My cat is quite the huntress. She skulks down the lengthy hallway, surely imagining all sorts of creatures hiding in the molding, prey for her feline passions. At thirteen years of age, the boundaries of her defined black and white markings have begun to blur somewhat, grey hairs invading the black areas, and all the beautiful white spaciousness of her throat, belly, and parts around her paws is yellowing slightly, much like the color of the beginning sunset along the beaches on the East Coast of the U.S. Perhaps that is because this is where she is from. I am a New Yorker and she is from New Jersey. Now, however, we are here, in California, where my family origins are. But that is another story. And I wonder if our early beginnings are where we end up after learning to strip away the layers of logic we have been taught, that insulating and often deadly mask we are taught to wear.
She is an aging cat, moving through the last years of her life with incredible dignity. But there is a beginning of that inevitability that lives within her, as it does in all of us. Parts of her face are packed with grey hair. Her eyes have become a bit dull. Her youthful spirit and sweet personality never hide although there are days when she struggles to keep it visible. She is petite, boarding frail now that illness has decided to reside in her, and seems fairly content although had life been different for her she would have been a noteworthy killer.
I don’t think she realizes what she has missed these years of being a house cat. She sits in the window part of the day and sniffs the air that drifts by softly but doesn’t seem to yearn for anything more than mornings on the enclosed porch, afternoons in the heating padded lawn chair in my studio, and occasional chin scrapes along the edges of the bookcase beneath the window on the far side of the house. She has her routine.
Her daily travels include a trip down our long hallway. Her prowling is purposeful. Her mission is worthy of noting as she prowls. She begins in a back bedroom, sticks her head out the doorway, and looks down the hallway to peruse the area efficiently. She steps over the wooden threshold, begins a nearly timid first few steps as she moves her head from side to side bringing into view everything possible. She issues one sharp meow as if alerting anyone and anything that might be lurking. She quickly moves to a stately stance, one that exhibits confidence with her strong legs solidly moving and her arthritic hips bringing up her rear with less than feminine grace but complete effectiveness. Her mission is to seek and secure the area, although the only thing there has been lately to seek out was a stray lizard which seemed to confuse her. Toy? Enemy? Food? It was clear she wasn’t sure and in that unsureness her choice was to let it live. There are lessons in that for all of us. Let it live. Be compassionate and swift in one’s decision but always opt for life unless and until we know what to do. Don’t be led by assumptions.
As she progresses down the hallway one begins to notice a wiliness that sits on her shoulders, a cat superiority that envelopes her as she switches from curiosity mode to surveillance and struts like the queen she knows she really is, keeping her queendom safe from invaders. She has always known what her job is. She is a guardian and the house sheriff, ready to intervene if necessary, to leap on anything that might move against those she loves or annoy her during her long naps on her blue blanketed, heating padded lawn chair.
Toward the end of the hallway she stops and looks back at her path. There is that minute of paused staring when her eyes are fixed and solid in a gaze of accomplished wonder. She is at the halfway mark. There are considerations and adjustments to make for the return trip. Anything hiding behind the walls might have shifted their position, or built armies, or even set traps for her. She gazes with the surety that comes with seasoned travel, the awareness that even if uneventful a trip is a worthy way to spend one’s time. In her aging mind, there must be reminiscent flowers and shrubs, the scent of freshly mowed grass and pine needle droppings. She balances the memories, snaps out of her paused gaze, and proceeds to the kitchen where she walks slowly in circles like the ancestors she has a sense of but has never known. She knows she isn’t them but also that she is directed by their legacy. And so, the circles slowly shrink – apparently, nothing will die today – her expedition for game ends here, in front of the refrigerator door, where she will be fed the reward of the day in a glass custard dish, licking herself clean in the corner before she heads back down the hallway. Life is often exhausting, hence the need for rest stops.
Always, at this point in her travels, she is picked up, hugged, spoken to and scratched into a state of loud purring. Her eyes are always on the distance, though. Her hearing isn’t as sharp as in her youth. It is clear she doesn’t always know what someone is saying. There is a blind spot in her vision although in her travels down the great hallway she doesn’t seem to be effected by it but as she is held and loved there is the knowledge that her illness is progressing. She weighs too little. There are moments of great lethargy as well as moments of silly activity throughout her day. Her rabbit fur mice lay dormant and lonely in a toy box that she no longer frequents. The litter pan takes longer to get to and suddenly there is more than one water bowl for her. “Keep her hydrated and feed her anything she wants.” All these reminders of who she was then, and who she has become, flood everything and she is let back down on the floor where she contemplates the trip back home. It seems to get longer every day.
There is the second long paused glaze as she recalculates, summons the cat gods and their wisdom and utters a yowl as worship and gratitude for their unending and faithful guidance. Once again, the legs are solidly planted on the floor, her stance is strong and purposeful, the arthritic hips click and align and she begins moving although a bit slower than before. She is as intentional as earlier and journeys back down the hallway, passing each doorway with caution as if all the lights are green and in her favor and, finding no perpetrators or villains, enters the studio with a backward glance, yowls one more time, and slowly climbs up to the blue blanketed, heating padded lawn chair where she will sleep and dream for hours of what life might have been like if she’d been free.
Every single day, I wonder – Should I be less selfish…should I let her out the back to roll around in the sandy grass near the cows… should I clear a path away from the dogs next door and the guns I hear pop in the distance and just let her roam…let her be the killer she could have been until she….I cannot think of what would happen…free her? Should I? Could I, at this point, after all these years?
How do we ever know what is the right thing to do for the beings we love, for the causes and the projects we have to make decisions for, for the goals we set, for the paths we walk down and the responsibilities we encounter as we go through life? What if we’re wrong? I question myself. There are moments of complete confusion mixed with crystal clear insight. It is simply a mixed bag of concerns.
I know one thing. In this world of choices, the only right choice is the one that comes from the center of our hearts. We don’t know what endings are in store for us, we only know that there will be endings. That is the only given and we aren’t necessarily sure of that any longer. Therefore, the only sensible way to live is in beginnings that stem from love. Using logic never works, not when it is void of the heart, of the intention of love, of the goal of love – of the mission of love.
As we walk our path, embrace our demons – imaginary or otherwise – we are the ones who decide what we see, what we will react to and what that reaction will be, and how we will interpret the trip. We determine where we will be when the trip is over, how much love will be in our hearts and that, I am convinced, depends on how much love we give away. It seems to be an endless flow of emptying and refilling.
Wherever your love is, look now and embrace it. Be grateful. If you can’t find love, create it by changing how you make choices. Choose to let love live. Share it. Give it away. Give more and more. The more you give, the more is there. Give it to people, pets, things that grow in the earth, the water, the sky. Learn to get down on your knees and praise what you feel. Don’t label it. Don’t praise someone else’s god. Praise your own. Praise your garden, your friends…….pay attention to the cat going down the hallway or the dog growling in its sleep. Fall in love with choosing what you experience. Make choices based on your heart, on what comes into your soul and speaks to you, not on what you were taught to choose or be. That is your head speaking. Your head wants you to be afraid to travel. Your head lies. Your heart – when you really listen to it, when you dig down and break open all the walls – does not know how to lie. It only knows how to get you down the hallway and bring you back purring.