Last night I went to the back door to lock it before going to bed. I noticed a cat we care for huddling just outside of the door. We call this small, salt and pepper cat MeowMeow or sometimes we call her Ms. Meow or on occasion, The Meow. You might think there is nothing remarkable about an outdoor cat wanting inside on a relatively cold winter night, but you don’t know The Meow. She has lived with us for almost six years without ever coming inside.
Several years ago my wife and I moved to this small town in Southeastern America. We rented an apartment while we looked for a house to call our own. Almost immediately we met The Meow. She was painfully unmistakable. Fur covered only one quarter of her body. The rest was pink, raw skin covered with the scabs of bug bites. Her tail too was furless except for an odd tuft at the tip. This miserable looking feline was significantly underweight. Her bare skin was so taut you could trace the outline of her intestine as it snaked back and forth across her stomach. Her back left leg stuck out at an odd angle forcing her to walk with a slight limp. She was starving and happy to have the food we offered although initially her mood was less than appreciative. We learned quickly that this cat was distrustful of everyone and that she seemed as mean as a snake.
But we continued to feed her and soon trapped her in a cage so I could take her to the vet. Tests revealed no major health problems except malnutrition and the rash of scabs to go along with her less than playful attitude. The limp was from a previous injury- probably hit by a car. I paid for the shots necessary to vaccinate this cat and address her skin condition. I took her home.
She continued to show up for meals and a few months later when we moved to our new house, we trapped her again and took her with us. She accepted her new home but only the outdoor part. She wouldn’t come inside to save her life. She was putting on weight and fur and was beginning to allow us to come close to her. We were slowly getting used to her and she was slowly getting used to us. Still extremely distrustful of humans, she was even more unhappy about our other cats. When we got a puppy almost a year later, she promptly bloodied his curious nose twice before he learned to respect The Meow. I also learned that lesson the hard way. Several times I thought The Meow was ready for me to hold her. She was not. To call this cat fiercely independent would be to redefine the term understatement. I can show you the scars.
Which is why I was so surprised to see her at the back door last night wanting to come inside. She scurried through the doorway and incredulously made her way up onto the living room couch. We left her to sleep there because no one really wants to argue with The Meow.
Truthfully this cat has softened as she’s aged. She lets me pick her up now. She will let other people pet her; even rolling over on her back sometimes so I can rub her belly. I can’t say I have ever seen her play with a loose string or any other such cat toy. The intoxication of catnip is apparently lost on her as well. But she will purr when she’s petted and she will now share space with our other cats. The dog still keeps his distance but even her attitude towards him is much more accepting. People who meet her for the first time think she is sweet which I guess it’s fair to say she has become.
Or maybe she always was. Maybe it was covered over with a scab of pain. I never held her seemingly harsh temperament against The Meow. To have seen this pitiful creature starving and in pain on my doorstep, fearful and truly pathetic, touched me in a way that made great acceptance on my part possible. I learned something from her about giving care. I learned that to care for something when almost no one else notices the need is deeply rewarding.
I believe that we are in one manner of speaking, living a pitiful way of life on whole here in America. At the risk of seeming uncelebratory during this the holiday season, I am struck again and with renewed strength at just how much we’ve lost in an effort to fulfill our every material desire. I lament this time each year how much of our efforts of life in America revolve around getting more stuff than we need. While we are physically fatter than ever before (and yet malnourished to some extent) we seem mentally, emotionally & spiritually starving. I hear people everywhere talking about “focusing on what really matters,” but then they inevitably ask any child within earshot what he or she is getting from Santa. I am not immune from this holiday sense of compulsory consumption. And that is the point I guess, that I feel this sense of sorrow when I look out and see our culture in such truly bad shape. It’s pervasive and almost inescapable, especially if our friends and family are also confined to this system of living. What good would it do for me to leave and find a place where people matter if I had to leave behind the people who matter to me?
It’s tough to swim against the current. I do not fault those who have taken the bait and settled for this a way of life based upon consumption. But I also feel responsible, as someone in this system who has glimpsed an alternative, to share my thoughts about our loss of focus on each other and on the wider world around us. I’m planning to spend some time during the first of the year envisioning what might be possible as others decide to come in out of the cold as I believe they soon will. This way of life, based on infinite growth in a finite system cannot continue much longer. Already plenty of others are waking up to this reality. Some changes happen fast and others happen more slowly. Predicting what will happen in the future and how quickly change will come is a difficult, perhaps impossible job. But we can help to steer our nation back towards a happy society of stronger self sufficiency coupled with healthy interdependency by being flexible and being ready and being willing to change; that and answering a few questions to frame the work of imagining another way of life.
1. Why is change necessary and therefore possible?
2. Where should we go and what will it look like when we get there?
3. How can we start the journey and what can we expect in transition?
4. Who will join us?
A toast as the New Year approaches: May the year of Two Thousand and Eight offer a chance at change and may it be kind to all of those who work to transform this world into a more thoughtful and caring place.