There’s this mistaken belief out there – so widespread, it’s almost universal – that cats are aloof. That’s on a good day. On a bad day we get an even-worse mistake: Cat-demonization. This is on par with another very bad mistake, which is the demonization of women as witches.
There’s this other, better-informed view that cats are simply part-wild, independent and mysterious. And that some women, believed to be witches, were really healers.
Likewise, there’s this mistaken opinion out there about me. That I’m selfish. That I’m willful, for not honoring my mother as she would like.
I sucked up this mistake with my mother’s milk. It’s made me sick my whole life. So I’ve been sorely tempted to turn it back on my mother and, also, on others who endorse the view. Starting with my mother. She came first, after all. (She “started it.”) She’s the one who’s selfish. She’s the one who’s willful, for not honoring me as I would like.
If I were to indulge in pursuing this mess in that way, I reckon I’d be pretty much doomed to spend the rest of life locked in a closet with my mother and somebody threw away the key. You couldn’t call that living. She and I pointing the finger at each other and that’s only just the commencement of hostilities.
I would rather think that both she and I are mistaken. We’re both missing the point. Which is, that neither of us really knows who the other is. Which is, that we are whom we are, not necessarily whom we think others are telling us we are.
The point is: To know ourselves. The point is: To know the borders of our knowledge. To stand at those borders and to peer into the abyss of bafflement just beyond, and to act with the grace to be humble about it.
My cats have the grace to help me become whom I want to become.
The person I want to become is the person who knows that she understands the cats’ world only in the most superficial and rudimentary sense of the word “understand.” And, crucially, to be the person who knows that she does not know. Which is an awful lot to not-know about.
And how is any of this not-knowing bearable? In any way? When we, as biological beings, are susceptible to an elaborate chemical-reward-system in our brains, one that incentivizes certainty and that penalizes not-knowing? I’ve written about this before, here.
Grace. Humility. Love. I think that’s how this is bearable – but, really, it’s a mystery.
I have a good friend. He was devoted to his girlfriend but she moved out and left him, taking her cat, whom my friend also loved, with her. So what kind of person is my friend? The kind who answers his ex’s frantic call when the ex had to go to work and the kitty was nowhere to be found. The kind of person who would stump around the ex’s new neighborhood, calling kitty until he showed up and followed my friend, across traffic on a busy street, safely back to the ex’s new home.
My friend is the kind of person who, over this specially brutal winter we’ve just endured, fed and housed a stray cat in his shed. Hence the name “ShedKitty.”
A milestone. My friend just posted pictures of ShedKitty come out of the cold and into my friend’s living room (though my friend tells me ShedKitty still prefers to spend nights in The Shed. It’s all about the brand, after all). This same ShedKitty has now hung out for a spell on my friend’s couch. Sniffed around. Showed some belly.
My friend models for me, then, the kind of person I want to become. And he’s the kind of person whom I want to be happy, in his own right, in this bad sad world so full of misunderstanding.
From time to time, I get fed up with my kitties’ refusal to be hugged-on. I simply manhandle them – “personhandle” them, I prefer to say – into my arms. I call this deplorable practice “mandatorization.” There comes a time when I simply cannot bear one more instant of all this honoring-of-the-cats’-space. It’s just mandatory. I just demand that these kitties submit to my will, no more ifs-ands-or-buts about it.
Last evening I mandatorized Barney. Usually he tolerates the outrage with his customary good cheer. He grizzles some, and he doesn’t tolerate the outrage for long, but by then I make sure I got my happys on and I let him go.
Not yesterday. Was it the impending tornado that killed sixteen people, or eighteen as I have lately heard? Surely not – that monster hit 177 miles away. Was it thunderstorms? More likely. Alignment of the stars? Who the dickens knows.
Most likely, it was my menacing flip-flops.
Anyhow, Barney took one look at the flip-flops, freaked, and – recently clipped claws notwithstanding – scratched hell out of my belly and thighs on his way over and out.
Clearly a freak-out. No sign of targeted aggression. Nevertheless, it hurt like hell. I wondered, at that point, why I put up with this.
The answer came back simple: I love Barney.
The answer is more complicated: I know what it is to be misunderstood. I identify with cats in that way.
It’s my mother’s mistake, to call me selfish. It’s my mistake, to believe her.
And in any case, the love that runs between Barney and Bugs and me does not run between my mother and me. At least not in any way I recognize, and that’s what matters most to me.
That’s doubtless both her and my mistake.
So rather than tolerate all that mess, I’m looking elsewhere.
I’ll take the love that runs between my friend and how he shows up for an ex who done him wrong, and for a kitty he loves. And for another kitty he’s working on loving.
I’m taking the love that runs between my cats and me.
Any other take on the matter just locks and loads into a cycle of misunderstanding, mistrust, and misery.
I say: Out with the lock-up. Out with the “mis-es.”
That’s my take, and I’ll take it. On the chin sometimes – but I’m taking it. One fine day, and maybe even right this very second, I’m-a take it to the bank.