Very recently we determined that it was time to say good-bye to one of our cats. She was, for all intents and purposes, eighteen years old. Meuzza was the first born, and last survivor, of a pack of kittens, born to a feral mother in the bedroom of our home in Kalispell, MT. In the last few days I have thought often of the odd dance that brought her into our lives.
At the time we had cats of our own. Well fed, veterinary cared for, pampered, cuddled and coddled cats who went outside out of interest and curiosity, never out of necessity. Then there was Genesis, the unofficial name we gave the wild calico that skirted our home and out buildings with the caution generally reserved for a soldier lost behind enemy lines. Any hint that she had been spotted and she would instantaneously teleport to another dimension. What separated the indoor lay-a-beds from the outdoor scaredy-cat was more than the cat door.
Somewhere in the surrounding fields or barns, she had become pregnant, and as the pregnancy proceeded, her need for comfort, grace, and rest began to overcome her fear of enemy contact. She made night raids at first, and only as far as the food bowl in the basement. When eventually she understood that she would be neither trapped nor eaten, she threw caution to the winds and went in search of a suitable maternity ward. More than once Kitty and I would come home from some event, and find her napping way upstairs on a carpeted promontory from which she could see approaching danger. She never let us near her, but she always looked exhausted and terrified.
I don’t remember that our domesticated felines were ever especially freaked out by her presence. Maybe they had already settled whatever hierarchy needed settling, or maybe they were so abundantly cared for that no interloper could upset them much, I sure don’t know. But we were keenly aware of the vast difference between the life she led and that led by our own cossetted crew. In foul weather Genesis might tip-toe into the house, soaked to the bones and bedraggled, just to pick up the kibble left scattered around the bowl. Our cats would stick a paw out of the cat door and complain loudly about the unfairness of the weather.
I confess to having wondered occasionally if our cats had any idea of how well off they were. Did they look at Genesis and say “Wow, that could be me.” Or were they just so used to being spoiled that they looked on her as some sort of second-class cat. Did they, maybe, even think of her as deserving her fate because of her poor cat choices, or her somewhat bedraggled appearance? Hard to tell with cats.
It is though, I am well aware, all too easy for human beings to take for granted the luck, the ease, the blessings with which our lives often abound. It is easy to chalk such things up to our own efforts, skills, or insight. It is easy to cast aspersions, to view others who have had less fortune as deserving of less fortune. It is easier than admitting that the folks on the other side of the “cat door” could just as easily be me. The heart that has genuinely grasped the difference will unavoidably be a grateful one. Such a true and grateful heart will likewise express itself in compassion and generosity. The full expression of this grateful heart is somewhere at the core of every great spiritual tradition. It is a lesson that, when learned, enhances the enjoyment of life beyond measure.