Sometimes, when the house is particularly quiet, you can hear Freya’s paws pitter-patter across the hardwood floor, and having never had an indoor cat, there’s something special to me about the way she moves with this persistant grace that always brings me calm and gets me excited at the same time.
She’s taken sometimes to deciding at two or three in the morning that pouncing on my chest is a good idea, and after she stands triumphantly over me sniffing my hair, she slowly crouches until you can hear her purring like she’s running a motor of some kind. She tries with all her might as though she’s syncing with your heartbeat, but you’re both moving at very different speeds.
Actually, when we first got her, I couldn’t stand her purr because it was so out of whack with my own inner rhythm it actually caused me anxiety. It’s grown on me, though. She seems to sniff out when things are tense, shows up at the right time, disappears all others, but when you need her, really need her, she’s there like clockwork. She knows, senses, it seems, that things are out of whack so she sets her own tone to bring everyone to her stillness.
I think I used to be good at that–that skill Freya has. I think there was a time when I could interject a comment into a conversation or even just give a smile or a nod or some kind of affirmation and shift the mood of the room, mostly for the better, though in recent years, I’ve gotten good at the opposite, too.
Maybe it’s weird to compare yourself to your cat in that way, to see yourself in them. I think it’s more that our pets are so special to us precisely because they can, without really saying a single word, nevertheless speak our love language fulfilling us in ways we aren’t able to fulfill ourselves or others despite having seemingly far more communication tools at our disposal.
They commune with us. And if we could do that with each other, there’d be far less conflict, drama, or distress in the world, yet the very thing our pets are the best at–capturing and conveying blatant and powerful emotion–is the one thing we spend most of our lives trying to escape, and then a portion of our lives trying to figure out how to do it just well enough to put it to use in sorting out the literal years we avoided it.
I remember thinking (at a time I was living abroad and unable to communicate without knowing the native language) how weird it is that we would assume–as if there’s some kind of reincarnation at work in the world–“humans” stand at the top of the “food chain.” Other animals are deemed too “simple,” to the point no one gets excited about coming back with the inability to “voice” the nuance of our lives. But what if in gaining a “voice,” more is silenced than we ever could have imagined, or would want to admit, forever caught up in our own vocal chords and settling there dormant rather than articulated to the very halls we inherit? Or worse, we have found countless ways to speak into being the opposite of what we mean, intend, or hoped to share. Maybe there was something more sacred, instead, in just purring it, snarling at it, head-bumping it, kitty-kissing it from across the room.
I regret my humanity in that sense, almost find jealousy in Freya’s ability to keep it simpler, say what she means, mean what she says. And yet, maybe our curse can be our blessing, that even if it does take us a lifetime to sort out both what we said but shouldn’t have and what we should have said but didn’t, like an aging wine, we eventually can come into our own, and every one of us are given that opportunity no matter how astray the world may lead us.
I wonder, too, what I would find if I were able to meet the gods in that space of clarity–stumbling onto the opportunity to “come into” my own. It isn’t quite “grace,” I don’t think. Sure, there’s plenty of room for forgiveness of some such that we must grant ourselves and others, but there’s also something too charged in that terminology. Maybe it’s more of a “letting go of”–the baggage, the shame, the fear of vulnerability, the guilt–but then there seems something missing in all that emptying, and I’m not sure how helpful it’s been putting all your energy into what went wrong just to right it. Maybe it’s just plain old acceptance, the old Tillichian, “Accept that you are accepted,” “accepted by that which is greater than you, and the name of which you do not know.” I always seemed to want to read it in my gut as “excepted,” though.
A few years ago, I had lunch with an older colleague who had been to hell and back in the cutthroat world of New York City showbusiness in the 60s and 70s, even given a small role in the original Star Trek, and she mentioned something I’ll never forget when I pressed her on how we can ever learn to come to terms with ourselves:
“I find that as you get older,” she said, “life just sort of has a way of catching up with you, and not catching up with you in the sense that death is coming for you. Oh yes, there is that. But, I mean ‘catching up with you’ in that the old frets, the old worries, the old stressors, the things that so consumed you when you were young, consume you in a different way later on, a way that makes you sage and wise instead of bitter and remorseful, and it sure as God knows doesn’t work out like that for everybody, but for me, it worked out that way because it had to. I got older and I had no other choice but to wise up a little and accept that what was, was and will be, will be. And it doesn’t make easier, but it does make you more confident in who you are and a little more willing to be okay with that.”
And then there’s Freya… who doesn’t need to sort out the meaning of one meow from another. She doesn’t have to philosophize or theologize or pontificate. She’s content with making muffins. But then, maybe that’s the point.