There’s something about just seeing cats in utter contentment that pulls one back from the hectic trauma of the world situation. We are inundated with alarming news of riots, mob violence, of senseless attempts to wipe out our nation’s history. As responsible citizens we can’t just ignore the news. Every one of us needs to watch for opportunities to take a stand for our highly threatened freedoms. But it is such a relief to take a deep breath sometimes and simply enjoy pure contentment personified by our gentle cats.
It’s not that our gentle cats have no worries. They have to make the hard decisions like what is the most favorite place to curl into, like who grabs it first and whether or not it’s worth a skirmish. Or there’s the decision whether to drink at the bird bath, their own water dish, or even from the tiny rain puddle in a curled magnolia leaf. They have to be on the alert at all times that humans in their big machines don’t run over them when they’re taking a sunny snooze in their very own property, that nice asphalt driveway built just for them. They even have to worry about that fellow feline’s bite in the night that’s beginning to abscess. Will the veterinarian take them to the nice animal clinic so they can catch up on the gossip, or will he just take care of it on the back of his truck? They have to decide when to ignore and when to follow their instinct to chase down a skittering lizard or to snag a bird that flies a split second too close.
Last week two of my grandchildren came dashing in the house with the terrible news that Sassy had injured a baby bird and left it lying beside the garbage cart. “He’s having trouble breathing,” reported Charli. When I arrived at the “crime” scene the fledgling cardinal was not having trouble breathing. He wasn’t breathing at all. We decided all we could do was bury him. Charli wrapped the body in a paper towel and I picked up a grave digger, a trusty trowel, before we all three trooped to a nice secluded spot near a nandina bush. There we had to decide how deep the grave should be and then place the baby in the hole. As Kaison covered him up we talked about that God cares about every sparrow (or cardinal) that falls, and cares so much more for His children. We sang “Jesus Loves Me.” The children stuck a twig in the ground marking the grave. On the way back to the house Kaison admitted he had already given Sassy a spanking. That brought up a frank discussion of the food chain and the fact that Sassy has a built-in urge to hunt for her dinner even though now, in the lap of luxury, she doesn’t need to. In other words, we decided the criminal should be pardoned.
Cats are independent, non-submissive, and seemingly cruel, playing with their prey before killing it or leaving it to die. But they are not nearly all without compassion. Have you ever snuggled a cat when you were sad and been comforted by its purr? Have you slept with a cat warming your feet? Have you had a nice conversation with a cat lately? Or stroked one’s fur from ears to expressive curling tail?
Our friend, Juanita, and her daughter, Angela, who lives next door to her, call themselves cat rescuers. They don’t go out looking for them but just take them in when they arrive thin and fearful. Some are feral cats who become amazingly tame under their tender care, some come as kittens, others as mature castaways. “They seem to know we’ll have food and water and a kind word for them,” says Juanita.
Juanita’s husband, Billy, never “took to the cats.” He tolerated them for his wife’s and daughter’s sakes, but didn’t care to have one in his lap, certainly not on his bed, took no pains to befriend them. Until Carl came along. For some reason he bonded with Carl. The cat jumped boldly into his lap and welcomed a good stroking. In fact, Carl really preferred Billy over anyone else.
When we visited Juanita just after Billy died, she told us this touching story. Billy had been hospitalized for many weeks but finally was home with hospice care. Carl took up residence beside his bed. He knew his boundaries and was careful not to get in Billy’s face, just stayed close as hours crept by. As Billy was drawing his last breaths, though, Carl jumped up on the bed and nuzzled Billy’s neck. He was right there as Billy went to heaven. The minute Billy drew his last breath, Carl leapt off the bed and went under a chair where he stayed for a long time, mourning his friend. The hospice attendant commented that she believed Carl had caught a glimpse of heaven, he was so close to Billy as he left.
There is a little bit more to that last story. Angela decided she might be able to wear a pair of her Daddy’s jeans. As she was trying them on Carl, who hadn’t been paying her any mind, came over and started sniffing and rubbing on her legs. “I know he must wonder what happened to the man who belonged in these jeans,” she said.
Carl, the compassionate cat, has also taken on a certain responsibility. He seems now to consider himself the “ruler” of the cats, inspecting and giving an okay or a growl to any who enter the house. Last night Juanita said he was playing with a kitten in the kitchen “as if he remembered being young like that and wanted to give a nudge of encouragement to the little thing.”
There are many facets to the character of cats, aside from contentment, cruelty and compassion. What is your cat story?