Sunday, March 11, 2012

Miss Annie sleeps in the garage

March 11, 2012

Dear Friends,

In the art of relationship, self-knowledge plays an essential role, as we have been thinking.

However, this week I had an interesting insight about the limits of self-knowledge. Miss Annie (aka Miss Anna T. Freud, C.T.C. [Chief Therapeutic Cat]) was my teacher. The teaching moment for me—and perhaps for Miss Annie as well—emerged from the unintentional interruption of a settled routine. This is what happened.

Miss Annie has developed a great fondness for a perch in the garage window. In the day time she sleeps there in the sunshine and celebrates the refuge from the vacuum cleaner monster.

Miss Annie often goes to the garage in late afternoon as well. From her window perch, she likes to watch the day darkening into twilight and then observe through her remarkable eyes the night life in our yard that I can only guess is there.

Despite the satisfactions of her garage perch, Miss Annie chooses to sleep in the house at night, utilizing from time to time two different sofas and a chair. Garage sleeping is not for her entitled self.

In the time Miss Annie has lived with me, she has demonstrated considerable self-knowledge. Miss Annie has learned that the garage perch provides for a number of her needs. She knows that once there she experiences comfort, safety and the opportunity to observe interesting happenings, a reliable cure for boredom.

Miss Annie knows, too, that she can make the garage experience happen. From the house side, when she sits down in front of the door to the garage, tips her head back and gazes with soulful longing at the door knob, I see her and open the door into the garage. From the garage side, she also knows that when she wishes to come in, she can scratch on the garage side of the door and I will hear and open the door so that she can reenter the house.

At this point in the story, you can see that Miss Annie’s knowledge of herself and the value of her garage experience has served her well. She knows when she wishes to be in the garage and when she wishes to be in the house, and how to get her needs met in this way.

And to this point, Miss Annie’s knowledge of our relationship has also served her well. She regards me as a reliable gatekeeper who, on her signal, opens and closes the door, and is pleased to do so.

But change comes. We had a house guest with resulting activities in the house that Annie found quite interesting. As a result Annie delayed her evening trip to the garage until quite late. Consequently, when I opened the door at our usual bed time, Miss Annie made it quite clear that she was not yet ready to come in. Hearing my voice, she stretched elaborately, turned her back to me, and rearranged herself on her perch. Her message was quite clear: go away.

“That’s fine,” I told her, “You can stay out, but I’m going on to bed. I’ll come down and let you in the first time I wake up.” (I am a somewhat restless sleeper.)

I did in fact wake up some time around midnight. I lay in the darkness thinking how glad I was to see my friend. I thought too how tired I was. I turned over, and promptly went back to sleep.

I remembered Annie in the garage only when in the morning I came down to put the coffee on.

When I opened the door to the garage, Miss Annie came sailing in, her erect tail and every hair on her body expressing total indignation. Ignoring everyone, she headed straight for her food bowl. Having eaten a brief breakfast, she rejected all offers of attention and affection, stalked upstairs and hid under the bed where she sulked for the remainder of the morning.

It is important to know that Miss Annie has a litter box and water bowl in the garage. Her perch is upholstered by a soft, wooly old rug. Being compelled to sleep in the garage did not exactly expose Miss Annie to a life-altering trauma of great suffering. We may smile at the obvious and think that not even The Chief Therapeutic Cat can organize life so that every need or want is fully met.

Nevertheless, Annie’s sense of righteous indignation merits some serious thought.

I suspect that Annie’s initial line of thought ran something like this: I need to stay longer in the garage tonight. I need for my garage-door opener-person to work as usual, but at a later time. There is no reason my needs can not be met as usual.

Then when the garage door-opener-person failed, I suspect Annie’s thought ran something like this: my garage-door-opener-person KNOWS about my need. My garage-door-opener-person CAN meet this need. My garage-door-opener-person DID NOT meet my need. She did NOT do what I KNOW she can do. I am angry and I should be angry.

Annie knew a good bit about herself and about me. But Annie’s knowledge had a limitation that led to a serious misunderstanding. No matter how clearly Miss Annie understood her own needs, her knowledge of herself was not matched by an equal knowledge of me and those factors that influence my behavior.

“Of course,” you may be thinking. “After all she’s only a cat.”

You’re correct, of course, and that fact certainly shapes the bottom line of Miss Annie's story. Miss Annie knew her need, but she did not—indeed, could not—know my story even though she had experienced my capacity to meet her need.

But I am not Miss Annie--

My relationships are most likely to flourish if at those painful times when others fail to meet my needs I remember that consciousness of my need does not automatically give me understanding of the factors that influence others response to me.

Thinking with you that, as the Apostle Paul wrote, love does not insist on having its own way—even (if I may add) in regard to its own needs.

See you next week.


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