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2006 07 27
Philosopher’s Walk VI: The Cat Who Walks by Himself
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Rudyard Kipling wrote, "But the wildest of all the wild animals was the cat. He walked by himself, and all places were alike to him."

Sometimes the wildest of all the wild animals slips in at night, haunted and hungry but wholly self-possessed. He will not stop and rest, but vanishes into the night after eating, after offering us a glimpse of his wild dignity. He is usually one of several visitors, but they each come alone. They seem to leave more often than they arrive.
These aren't hip cats. These aren't cool cats. These cats are strays.
Like a scream in the night. Like children in traffic.
When people ask how many cats live with us, I am never sure how to answer. Two and a half, I'll suggest, before qualifying. Sometimes cats live with us full-time, occupying various roosts and corners of the house, claiming domestic territory as their own. Others sleep inside only in the winter or when it is especially rainy. Still others stop by only to eat, some because they live with our neighbours and others because they are too fearful or feral to enter the house. Still other cats are only ghosts now, the memory of their silent padding and wisps of their hair drifting in the corners of the house long after they have left us in person.
But cats are like that. Don't try to herd them.
Don't try to fix them. Even people won't always be
prisoned in shelters at your whim. Nevermind cats.

Don't interfere. Let them do what comes natural.
Even if you can't.
Fang came to Peter one winter, thin and hungry and wild. For years he seemed to leave more often than he arrived. He would not let us touch him, other than to stroke his head for a moment before he would rear around and warn us with a claw. And yet, when he was hungry he would sit, looking up at Peter with an expectation that became trust and later, love. It didn't matter that his bowl was already full of food. What mattered was Peter's act of filling it.
Most of all. More than anything else. Don't be offended.
They're doing what comes natural. They never fell
from the circle of being. They never fell from grace.
They define it.
After each winter Fang trusted us more. He would sleep beside my head, his purr loud and liquid in his throat. He would lie on the chesterfield between us, kneading and mediating our conversations. But he always made it clear that he belonged to himself, first. And still he seemed to leave more often than he arrived. And after the last winter, he was hit by a car.
Don't interfere. Just take a bit of responsibility.
For it's our traffic they're children in. It's in our
machine they become ghosts.
We buried him and grieved as violets and bellflowers rose over his grave. We felt his presence and his peace, and later, his forgiveness. And we waited, in the ache and the absence of his wild self.
Find the cheapest cat food. Put a small bowl outside
at night. There won't be no population explosion if you do.
What there will be, in time, is a couple of strays
that recognize you. Even appreciate what you do.
And this summer, as the meadow rose into a low jungle, through it and up onto the porch and into the house walked another small grey cat with green eyes, his bearing pure and self-possessed. He came to eat as if he had always known where the food would be, and who would bring it. He waits until we do so, even if the bowl is already full. He won't let us touch him, other than to stroke his head briefly before he warns us with a claw. And he seems to leave more often than he arrives.
And that, my friend, will remind you. If not who you
are then perhaps who you might yet be. Despite
everything.

You can't buy grace any cheaper.

(Poem written by Peter Fruchter)
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[email this story] Posted by Amy Lavender Harris on 07/27 at 09:55 AM

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