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Good Times Up North – for May. 2, 2011

Is it possible to write a meaningful story about a cat, any cat ? I don’t know. The fact I may not be able to write this story doesn’t mean it isn’t there.

Every living creature has a history unique to itself. Even the humble fish jumping and fighting desperately for its life at the end of a “sportsman’s” line and that then lies gasping for once life sustaining oxygen too has a tale — how it hatched from an egg in a distant gravel bed, to how it arrived at that moment in time where a combination of improbable circumstances landed it on dry land struggling vainly to preserve its very being.

On occasion an event occurs that makes us pause to reflect on a specific life that was created, nurtured and then vanishes but not before leaving an indelible intersecting line on life’s scattered road map that runs parallel for a time, however briefly, with our own. Such existence ends in the inevitably anonymous obscurity of just one more death, but in the interval engages us to recognize that our own journey through time is only “a noisy breath, spoken and gone with the wind.”

I can’t say I knew the black cat in the sense that we had an understanding. I only knew with absolute certainty that he was a city drop off unaccustomed to our country ways. Someone’s no longer wanted companion all too casually hurled into the shadows of time like so much rubbish, left to fend for itself in an utterly inhospitable environment, entirely without hope of survival.

The black cat timidly showed up on our country porch as so many other cats do each year, anxiously looking for food, the security of a new home and on occasion, lost affection. But like the host of others equally unfortunate there were population pressures from feral animals that had already carved out habitat on this territory and in a few days he too, like so many ill-fated others, had gone.

It was our sad hope rather than actual expectation that he had found a welcoming family to take him in but this proved not to be the final truth.

On a slight side hill slope facing the southern sun I detected a small dark patch that from a distance seemed to be nothing but a shallow excavation dug perhaps by a passing animal in search of whatever might be found for a meal in that thin layer of soil beneath the sod.

I was both right and wrong. This place was indeed a shallow fissure dug by an animal, but not for possible food.

The black cat had quite evidently excavated this small gap in the turf, clearly in expectation of finding some shelter from the wind and winter cold for he lay pressed against the slight wall of soil in the lee of the wind as though in sleep in the manner of all cats, his nose tucked down against his lifeless chest, rigid forearms still shielding his closed eyes. He had done the best he could with what little he knew how to do and for this final effort at preserving the remnants of his terrifying new life he warranted my utmost respect.

I gently carried his lifeless body to the place of final rest reserved for all once loved creatures that pass ever so briefly through our lives in this overwhelmingly foreign land for all abandoned city animals, and quietly buried him with the dignity he had earned at such great cost.

This is not the intended story of the black cat’s life but of his death. The unwritten chapters leading to his last moments on the side of a windswept, frozen hillside far from home, family and friends lie buried forever together with him.

Were there no weeping children to mourn his loss, no parental thoughts of regret or words of solace from friends ? We’ll never know. Perhaps God cares and knows his story, perhaps not. Maybe some religions have it right and animals have no souls. That is only maybe. If there is a heaven for any us our pet companions will be there for without them heaven could never be the much anticipated paradise of timeless promise.

What if the family which so cruelly left the black cat to die, utterly forsaken and alone, believes animals have no soul, and what if they should be wrong ?

After the last shovel of dirt had found its place I quietly held my hat near my saddened heart and lingered a while in silence in the universal sign of respect for the dead. He wasn’t just an abandoned, lost and insignificant cat. In the vast cosmic solemnity of eternal time he was, and is, one of us.


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