Monday, November 2, 2009

Loving a cat

I am watching a sunset in shades of copper and tin, the dark brown trees now black, the sky almost turned from blue to gray. Peach at the horizon. It is too early for sunset here! Yesterday was the first day off daily savings time. It took us quite a while to realize that was Sheba's problem. Be glad I'm not posting an audio clip of what she does when she's insecure: [windup] Yaroweer, Yowl [repeat endlessly].

Sheba doesn't like it when things change. Routine is very comforting to animals and children - and me, I notice. You can feel Sheba sigh with relief at night when we get in bed the way we should. Then she jumps up the way she should, turns around, settles in down where my feet would be if she weren't there. After the light goes out she waits a measured amount of time, then thumps down and does what cats do at night. Patrols the perimeter, I suppose. She is always asleep on the bed when morning comes.

She yowled so long and hard yesterday afternoon that I lost my temper and yelled at her, regretting it in mid-syllable. It made her worse. She leapt up in nervousness and fled, still yowling. I realized that the answer was not anger but plenty of petting. Unfortunately, you can't pick her up and walk around going, "There, there," for she is afraid of being held, and goes into an hysteria of struggle. This cat is neurotic. She's not bad, uses her litterbox, doesn't scratch upholstery or people, doesn't even try to run out the door. Just neurotic. We are committed to her anyway. Oh, if only people were more that way about each other!

What love is - I had no idea when I was young. I won't try to define what I thought love was then, but now what I know is that love is first of all a decision to stick with some one. You are making them family, and saying, no matter what you do, we have a bond.

When you adopt a cat, because it is dependent, you are deciding to care for it. Is that love? Maybe not. But caring can generate tenderness, can flower into a wish to help them be happy for their own sake, not yours (though it is true that when the cat is unhappy we are all unhappy). It's that last part that impresses me, the wish for the well-being of another creature, and that makes love a spiritual act. It means growing away from our devotion to our own self, to having things our way and having someone else meet our standards and our needs. It means connecting empathetically. Being generous. If you do this for a cat, you are rewarded magnificently with that spontaneous, sweet sound of happiness, a purr.

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