the diagnosis -- she couldn't put any weight at all on her bad leg for the last couple of months of her life, but managed to get around reasonably well on three legs, and she otherwise seemed perfectly normal up until her last week or two of life.

We had a 5:30 pm appointment on a Friday to take her to our local vet for euthanasia.  I made plans to come home early from work to take her in -- my wife was deeply affected by her illness, and I knew how distraught she would have been if she had to take Hannah to the vet.

We all know what happens to the best laid schemes of mice and men, don't we?  

About 3 pm that Friday, the vet's office called my wife.  They had lost power, and the office was going to close early.  We could bring Hannah in first thing Saturday morning if we wanted to -- but my wife and I and both of our children who still live at home had to leave at 6 am the next morning to drive to North Carolina to visit our oldest son.  

The vet said she and the office staff could wait a few minutes for my wife to bring Hannah in if she wanted to do that.  She called me and after a brief conversation, that's what we decided to do.  

The vet and her staff spread a blanket in front of the reception desk (the examination/operating rooms had no windows, and were completely dark), and my wife sat on the floor as the vet gave Hannah one injection, waited several minutes, and then administered a second injection -- the one that would end her life.

This was a terrible experience for my wife.  She hung in there (with the help of a very sympathetic vet and her office staff) but she would have rather been anywhere else in the world.

As a result of the change in plans, I didn't have a chance to say good-bye to Hannah. 

It would have taken me a solid hour to get from my office to the vet's, and it obviously wouldn't have been reasonable to ask everyone at the vet's office to sit around in the dark for an hour until I arrived.  

I recently read an account of the last days of the 18th-century philosopher, David Hume.  When Hume's doctor visited him during his last illness, he told Hume that he would tell one of close friends that Hume was doing better and would likely recover.  But Hume -- who knew he was dying -- would have none of that.

"Doctor," Hume said, "as I believe you would not choose to tell anything but the truth, you had better tell him that I am dying as fast as my enemies, if I have any, could wish, and as easily and cheerfully as my best friends could desire."  Hume was able to have a final dinner with his friends shortly before his death, and seemed perfectly serene as he said goodbye to them.

Hannah's last moments, by contrast, were rushed and improvised.  I regret that -- partly for her sake but (let's be honest) mostly for mine.  I had a picture in my mind of what her end would be like, and it turned out being nothing like that.       

It would have been cathartic for me to be there at the end.  Several years ago, I held our old cat in my lap as he was euthanized, and I wanted to do that for Hannah as well.  It was the least I could do for her.

Would it have really mattered to Hannah?  I don't think so -- she was in good hands at the end.  Would it have made it easier for me to accept her loss?  Maybe -- I don't know.

Hannah was a part of our family for a long time, and until these last few months, she had the kind of long and healthy and active life that anyone who has a dog would hope for that dog.  We are thankful for her 13 years with us, and I'd like to think that all of us are better and wiser people for having known her.

I suppose one lesson that I learned that day is that you can't expect the bell to toll for you exactly on the hour -- it probably won't.  So be ready for that bell at all times, boys and girls.  Don't complain that it tolled ahead of schedule, or that you weren't ready when it did.  

What does all this have to do with "Bridge Over Troubled Waters"?

I was riding my bike last weekend, thinking about what the 100th song to be discussed on "2 or 3 lines" should be.  (If you've read my last post, you know what song I chose to be #100 and why.) 

So while I was thinking these deep thoughts, "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" popped up on my iPod, and I started thinking even deeper thoughts.  

After Robert F. Kennedy was assassinated in the summer of 1968, his body lay in St. Patrick's Cathedral in New York City, and then was transported by train to Washington, where it was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery.  I have a vivid memory of seeing film of the funeral train passing some of the thousands and thousands of mourners who had lined the tracks to pay tribute to Kennedy.

In my memory, the soundtrack to that film was "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."  But Simon and Garfunkel's recording of that song was not released until January 1970 -- 18 months after Kennedy was murdered.

I suppose it's possible that I saw the footage of the funeral train several years after Kennedy's death, and that whoever edited the film used "Bridge Over Troubled Waters" as its soundtrack.  It's also possible, of course, that the whole thing is a figment of my imagination.

As a pianist, it's my opinion that you can't improve on the combination of a human voice and a piano.  In support of that opinion, I offer "Bridge Over Troubled Waters."  (The pianist who performed on that record was Larry Knechtel, a veteran studio musician who also played harmonica and bass guitar.)

I don't know that this song has anything to do with Hannah and her death, other than that I associate it with Kennedy's death and so with death generally.  But listening to it that day brought her to mind.

I had hoped to take Hannah over the bridge that day.  Ultimately it didn't really matter, but I'm still sorry that things didn't go as planned.  I think I would feel better about Hannah's passing if I had had the chance to be with her at the end -- to say good-bye.  It didn't work out that way.  That's life.  

Here's "Bridge Over Troubled Waters":


Here's a link you can use to buy the song from iTunes:

Bridge Over Troubled Water - Bridge Over Troubled Water (Remastered)

Here's a link you can use to buy it from Amazon:

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