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Gratitude 2 comments

This morning, my cat Sophie woke me up. She thinks it is fun to bring a toy onto the bed at around 6:30 and to play with it. This morning, it was her new catnip mouse – the toy du jour. Often, it is a crinkly foil ball. She likes crinkly things. Sometimes, I am the toy she plays with, although the noises I make are more yelps than crinkles. Recently, she has taken to lunging at whatever necklace I have on. With no warning. Earrings are also popular.

But, this particular morning, it was the catnip mouse that got things rolling. I lounged in bed later than I meant to, patting happy purring Sophie, rolling my eyes at Andy Barrie, drifting in and out of consciousness, before finally getting up. This is a “non-contact” day for me, meaning that my presence is not required on campus. I have a series of projects that require my attention but that can be worked on from home. I did, however, need to take Sophie to the vet first thing. The vet won’t prescribe standard flea stuff without seeing Sophie first, and weighing her. Which, personally, I think is a cash grab, but … whatever. Sophie was deeply unhappy about this adventure, meowing all the way there, and all the way home in the car. There was parking right outside the vet clinic so, round trip, we were gone less than 25 minutes. I released a relieved Sophie back into her habitat, and unloaded clean laundry out of the dryer. My laundry machines are in the “powder room” on the main floor which is also where Sophie’s litter box is, so I mumbled about the one thing that I wasn’t looking forward to when I considered getting a cat – tramping over cat litter on the floor in my bare feet. I really am not a fan of treading on cat litter.

I made some breakfast, mid-morning. I’m reducing carbs, especially after Cate forced me to eat extra potatoes last night at dinner, so I skipped toast. I fried onions, mushrooms, red peppers together and then threw in beaten eggs with low-fat cottage cheese as well as a tiny lump of bleu cheese crumbled in. I sliced a tomato on the plate and fetched some fresh basil from my window box while the eggs were setting. Chopped the basil, sprinkled it on the tomato and drizzled some balsamic over top, and finished with a tiny flourish of kosher salt. Stirred the eggs and then plopped the eggs on the plate beside the tomato/basil garnish. Needless to say, the coffee was excellent.

I sat with my breakfast and coffee at the computer, fetching also my schedule and lists of things that need to happen today, tomorrow and for the rest of the week. I had a momentary brain fart in terms of remembering what I’m up to this week in the evenings, but between Outlook and my homemade paper schedule, it all came flooding back. I ate my breakfast, and started to review my projects, opening files on the computer and reviewing them.  I answered e-mails. I sipped yummy coffee and checked in with Facebook. Sophie, having forgiven me for hauling her off to the vet for no apparent reason, assumed one of her favourite vantage points, at my right elbow on the computer desk. She sits there, her fur just lightly touching my arm, purring softly as she looks out into the living room, keeping watch in case anything unusual should happen. I spoke with a friend on the phone about some plans we have for later this week. I texted my lover. OK, perhaps I texted her several times. I thought about my projects and did some planning and organizing.

All this time, this morning, I’ve been anticipating the conversation I knew would come, and that I knew would put all this in some kind of perspective. A dear friend, someone I’ve known for a long time, has had a tragic death in her family. A suicide. There are so few words of comfort or solace as my friend and her husband re-enter their lives and attempt to find some sense of normalcy and balance. I am humbled at the courage and strength her family will need to get through the shockwaves of grief and mourning that are bound to reverberate for a long time. I am sad that someone so loved, so intelligent, so skilled, would see no other options before him.

I am guilty, as we all are, of taking so much in my life for granted on a day-to-day basis, starting with my health in all its aspects: mental, physical and spiritual. It is true that I’ve done a better job of looking after myself physically in the past few years, paying more attention to what I eat and to my general level of physical activity. But, I wouldn’t be motivated to do that if I didn’t think my life was worth living. Thus, really, that effort begins with giving a damn, and understanding that my existence has value of some kind. I’m grateful that I have sufficient mental and cognitive fortitude to grasp some sense of my own value, and my extreme good fortune, and enough spiritual awareness to be occasionally reflective about it all.

It is true that I have struggled with a lurking sadness that sometimes dips into depression. I have known a lonely, valueless desperation and, in a sense, I’m grateful for that experience, too. It taught me a lot, including an understanding of what it takes to steer my emotional ship to safer, healthier waters. I’ve been able to keep a steady hand on the rudder for some time now.

I’m grateful for being employed in a job that allows me to do good in the world, and that, miraculously, pays well enough for me to afford to live in a comfortable, safe, kinda funky home, drive an outrageously nice car, and shrug off the occasionally ridiculous vet’s bill. I’m grateful that I have clients who find my skills worthy of remuneration and who understand my need to work around a teaching schedule. I have a comfortable bed, my own laundry facilities, and a refrigerator that is never empty.  Every three weeks, a nice young lesbian brings me organic vegetables that I then have to figure out how to eat before they go off. I can afford flea prevention medication for my cat, hockey fees, gym fees, and prime rib dinner from time to time.  I can afford fistfuls of supplements that fill in my nutritional gaps and keep me healthy. I have a clean stove to cook on, with gas supplied from who knows where. Clean water comes out of my tap and my computer turns on (usually) when I ask it to. The water goes into making my coffee, and my computer helps me source out new fair trade coffee beans – which I can afford to order, have delivered, and can grind in my Italian burr grinder. It is ridiculous, really, how abundant my life is at times.

I have a broom to sweep up the cat litter, and the musculature and coordination to achieve such a task.

I have the ability to appreciate good music and to allow it to lift me up and take me to new places. I can afford the occasional film that also transports me, and am determined to put one new piece of original Canadian art on my wall annually.

I have a multitude of friends to eat with, cook for, laugh with, cry with and play with – hockey and music, usually, but also Scrabble.  Old friends, new friends, close friends, fun friends, oddball friends, long-distance friends, neighbour friends, sometimes friends, always friends. I’m grateful for all they show me of themselves, and for what they reflect back to me, of me.

I have a lover whose heart is even more beautiful than her arms, if that is at all possible. Together, we have plans that make me look ahead with eagerness in a way I haven’t done for so long, if at all.  If now is this wonderful, I can hardly fathom how fabulous later will be.

It is abundantly clear to me, as I deal with my students each week, as I turn on the news and see strife both close to home and far away, and as I hear of tragedies such as the one my friend is confronting in her life right now, that not everyone has it this good.  Even if a person has the trappings of a life of abundance, it isn’t a given that they have the capacity to appreciate it, to savour it. For whatever reason, what looks like a rich, colourful life on the outside may look grey and shadowed to the person living it. It is also true that it is almost impossible to show someone the colour and beauty within their own life if they are not able to see it themselves. Sometimes, I wonder if we nursed this single capacity in our children – the ability to not take even the simplest beautiful life-giving things for granted – if we’d have less aggression and strife in all aspects on this planet. If we knew we had all we need, already, I wonder if we’d be so anxious about acquiring more?

That does seem an over-simplification, doesn’t it? I know. Wishful thinking, I’m sure. But, if you would indulge me, please, give a few minutes to this exercise yourself. Today. Think of what you have to be grateful for. Hug someone you love.

Or, in my case … shrug, sweep up the cat litter … hug the cat. Can’t hurt. And, you never know, it might help.

Catz 1 comment

Meet Sophie. Isn’t she adorable? :-)

There should be red carpet for me to pose on.

There should be red carpet for me to pose on.

Bags-r-Us. Especially crinkly ones.

Bags-r-Us. Especially crinkly ones.

My PlayCat pose.

My PlayCat pose.

All in a day's play.

All in a day's play

Having Sophie around takes me back to two other times in my life. First, when I was little, I remember being “in charge” of the barn cats on our farm. This was a self-appointed position. I was probably four or five when I became kitty maven. I adored the semi-feral creatures and routinely spirited saucers of Mom’s precious Carnation Evaporated Milk, normally reserved for use in coffee, out to the shed for my furry friends. My Dad and brothers tried to discourage this, saying that hungry cats could catch more mice and rats in the barns, but I paid no mind to this absurd perspective.

There were usually between 10-20 cats at a time on the farm. The population would fluctuate. Cat Matriarch at the time was Sandy, an orangey-ginger cat who was likely mama to many of the others. She was pretty ragged around the edges, often appearing in the mornings with a chunk of fur missing, or a kink in her tail, or another scar on her ear. As rough as her non-domesticated life appeared to be, she was always, always, gentle and sweet with me. Immeasurably patient, never scratching or hissng or behaving aggressively, even if I got too close to any of her newborns. My main visual memory of Sandy is of her looking at me, sighing, and sort of half closing her eyes with a combination of exhaustion and resignation. She could always manage a purr for me, and some kneading.

Every year, there were several batches of kittens to be ooh’d and aah’d over. They would be born in the hay mow, well-hidden by clever cat mamas, to be discovered only after hours of patiently following the distressed-sounding mews. Or, sometimes, they would be born in a tool shed or implement shed, or in the garage behind the house. I was always on a mission to find the kittens, somehow thinking, god-like, that they needed my intervention. Not surprisingly, I also have very clear memories of cat mamas carrying their babies to and fro by the scruff of their necks, moving the latest kitten batch to a more secure hiding place, away from all self-appointed god-like creatures.

I decided, when I was five, that little wee tiny kittens don’t “meow”. They squeak out a syllable that sounds like”at”, like they are trying to say “cat” but can’t quite get the whole word out. If you listen to a wee kitten, you’ll hear it, perhaps – or maybe your inner five year old will be able to. I sat with multitudes of cats and kittens, for hours. They were my friends, out there on the farm, miles from other five year olds. I adored their serious expressions, their oddly squared-off noses. How some cats always look shocked or surprised or vaguely scandalized by the activity around them. Some will relax, some never do.  The behaviour that I interpreted, as a child, as “playing” is really “learning how to stalk and kill things.” I liked being greeted by a flurry of upright tails. Watching a kitten transform from a cumbersome, innocent, slightly stupid fluffy ball into a sleek hunting machine was an amazing thing.

My Mom was very clear – farm animals, like cats and dogs, are not allowed in the house. Ever. Period. This wasn’t even up for discussion. The closest the cats and kittens got was the attached rickety garage out the back door of our house.

Some kittens lived, and some did not. Some were born strong, some were not. Some cat mamas were very good at raising their young. Some were not. I’ve buried a lot of cats, from new born to very aged. One of our cats, JB, a calico, got hit by a car. My Mom and I discovered this at twilight one summer’s evening as we returned from a dip in the pool at the local conservation area. Her body was intact and had stiffened but her face had contorted into a grotesque almost aggressive expression before she died. I felt responsible for getting her off the road and buried, so I forced myself from my state of shock and sadness into action, fetching a sheet of plywood veneer from the shed, sliding it under her body and carrying it carefully to a hole I’d dug behind the garage. It felt necessary, respectful, dutiful, sad … I remember I also felt scared, a bit, this one time. Something about the unexpected sudden death and the painful last look on her face.

I saw that same look again, some 20+ years later, when I had to have my beloved cat soulmate, Sid, euthanized. I understood, then, that this is just what happens to muscle structures in death and that it was my own anthropomorphizing that projected unwarranted meaning onto the expression.

Sid, like Sophie, was a child of the streets. A kitten foundling from my first summer in St. Catharines, we bonded. Our initial bonding probably had to do with me tucking him into my shirt to take him to work with me on my moped. (I was trying, unsuccessfully, to conceal from my university roomies that I had taken a kitten in.) He would peek out, just under my neck.  He was an ornery guy, a sort of one-person cat. He grew from a tiny kitten into a 21 lb behemoth. It should be noted that at 21 lbs, he was not “obese”, just very large. A huge tom-cat head, giant paws. An industrial strength purr that could be heard throughout two floors of almost any house. The many adventures of Sid probably deserve their own blog posting, but safe to say that once he was gone, I found it really hard to imagine having another cat. He died in 1998, after we spent almost a year battling feline diabetes. He was quite done with the insulin shots and dietary restrictions, I think. He was 15.

Sid, wondering when I'm going to take that stupid Christmas bell off his collar :-)

Sid, wondering when I am going to take that stupid Christmas bell off his collar

In the intervening 11 years, I think I’d forgotten much about these creatures. I also think that my tendency to excess analysis and thought needs to be reined in by the presence of a creature whose needs are more clear, immediate and lacking in alternative agendas entirely.  Needs for food, water, cleanliness, affection, attention and stimulation.  These needs snap me back into a concrete reality because, suddenly, I am the sole source of these for this one fur-person. No analysis required.

I think Sophie is part dog. Last night, after falling into bed exhausted and turning out the light, I heard quite the commotion downstairs. None of it sounded damaging in a permanent way and I was too tired to get up to investigate. There were some crinkling sounds which I presumed originated from the crinkly bag I put on the floor for Sophie to enjoy. Then I heard some bounding up the steps and felt her land on the bed, still making crinkling sounds. “Whaa …?”  On went the light. There she sat with her bag of treats in her mouth which she then dropped, pointedly, in front of me. The messaging was clear and unambiguous. “WANT TREAT NOW – PAY ATTENTION – PLAY WITH ME”.  I wish all the humans in my life were this clear!

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