Sympathetic Joy Meets Smartcatchers

The nicest thing has happened.  We’ve won a prize from our fellow blogger Caren Gittleman, at Cat Chat With Caren and Cody.

This is big deal for us.  While we have never actually met Caren, she lives in the Greater Detroit metro area.  That is my home town, away from which I moved many years ago.  Matter of fact, just yesterday I was reading the bankruptcy-court opinion approving Detroit’s Chapter 9 petition and what a tale of woe that is.  But I digress.  Detroit is a nice connection between Caren and me.

Caren also celebrates Passover.  This is my favorite Jewish holiday, because it’s about liberation from oppression and that’s one of my most favorite aspirations.

Plus, this is especially nice because we never win anything.  Well, we won a six-pack of lithium batteries one time.  We’re glad to have them – we’re just saying.

This time we hit the jackpot.  We got over a hundred dollars’ worth of litter mats from Smartcatcher.

The boys inspect the loot.

mat2 002These are no ordinary litter mats.

Here is an ordinary litter mat.  We were struggling with this one before our victory.

mat1 001The first time I cleaned it, it tore in two places.  We’ve been glad to have it – we’re just saying.

These Smartcatcher mats will not do us like that.  They are thick and luxe.  Plus, they work.  Allergic to housekeeping as I am, I appreciate this.  No more, or greatly reduced, tracking through the house!

If you are a friendly person who reads cat blogs but who doesn’t actually share a house with cats, you may be wondering why this is such a big thing.  If you do share a house with cats, you need no telling.

These mats cost a lot, but they are worth it.  Right?  Let me recapitulate for you.  They are thick.  They are luxe.  They work.

Bugs inspects the box.  The box matters more than what came in it, of course.

mat-gifSo if that were all there was to it, that would be enough.  Daiyanu, as we say at Passover.  “Daiyanu” stands for the gratitude we can feel if we pay attention to the smallest things that make life more wonderful.  These mats are those, but not so small.  Cat people will understand.

But there is more.

Give-away competitions offered by bloggers are, I think, a nice way to keep the human in the commercial.  As you all doubtless know, we cat people need mountains of highly specialized kit and equipment and doo-dahs, well, not just need, but must have, covet.  We are talking about sharing a house with cats, after all.  So no ordinary things will do.  These giveaways are a sweet way to expose us to the mountains of highly specialized kit and equipment that we need and must have and covet.  Yet it’s not just about materialism, because one lucky winner amongst our blogging community gets, for free, something important to the well-being of ourselves and our favorite felines.

This is what has happened here.

And if that were it, “daiyanu” as we say.  But there’s more.

When Caren announced our win, a bunch of bloggers commented over at Caren’s
to congratulate me.  I especially appreciated Brian’s comment: “Congrats Anita! Hey, let your cats try it too!”

Now this kind of thing really makes me joyful.

In the Buddhist tradition, there’s a practice called “sympathetic joy.”  When others win, we’re happy.  When we lose, we do not whine.  We rejoice for the other one.  Zen Roshi Joan Halifax explains it this way:

“Learning to feel joy for others can help transform our own suffering and self-centeredness into joy.”

Watching Caren’s readers express joy on my behalf models how I’d like to be when the tables are turned.  Which they most often are, because, as I said, we never win anything.  I’m not whining.  I’m just saying.

I like to think, as Halifax supposes, that those who are sympathetically joyful, those who are that generous, “hav[e] a good home life and livelihood, encounter[ ] good friends and teachers, and [live] . . . according to strong inner virtues.  These supports help us learn to  rest in basic goodness . . . .”

To rest in basic goodness.  That is just what I need.  I collide, way too often and too painfully out there in this messed-up world, with aggression and accusation and blame and judgment.

I had a good dose of it hurled my way just yesterday.  Now it’s not like I didn’t participate in the situation that inspired the nastiness.  I live in a community that is pretty loose, so I have to defend my home turf strenuously.  I’m working on creating more harmony, but we haven’t arrived there just yet.  So let me tell you, friends, without the kind of modeling that Caren’s good readers offer, without their sympathetic joy, I could be pretty damn depressed about the whole mess.

Who approaches?  Stand and declare!

mat2 017-cropLike we didn’t know who was coming.

mat2 021-crop

The turf must be defended strenuously.

mat2 019-cropmat2 020-cropmat2 018-cropInterloper.

mat2 025-cropNot so easy, pal.

mat2 024-crop
Fight moves to big-box turf.

mat2 037

mat2 040-crop

mat2 031-crop
mat2 030-crop

So for all of you out there who cultivate sympathetic joy, and who freely offer it to others who win, when, this time, you do not, may each and every one of you win things that are important to you every single day of your lives.

mat2 050-cropI also want to give a shout-out to Smartcatcher’s wonderful co-founder Salina Tam.  When I got a shipping notice informing me that my mats had gone out to a supposed person whose name may or may not be “Anita Money,” of Gardiner, Nevada, both Salina and Caren hung in there and bird-dogged for me, over several weeks, until the post office got things sorted and the mats finally arrived in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

Nothing but good going on here, friends – from so many good people.

So these mats are more than just mats.

Happy Passover, happy Easter, happiness to you all, in full measure, to offset all the other stuff.

mat2 046-crop

mat2 047-cropcatrun

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For Gus

It is with a very heavy heart that I hear a feline friend is now ill and perhaps nearing the end of his long life. Admire Gus, here.

Note the heart-shaped mark, with his paws placed just so.

Ever since I first set eyes on Gus, I felt a strong affinity for him. It didn’t matter that he lives in Southern California and that I’ve never actually met him. The draw was real. I felt it back in August 2011. I found a post I wrote back then. At that time I thought I could relate to Gus so strongly because — like me with my own species but not, in my case, due to my tail — Gus had problems communicating with other cats because his tail was messed up. Read about it here.

His guardian is very knowledgeable about cats. He explained about Gus, here:

“The straight up tail is a definite sign of peace among cats – it’s like a handshake. In effect, Gus is responding to a outstretched hand with his hand inside his coat on a suspicious bulge. No wonder the other cats react badly, and that Gus gets twitchy from everyone reacting badly to him.”

Who could know that one year later, in August 2012, I would meet my Barney?

I think Barney and Gus look a lot alike. I think there’s something a bit eerie about this.

I know I am extremely sad.

Here’s Barney, trying to cheer me up.

gus1 002-cropBe happy, Ma.  This is how you do it.

gus1 003-cropIs your belly this floofy?  I thought not.

gus1 011-cropAh.  The Wand.

gus1 014-cropNow I must sleep.

Barney and Gus. Our boys, whom we love.

Coda: Just before I published this, I checked Gus’s blog one more time. He is gone.

In this most touching tribute, his human writes this:

“He even fought through his issues in cat communication with the kittens these last few months. They understood him very well and always treated him with respect due his age but never any fear. I think that made him happy.”

I think that makes me happy, too. Happy — as much as possible.


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Self, Not-Self

I just read an article on mindfulness, in which the author points out that there’s nothing so inherently great about “being in the now.”  Instead, we’re asked to understand that the way out from confusion and delusion, to becoming free from worry and corrosive care, is to grasp that all material beings and things are inherently unsatisfactory, transitory, or non-self-like.

And once we really get this view of reality – so coolly indifferent to our personal fate – then we might see clearly what we can effectively do for ourselves and others.

We are evanescent beings, passing from this material plane unattached.  We are also material beings, fiercely attached.  Both are true; both need attentive care and constructive concern.

now 002Fiercely attached to Bugs

now 003-cropFiercely attached to Barnes.

I put my hand to haiku, being persuaded by April as Poetry Month.

What is loved the most
Moves most toward felicity
Scorches most, in time.


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The Lowdown . . .

. . . On Resting Up.

resting-up 002-cropcatrun

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Come With Me . . .

casbah 002-crop. . . to the Casbah!


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Snap Out of It Ma!

Enough with the hand-wringing!  You know what day it is.  March 4th! 

March forth!

Time to play rumble.

Scene:  Bugs reclines in East Bed, peacefully contemplating the Meaning of Bird Feeder On Snow in Morning Sunshine. 

Enter Barney.

Note to Stage Manager:  East Bed can only carry a twenty-pound load.  Barney alone is close to that.  Multiply by additional ground-forces when inevitable play rumble begins.  This is no time to stop with the hand-wringing.  Hand-wringing re-commences.

birthday-gifBugs to Barney:  I have had about enough of your nonsense.

birthday 010-cropBugs to The World, including Bird Feeder:  I am leaving now.  (Exits stage left.)

birthday 013-cropBarney to Adult Supervisor:  This was not my fault.

birthday 014-cropBarney to Adult Supervisor:  You know you love me.

birthday 019Barney to Adult Supervisor:  Bring me Shoelace.  (Brings Shoelace.)  Thank you.

birthday 026-cropBarney to Adult Supervisor:  This is what Shoelace is for.

birthday 030-cropBarney to Adult Supervisor:  Take it away.  You may leave now.  I must rest.

birthday 034-crop(Adult Supervisor exits stage right.  Enjoys rest of birthday without cats’ participation.)


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Love and Loss

I think about these a lot.

My dad – and Horace Walpole – used to say: “Life is a tragedy to those who feel, a comedy to those who think.”

On one hand think-laugh, on the other feel-grieve.

dunno3 039

Bugsy right and left.

If only life, loss, were that simple.

I was running errands the other day when I came on the scene of an accident.  A young man on a motorcycle had rear-ended a car waiting to turn left, was thrown into the right-hand lane, was struck by another car, and died.

Police routed us drivers-by through a retirement complex.  Filing past old age on the one hand, and sudden early death on the other.

I spotted the young man’s naked arm, outstretched from under his shroud.  Pink and plump, palm up, fingers gently curved.  Suppliant to the heavens, on the cold dark pavement.

Might this not be enough to cause us pause in the running of errands?  To be silent for a moment of memento mori? To think, to feel, to do both?

Not us.

The on-line news-media carried a video showing the young man’s helmet and one shoe lying in the wreckage.

In the comment section, a person – I’ll assume she’s a woman – wrote about how she had held the young man’s hand as he died.  How she had clung to his helmet, as if that would help him hold onto life too.

Then she slid sideways into a rant about how the video had shown the helmet and one of the young man’s shoes lying in a different place from where she recalled them.  She wrote: “Was it necessary to embellish an already heart aching incident? How can the media justify doing this? I realize it’s a small thing, but to me there was no need to photograph this, when it is completely unreal and untrue.”

Whereupon internet trolls commenced to argue amongst themselves.  None of whom paused to consider that the first-responders, in trying to save a life, might have had to rearrange the scene a little.

A news-photographer commented that he “felt it his duty” to inform us that “ALL news photos are staged or posed.”  Another writer recalled losing a loved one to a car accident, grieved that the media never contacted the family, and concluded that the media are simply callous.  Another writer, oppositely, complained about the saturation coverage of another accident.  Another writer took issue with peoples’ “reading comprehension” of the first writer’s post.

A few sensitive souls begged to differ.  “Obviously the first commenter is experiencing trauma and people need to be gentle. We should be focused on the loss of life and those left behind to suffer.  Not debating whose reading comprehension needs work.”  “Arguing over shoe placement is stupid.”  “Why do you cruel people like to argue! The young man is dead, OK! This is not an argument about who’s right and wrong!”

Finally, weeks later, a letter was published from another witness.  This writer mourned the death of a stepdaughter who had been killed by a drunk driver.  But when the writer observed the care the first-responders lavished on the young man here, that person felt a healing.  “When I saw how he was protected not only physically but spiritually by our public servants, I am humbled.  I visualized these same people standing guard over my dear Margaret, when she could not stand for herself.”

So.  We are a complex species.

We feel when we can bear it and, when we can’t, we slide sideways into strife and irrelevancy.  Or into a pain that’s relevant to other matters, but not to the one at hand.

* * *

Yesterday we got buried in another huge ice-storm.  This morning, gazing out over a frigid spangled beauty, I grinned at Bongo, an ill-tempered little Schnauzer, as he scooted briskly along high on several inches of snow, never once breaking through the icy crust.  With my hand on Bugsy’s sun-warmed back, I thought about all this.

I remembered standing guard over my last cat Fang, as life left him.  I thought about how, for me, this enormous love I feel for my cats also marinates me in fear of loss, of grief.

icicle 006-cropBugsy apprehensive in the storm.

feathers2-001-crop Barney cool no matter what.

How uncomfortable this acute vulnerability makes me.  Please don’t tell me that the joy makes it all worthwhile.  I am also terrified.

* * *

I would like to be, with all this, like my dear friend in Michigan.  My friend has been a companion for many years to now-elder Ivy, a chocolate Lab.  Ivy is grappling with several illnesses.  My friend has exerted herself to the utmost in researching treatment options and possible prognoses.  She and Ivy are facing a great deal of uncertainty.

kim-ivy-kit-brushed2Ivy and her bud Stewie.  Art by heretherebespiders.

My friend says, purely and simply, that she wants to cherish every minute they have left together.  She tells me of trips to the lake, so Ivy can dip in even though walking on the rocks is hard for her now.  Special treats (need we say more, about Labs’s gastronomic gusto!).

I find my friend’s devotion to be simple and beautiful, a peaceful acceptance of what’s true.

I wish, for all of us, that we may enjoy that simplicity, that beauty.  I think, I feel, that simplicity and beauty are essential antidotes to that which is also absolutely true: That none of us is here together forever.

Sometimes I fight this harsh reality so mightily, I wear myself out.    I know that fighting it is exhausting and futile and is not really the optimum way to approach this pain.  I envy my friend’s passionate presence, in simplicity and beauty.

May such simplicity and beauty be visited on you, on me, on all of us.


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