This I Believe

Jan - Highland Park, New Jersey
Entered on July 13, 2006

God is in this details. I believe this. Well, let me qualify part of that: by “God” I mean the awesome and impersonal expanse of the universe. I have no clear opinion about a creator, but Creation I can see clearly through its marvelous details, even the least and most common. I learned this from my cat, Tigret.

The best-selling spirituality author Eckhart Tolle once wrote that “I have lived with several Zen masters – all of them cats.” Tigret has that profound, tranquil joy that you so seldom find in humans outside of, say, the Dalai Lama. It comes from a total commitment to mindfulness, which is nothing more than paying close attention. He studies the smallest details – the texture of a new throw rug, the satisfying crunch of a mouthful of kibble, the buzzing of a flying insect – with a more or less rapt attention.

I did not at first welcome him into my life. Eight years ago, my wife and I were living in family housing at Rutgers University, which was affordable but did not welcome pets. When Sharon asked me what we should name him, I said “Somebody else’s cat.” I don’t know if it was the way he experimented with our salad olives, rolling them around the dinner table, or how he would climb trees with the neighbor kids, the ones who would come to our window on summer afternoons to ask if “Tigret could come out and play?” but I soon was won over. We moved off campus to an apartment that accepted cats.

Through the years, I have gradually, haltingly, incompletely come to honor my small orange friend’s large wisdom. I, the dreamer, admire how Tigret accepts the verdict of his senses and does not insist on other realities. Like during the icy rains of February, when he scratches to be let out first the back and then the front entrances. Once he realizes there is no door to summer, Tigret dries his paws and goes to await Spring from his favorite windowsill. And then there is his way with fellow travelers in this cosmos. He regularly introduces himself to the neighbors in our apartment block, sauntering into their living rooms, checking out their furniture, settling into their laps. He is too engaged to be shy, to content to be fearful. The neighbors say they’re charmed, even Martin, the guy upstairs with a mild allergy to cats.

But now I must face the reality that after eight short years, I am losing Tigret. This past spring he began lose weight and the bright orange of his fur turned a bland sherbet color. The vet’s diagnosis: a mast-cell tumor, untreatable and deadly. Yet despite his rapidly approaching death, Zen master Tigret continues his studies. He expertly monitors his deteriorating health and gracefully manages the decline, resting peacefully on my old bed, purring loudly when his friends give him company. In these doomed days, I find myself dwelling on the golden past of our friendship, or worse yet fantasizing about its bitter end, days hence, when I will stroke his ears one last time and leave the veterinarian’s office with only his little black safety collar, now so loose around his neck. But I am missing the point, ignoring the beauty before me. I will heed Tigret’s example and let go of the nostalgia and fear. What do I truly feel? A sadness, yes, gentle and wide, and a deep, deep love.