Life lessons courtesy of my cat

Do you need a philosophy of life? Rather than read Plato, Aristotle, Nietzsche, and Sartre perhaps you would do better to observe your cat.

If you do not have a cat, the situation is easily remedied. There are plenty at your local animal shelter, usually for little more than the cost of some shots. Unless your cat has neurotic tendencies such as liking to shred your sofa, they are usually not much bother. Yes, they will hack up a hairball from time to time. In addition, some of them, like our evil ex-cat Squeaky can make your life a living hell. However, most cats are content if you change their litter regularly, give them clean water and half a can of cat food a day and amuse them when it suits them. Generally, they will look out for themselves quite well.

Cat philosophy is not written down anywhere. However, simple observation will allow you to glean their philosophy on life. For cats are ruthlessly selfish creatures. They may be selfish but that does not mean they are unreasonably selfish. Their pecking order is very clear: I will do what gives me the most pleasure right now. After about two decades of observing cats up close, I have to say that it is not necessarily a bad philosophy.

I am not advocating selling your children to the gypsies. Nor in our modern world is it a good idea to give no thought to tomorrow. Still, as we wend our way through daily living we could be much happier and a lot less neurotic if we spent some time every day emulating our house cat.

Yesterday, being very cold here along the Eastern seaboard, our furnace was having trouble keeping the house warm. It was maybe 65 degrees in the house. Our 19-year-old cat Sprite is clearly in his declining years. It has been a tough last couple of months for him. He has had bad constipation and diarrhea and lost nearly half his body weight. We now have him on a couple of pills twice a day. This, a dollop of kitty laxative, a half a spoonful of yogurt, and some prescription-diet cat food allows him to lead a decent life in his very old age. There is virtually no fat left on him, so a cold house is quite a challenge.

Fortunately, he is still reasonably mobile. His solution is simply to find the warmest spot in the house. When the furnace is running, he likes to sit near a vent. Otherwise the back of our master bedroom closet, bundled up next to some shoes works fine. There are no drafts back there and a vent behind the wall adds heat. However, even when the day is cold, if the sun is out, then the sun will at some point stream through our living room window. He anticipates its arrival in the room by sleeping in his kitty bed on the living room chair. As he sleeps, the sun will fall over his body. This is his cue to gently hop down onto the carpet and find the big sunny spot. He will bask in the sun and enter a deep hypnotic state, moving slightly as necessary to keep up with the sun’s traversal across the floor. When the sunbeam goes away, he is usually nice and warm, so he curls up into a ball in his cat bed and goes to sleep. If the room is still cold then he will usually sleep with one paw over his eyes and nose. This keeps the air and his nose a bit warmer. For variety, if a human is available, their lap will suffice as a nice heat source too. Lesson: maximize your own comfort at all times. Get reasonably comfortable, but do not waste too much time over it. Allocate no more than a minute for finding a comfy spot.

Sprite never stresses about tomorrow. He accepts what is presented to him and makes the best of it. In his old age, he is not as playful as he was. His inability to relive his younger days does not bother him. I suspect when he dreams his pleasant memories of those playful days of his youth occupy his thought. Lesson: take one day at a time and simply accept its experience.

Sprite knows he is a cat. He thinks he is neither the best nor the worst cat in the world, although I would disagree. In my eyes, he is the best cat in the world. Best and worst are human concepts that have no meaning to him. He has no pretensions. He is simply a cat. He is what he is and doesn’t stress over the fact that he hasn’t done much more in his life than eat, sleep, poop, sits on the occasional lap and play a bit. He has found peace by accepting himself. Lesson: to find happiness be who you are, not what you want to be.

Sprite is a loyal cat. Unlike most dogs, his loyalty is reserved. He is choosy about who he bonds with. Once you have invested enough time in him doing things that make him happy then he will stick by you. He will return the favor by purring, snuggling with you or seeking you out. As long as you treat him right and with respect, he will do the same. If you do not treat him right, he reserves the right to change his mind. Lesson: give affection only to those who return affection in kind.

Sprite is a homebody. We do not let him outside, except on our screened in desk in warmer weather. There he will bask in the sun, or enjoy a gentle breeze blowing through his fur, while he watches birds fly by and squirrels run across our railings. Mostly he prefers to stay inside because it is comfortable and familiar to him. Lesson: home is the best place to be.

I could probably write many more pages of cat philosophy. Since Sprite does not spend that much time philosophizing, neither will I. Rather he spends his days living simply and with complete earnestness. I am your typical restless Aquarian. Nevertheless, through my cat Sprite I have learned to chill out and take pleasure what is in front of me.

Yes, home is where my family is. But more than anything else, home is where my cat lives. For a cat sanctifies a house. He makes it real. For once a cat has made your house a home, it is no longer just a structure. It takes on meaning; it is truly a home. Perhaps that is why, when Sprite passes away, I will want another cat. I will be unlikely to get one. In the 19 years Sprite has lived with us my wife has discovered that she is allergic to cats. For now, she pops antihistamines in order to keep symptoms in check.

I will miss having a cat in my house after he dies. Yet I will know that in some sense the cat will still be there. Because he made my house a home, it will always be blessed. Moreover, we are blessed to have such a spirit among us, teaching us so many useful life lessons, free for the observation.

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