Jimbob's Journal
Neo Pagan Cat Man

I live with three cats. They all have their quirks, probably brought on by their contact with humans, but compared to most people I know, they're pretty well adjusted. I didn't go looking for pets or furry status symbols, but at some point in all their lives, I became their refuge of last resort, and I couldn't turn my back on them. You see, I believe in Karma, the principle that how you treat other beings affects your own happiness and well-being. I don't have any proof of this, but that's how I would like things to be , and it feels right. My philosophy has evolved gradually, organically, from my love of nature and my aversion to arbitrary rules. It's all about balance, yin yang, harmony, that sort of thing.

A while back, as a lark, I took a "Find your religion" quiz on the internet. I answered a series of questions, and it gave me a list of religions graded in relation to their agreement with my responses. The denomination that I was born and raised in came in dead last on a list of twenty. That explains a lot. Number one was something called "Neo-Pagan", a catch-all category that, while not an official creed, obviously describes the mind set of a number of people. They don't have any churches, but I think they have a few newsletters and occasional seminars.

My cats are Neo-Pagans, too. In fact, like the T-shirt says, almost everything important that I know, I learned from them. When I look at the world, I see folks running around burrowing, building, blasting off into space, always trying to be something beyond what they already are. We have grown so powerful and dangerous that we even scare ourselves. Animals, on the other hand, are content to just be. They seem to intuitively understand their place in the world. They have no need for psychiatrists, cell phones or virtual reality, and they almost never willingly blast off into space. They are perfectly centered.

There is an old axiom; put an infinite number of monkeys at an infinite number of typewriters and one of them will type Shakespeare. There are a lot of humans typing and speaking a lot of words, and occasionally they make sense, but that in itself does not mean that we have any willful access to ultimate truth. I think that the "meaning" we pursue is a rootless flower, not grounded in the heart. It is an endless loop of "What matters is what matters is...". The search for knowledge is a wonderful part of the human experience, but we can never know it all, and if we did, what then? The real meaning of life is in the living, and in the heart.

In my humble opinion, acceptance of our limitations is the key to realizing our full potential and being happy. We should not give our lives back unused or full of fruitless worry. We should live in every moment like a kitten up a tree who forgets his precarious position and plays with a fluttering leaf out on a limb. We should be able to master the art of just being. After all, we have plenty of good teachers.

That's what I have learned from my animals. So, what have my animals learned from me? First, let me give a brief profile of each. I found Ingrid while camping in the Pocono Mountains. She was one of the ferals feeding at the garbage dump, and was carrying a load of buckshot. I trapped her, and she now lives in a handsome cardboard box in the kitchen. She's a bit jumpy, but she does come out for specific purposes including sitting on my lap when I eat. Belle was a local stray who kept trying to get into my apartment, so eventually I let her in. She immediately took over. Sometimes she's a bit mean to the other two, but then cats aren't concerned with being just, just being.

Smokey was my mom's cat. I remember when we picked her out at the pound, she was paralyzed with fear, and quite emaciated. She had a note on her collar that said, "Smokey - good with children". Her journey back to mental and physical health took a while, but she eventually gave mom years of loving companionship before coming to me. She is now herself so old that it appears some of her internal organs are attempting to migrate, and she hasn't much hair left to cosmetically cover the resultant lumps and bumps, but she is determined to squeeze the full measure of life out of her cat suit. Oh yeah, and she talks. Not a huge vocabulary, but colorful and full of surprises, and occasionally she types Shakespeare. Her voice sounds almost eerily human.

I don't consider myself their keeper, but rather a friend or perhaps a father figure. I know they'll never grow up and go to Harvard, but neither will they struggle through puberty or ask to borrow the car. It's a tradeoff. The way I see it, they have been captured by human society just as I have, and we are all just trying to get along.

As well as I know these guys, they know me even better than Goodall knows her chimps, and they have learned how to manipulate me to their single-minded feline ends on an ongoing basis. While humans have many "special occasions" to punctuate their lives, cats have but one. It's called "Feeding Time" and they live to make it happen. I can best elucidate by outlining part of a typical day.

5:00 am: A tiny voice from the bottom of the stairs, "Hello . . Hellooooo?". I foolishly reply, "Quiet, Smokey!". This gives her the go ahead to recite her entire litany of words, phrases, gargles, yodels and catcalls. Try as I might to ignore them, my brain begins feverishly trying to decipher each one, "Achtung...How are you?....Reparation!" (The last one obviously an appeal to my human sense of justice. I am not moved.). By now, the entire team is working in clock-like harmony. Ingrid, veteran scavenger, is inside the trash can rooting about noisily. Belle is on the bed licking my face. I push her off, at which point she a) shreds toilet paper b) tries to eat a plastic bag, or c) -The coup de grace - runs downstairs and jumps on Smokey. At that, Smokey launches into the death aria from "La Boheme." My blood is now sufficiently pressurized to propel me out of bed and down the stairs. "Why, why do you do this to me every day, HUH?". Their angelic faces look up at me in mock shock, as if to say, "Why are you yelling?". They then all run to their bowls in pathetic anticipation and Smokey belches out, "Now?".

5:18 am: Their bellies full, they are all back to sleep, Ingrid in her box, Smokey on an old sweater of mom's, and Belle on a mound of shredded toilet paper. Once again, these tiny-brained, scurrying vertebrates have won a war of wills with the exalted Homo Sapiens. So why am I not angry? Because they trust me. Trust is a beautiful thing, and a humbling experience. I'm honored. I know some people probably think I'm strange, but I think some people are strange. It's a tradeoff, yin yang, that sort of thing. I need some sleep.

©2001 James Michael Harris

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