September, the back-to-school month, leaves me breathless, jagged, and clamoring for a vacation. By October, I’ve figured out that the alleged, hoped-for “spring break” is at least six months away and there are infinite numbers of chores and winter snow drifts separating here and there. I reluctantly acknowledge the flip of the calendar with a deep, weary sigh.
There is a lexicon of sighs. They remind me of the 200-plus grunts I catalogued when my oldest son was going through puberty. (A very long puberty. Longer than most, as it started when he was eight and we’re still waiting a conclusion.) Just as there’s a grunt that means, “Leave me alone,” so is there a sigh for “I’m now ready to exit off Planet Earth and never return.” There’s a grunt for “feed me,” and an equivalent sigh for “Don’t talk to me unless you’re making dinner tonight, because I have no interest in serving you—ever again.” Then there’s the “I’m simply not budging” grunt, which mirrors the sigh insisting that “You might think you see me, but I’m way too tired to talk, make love, take out the garbage, appear in public without sweat pants…In fact, I’ve donned my invisibility cloak and you can’t even tell that I’m eating double-fudge Oreo ice cream, I’m soooo not here.”
The summative feeling is one of weariness, and it strikes all big people upon the acquisition or achievement of any part of the American Dream, and even “little people” post-kindergarten, when they figure out that all that coloring was really a trick, pre-emptive of living within the lines. What’s the cure for weariness, especially when October’s grey skies, falling leaves, and even-more plunging, falling hopes, are preliminary to even darker days?
A recent addition to my household provided me the answer to this question. His name is Johnny Cat, prophet extraordinaire and spiritual advisor.
First, it’s important to note that in his short two weeks of his angelic missionary assignment in Shambhalla suburbia, Johnny has undergone several transitions. A rescue cat, his original nomenclature was just plain “Johnny.” Ala Gabriel, my nine-year-old, he was swiftly renamed “Tiko,” then “Tiko X,” the “Tiko X Pilla,” and then finally, “Johnny Tiko X Pilla Cat.” I call him Cat. Johnny Cat.
He doesn’t respond to any of the names, although when I open anything that suggests food, he comes leaping.
I didn’t really want a cat. I’m actually allergic to them, having spent the better part of every holiday holed up in the bathroom of my aunt’s house sneezing into Kleenex, for the presence of Emily the Siamese cat. When Willie the Turtle died recently, however, I knew that God was never going to approve my complacent, “We’ll wait a while before we get another pet.” The downshift from five non-human life forms to four, with Willie taken to heaven, was simply too good to be true.
My undoing started with an innocent trip to Pet Smart to load up on turtle paraphernalia, guinea pig fodder, and enough dog food to service the two dogs and the mice in the garage that also like Purina dog chow. Gabe convinced me to just “look at the cats.”
Now, I wasn’t totally clueless. I’d actually been dreaming about cats for a few days, though I was willing to ignore these prescient symptoms. And I did make the conscious choice to avoid the reptilian section in favor of the cat cages, having already shuddered at the sight of the four hundred dollar lizard comprising every nine-year-old boy’s dream. But I wasn’t prepared to meet Johnny, who even with his eyes closed, emanated a quality that was as irresistible as, well, chocolate to a woman.
I knew we were going to go home with Johnny Cat.
I put off the decision—until the next day, and armed with so-called “anti-allergy” drops, liquids, tinctures, lotion, and pads, we welcomed Johnny to our new home.
The first thing he did was to stare down Honey the Dog, who pretended that there was NO CAT in his face. Johnny then walked right over Coco the Dog (who is deaf and blind, so we can’t err Coco’s intelligence too much), befriended Max with a lick of tongue, and meditated for a half-hour over Wilma the Turtle’s tank. And then, Johnny Cat began to work on my heart.
When I get up in the morning, I’m grumpy. I don’t like to talk and usually, the world accommodates me. The animals just want food—not conversation, and Gabe is still sleeping. My oldest is at college and only takes classes that begin in the afternoon, as he doesn’t fare any better with morning than do I, so it’s too early to get the “I need money” calls. But Johnny? He’s a different sort. First thing he does is meow.
“Me-“ he begins, “Me.” The one syllable conveys it all. “Pet me, hold me, take care of me, say hi to me, let me follow you, watch while I walk on your computer and make funny little marks on your VIP writing and send E mails off before they are done; and oh here, let me help you with that really important art work for that really important book you are working on—oh? Didn’t you want that ink mark there? And I’ll eat that breakfast you’re leaving out when you walk out of the room.” And then he meows at the window until I open it up, and he peers into the world.
I tell you, it’s hard to be cranky with a cat in the window, for inadvertently, your eyes are drawn outside. Do you know that there are birds already flapping their wings and singing in the morning? (I never did.) People actually walk their dogs—with big smiles on their faces, and school children dance at bus stops, the girls showing off their cool clothes, the boys hitting each other with lunch boxes. There are patient fathers huddling on guard, hands in pockets, and mothers with sweat pants and strollers sorting through back packs to assure themselves that yes, the homework is actually on the way to school.
I groan, for I become happier watching nature and humanity at its best, especially through the eyes of a cat.
Habit reinforces a continued pessimism, and so I hurry Gabe to school wondering just what we’ve left undone, unpacked, or incomplete. Because of Johnny Cat, however, I’m struck with yet another opportunity for optimism, each time a client enters my door. Nearly everyone melts at J.C.’s “healing energy” and “happy attitude.” The ensuring ease enables a deeper session, and I complete each hour or work with an ever-increasing lift of spirits, much to my chagrin.
And then, just when I think that my nighttime tiredness might dispel this unexpected grace, Johnny Cat strikes again, this time despite a closed bedroom door. What would you do, if a fake red mouse were to suddenly zoom into your room from beneath a door, followed by a paw and a swishing tale?
This endless game (for yes, I bat the mouse back) engages me, and I forget how long the day, how short the night, how soon the light, and how much work has been shoved from today to the next. I literally play cat and mouse, not sure if I’m being scripted in as co-cat, mouse, or some other malleable character in Johnny’s filmstrip of life. My weariness turns to appreciation, before disintegrating into a laugh.
Since Johnny’s arrival, I wonder at my all-too-simple assessment of having “too much to do,” what with all the busy-ness, business, toilet bowl scrubbing, work, homeworking, E mailing, and all the other role-playing I’ve assumed over the years. It seems that weariness, equated with cynicism, can’t co-exist in the presence of Johnny Cat—and so perhaps, it doesn’t really need to exist at all.
When did I lose my ability to smile at the small, make cookies just to eat the dough, and become operatic when showering? Not all our spiritual teachers speak from Scripture or pummel us with Great Truth. Some of them enter our lives in poetry—as, spoken by Carl Sandburg, as does the “fog on little cat feet,” which looks over harbor and city.
My own hunch is that if I were God, I might visit my friends and family in guise of a cat. And even then, it would be ever so much fun to be a cat in the window, staring at the happiness going by, swishing away life’s most depressive moments, wondering just when the next opportunity to intrude on gloominess might strike.