I wrote this column originally for the NAJPA Newsletter of September 2010. Since my last blog was a pretty heavy-duty one, I thought maybe a tad less earnestness was in order this time; this article suggested I resurrect it. Hope you enjoy it.
If you don’t like cats, maybe you’ll want to skip this column. Or maybe not. Cats are amazing teachers, and, as we well know, they couldn’t care less if you like them or not….
Having been engaged in a number of (to me) weighty matters this past month, I had planned to devote this column to discussing some of them. However, I am tired of weighty matters. So the matter I want to discuss is not weighty, as matters go: 10.08 pounds, to be exact—and not always “matter” either, as far as I can tell. (More about that in a minute.) Yet this one’s influence in my household and on my continuing personal growth is far out of proportion to its weight….
His name is Hunter, and he is a smallish gray cat, now 13 ½ years old. He is also my receptionist. He has less to do of recent years, since most of my client sessions are now conducted over the phone; however, I still have a few in-person clients, and he still faithfully goes to their cars, checks to see when I turn my flag-at-the-door from red to green, and chirrups at the client through their car window: “Did you see the flag change? It’s time to come in! I’m Hunter! What’s your name?” He will continue this monologue until they answer him, and get out of the car, and come to the door; he knows his job.
However, that job is only his “cover” occupation; actually, Hunter is an emissary of, and spy for, the Infinite. His real task: to teach me. To teach me a lot, almost continuously. And to continue to teach me until I get it. (As with his cover job as receptionist, he is persistent.) There were lots of things I did not learn when I had children in the house; I am learning them now. There are things that three spouses (consecutive, not simultaneous, thank heaven) have not been able to impart; Hunter has devised supplementary instruction. There are subterranean aspects of my ego that my friends and family and co-workers and clients cannot bring to the surface; Hunter does, in spades.
Hunter does have an assistant: Cobalt, a Siamese female who outweighs and out-moxies him. Cobalt also teaches me, when she is not bullying Hunter, or protecting him, or licking him, or taking his food, or…. I mention her here because she comes into this story too, a little later.
So, back to Hunter. He arrived on my doorstep as a half-grown kitten trying to grow up in the chaotic household of some student-rental neighbors, who in turn had discovered Hunter under a trailer inhabited by cokeheads who were feeding the kitty cocaine! When the neighbors moved, I asked if Hunter could stay—he spent all his time at my house anyway—and they were glad to be rid of him, they said.
Interestingly, despite his traumatic childhood, Hunter loved people and would climb in their laps and purr for them, as well as chirruping at them—except for me. Me, he kept at a distance, never purring when I was around, and my lap was definitely No Man’s Land where he was concerned. I decided that having been abandoned twice, he was afraid that if he warmed up to me, I would go away too… so, though I admitted to feeling hurt, I bided my time. Lesson 1: Patience.
A few months later, Hunter lost an argument with a car, breaking his pelvis. (Of course, this was on a weekend: no easy trip to the vet for Hunter, oh no. Let’s go to the animal emergency room at weekend rates, please.) I was told Hunter must stay in a small cage for eight weeks in order to heal. So heal he did… and apparently being waited on paw-and-foot by his Missy convinced him that I was not going to abandon him. He began to trust me, let himself be petted, and even purred occasionally. No lap, though. And I began to learn Lesson 2: Gratitude for What Is.
Over the years since then, Hunter has taught me lessons in punctuality (always add ten extra minutes to the estimated travel time in order to get out of the house after having let all cats out, in, and back out, or vice versa); looking beneath the surface (in the early days, some of his favorite clients were people I hadn’t cared for at first); parenting (I am undoubtedly now a better parent, in many ways, to my cats than I ever was with my kids. Sorry, guys); and many, many, many more lessons in both patience and gratitude (especially, twelve years later, when he first climbed into my lap). Above all, though, he is teaching me the Big One: Trust.
You see, as an indoor-outdoor cat, Hunter roams his territory, and there have been many times when he has decided it was far too nice a night to come quietly indoors when called. I used to get very upset about that and be unable to sleep at all, getting up about every 30 minutes to call at the door and occasionally touring the neighborhood by flashlight. And then there were the couple of times he really did go missing—on weekends, of course, usually holiday weekends at that, when you couldn’t call the Humane Society to find out if they had him. And of course he had slipped his collar, and the neighbors, who all know him, were all away. I have composed that cat’s epitaph more times than I care to admit, and lost a lot more sleep (and gastro-intestinal ease) over him than I would really want anyone to know about. Yet gradually I got it that his life is his life; I do my best to keep him safe and healthy, without torturing him by trying to make him into an indoor cat, and that’s the best I can do. I am now aware that he has his own path, and that has brought me a good deal of peace. However, I do sleep better knowing he is safely in the house. And even when he developed a health issue that we thought was going to do him in a couple of years ago, I stayed calm and trusting in Life, pretty well, through the whole thing: lessons in Letting Go.
However, that was apparently only the first part of the Trust lesson, so lately Hunter has upped the ante. And I am writing about Hunter this morning because his latest intervention took place last night—all night. You see, lately Hunter has become more cavalier than usual about doors. And walls.
All cat lovers know about cats and door-worship, and that whichever side of the door the cat is currently on is the “wrong” one, in the eyes of the cat. However, that’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to the seldom-discussed, not-quite-observed habit that cats have of appearing on the wrong side of closed doors. You let them out—and a little while later they stroll nonchalantly out of the bedroom. Or—you let them in, and then hear them scratching at the door, from the outside. Clearly, they can re-arrange their molecules to slide through the empty spaces between the molecules of the door. Or perhaps they just teleport. All I know is that I have witnesses to the fact that the cat came in and was then outside, or vice versa (so no, it is not the molecules of my brain that are having the problem).
Actually, most cats seem to avoid having witnesses to these little quantum leaps. I’ve never actually caught one in the act, and most of the time they look innocent enough that you could just about swear you must have been mistaken. Except… lately, Hunter is getting a bit more blasé and blatant about the whole thing. Three times this month I have just about caught him at it, and once—I kid you not—when he could only have been in my bedroom, door closed, and I had looked for him through every atom of my closet (who is the hunter around here, anyway??)—as I turned away in resignation there was a loud bang! like a clap of mini-thunder, and Hunter leapt out of the closet from the direction of the outside wall, chirruping innocently.
So, last night. I had been working in my office, which used to be the garage, and connects the kitchen with the Great Outdoors via two doors and some steps. At 9:30 I heard Cobalt scratching at the outside door, and let her and Hunter in. I have a vivid memory of that, because I went up to the kitchen with them and had to refill Cobalt’s bowl a little. Hunter, however, had enough food in his bowl and was happily gobbling it up. So I closed the kitchen door again, giving them access to the rest of my little house but not the office. (Policy: cats only get to use the office as a passageway to the outer door.) I worked another hour, went upstairs, and there was Cobalt asking to be put into the cats’ room for the night. I assumed (we know what a poor idea that is) that Hunter would be where he always is at that time of night, on my bed—as “eldest cat” he gets to stay up a little longer, and loves it. A few minutes later, I went to find him: no cat. No cat anywhere. Now this was a first, inside, at bedtime. Oh, well, he must have slipped into the cats’ room without my noticing. Into room; light on; thorough search (I have made SURE there are no feline hidey-holes in that room); no cat. Search all rooms in house: cupboards, closets, behind and under all furniture and appliances, including places no three-dimensional cat could manage. Go back into office. Try calling outdoors just in case. Check bathroom sink and tub. Re-check my bedroom, inch by inch (very few hidey-holes there, either). Call outside again. Check cats’ room again. It is now nearly midnight, and I am not feeling like sleeping, and I have an article to write tomorrow before everything else in my work life happens, and… I remember.
I remember that my cats are here to teach me stuff. I remember that Life is here to teach me stuff. And I take deep breaths and let myself, gradually, surrender. Mentally. I am even able to sleep some (though each time I dream of finding Hunter somewhere improbable). Physically, though, my body is a wreck: heart pounding, stomach churning. And then after awhile I surrender into this, too, do some inner dialogue with Hunter, consign him to his gods and let my body do what it will. I do keep thinking of other places he could be hiding, maybe in trouble; and I let the thoughts come and go, one by one. I simply have to trust.
Four times in the night, driven to the bathroom by my unruly insides, I do check again in the cats’ room: no Hunter. No Hunter in the rest of the house either. No Hunter when I call outside. I go back to sleep. And as I drift off each time, I am thinking about minds and bodies, and how it’s not my job to “make” my mind be calm enough that my body drops into peace; it’s just my job to sit (or lie) in what is here, welcoming everything. Next trust lesson: Surrender.
Because I can’t trust Life “to” do anything, like show Hunter to me, or bring him home safe if he has indeed slithered through the wall, or make him stop doing that quantum thing. I can only trust Life. Period. I can only relax in the knowing that if it’s here, it’s Grace. I can only stay present to what is here, now, and see through the mindgames and even the bodygames. An odd kind of relaxing, for it takes a great deal of focus, yet it is hugely liberating.
This morning about six, I heard a thump! in the cats’ room, and what could have been a chirrup. (Cobalt, being Siamese, finds chirruping beneath her.) Acting on faith, I set out two bowls of food and opened the door. And out they waltzed, both of them.
Aw, he just slipped in there and hid, you’ll say. Maybe; cats are very good at that. And just maybe he slipped farther away than that—I have barred all possible hiding places in that room, after all, and searched it six times last night—and that thump! was the air parting to herald his return. I don’t know. What I do know is that Hunter continues to teach me, and—most of the time—I am grateful. A night’s sleep and a little gastro-intestinal peace is a small price to pay for lessons in trust and surrender, after all. Small matters or weighty ones, they all continue to teach us, don’t they? For this, and especially for my four-footed teachers, I am today most thankful.
Full of years and adventures, Hunter went prancing across the rainbow bridge six years ago this month. Cobalt, though, is still here… and still teaching. Her lessons for me are, of course, different. One thing you can pretty well count on with cats, and that’s surprises. Cats, life, same same…