December 21, 2016 by Julia
On December 10th, I attended a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu (BJJ) Black Belt test for the first time. The test ends with an exercise called the Shark Tank where the test taker is pitted against a “tank” of fresh opponents who come one after another in order of rank. It isn’t a test about being the best at BJJ. It isn’t about keeping up with fresh opponents for 4, 8, or 40 minutes. It’s a gut check – keeping fighting, don’t give in. Survive it with your attitude intact. As I watched the black belt shark tank wind towards the end – the test taker going up against the black belts – it hit me that this experience is an apt analogy for going up against DM.
The DM shark tank is drawn out – the fight is daily, the duration is unknown. It starts out small, not so hard to adjust to. Getting tired a little quicker, more likely to slip or stumble. It wouldn’t be called easy but perhaps it’s harder to watch than it is to endure. The progression of symptoms is like the progression of the tank, with the increased experience of the opponents adding new layers of complexity and difficulty. The people on the sidelines can coach them and be supportive, but ultimately the dog must find a way through it on their own.
At the end of this shark tank, there is no joy or pristine new belt to greet them. There are hugs and tears from those who loved them, those who are proud to see how hard they fought. But there is no “winning” against this disease. They can fight it but they cannot conquer it.
At the black belt test I watched, the last person to enter the tank was the coach. The one who, aside from the student, had the most invested in the test. What he did to his student is violent but it was a necessary violence. A final push, a final response. The timer buzzed and the shark tank was over. Both of them were exhausted, spent, done.
Dash’s shark tank is over. He’s shown us more heart than we could ask for, fought for over 13 months, pushed through for longer than any of us could have predicted. He is tired. We’re tired. On Wednesday, December 28th, we’ll give him his “reward” for enduring this disease – a death with dignity.