November 30, 2014
It has been a wonderful holiday week rich with family time, time with friends, and two glorious Colorado sunrises; there was more than ample food for soul and body. There was time for quiet reflection as well, and Annie was an uncheerful participant in one of these.
The conversation began simply enough. I was loading the dishwasher and finishing some kitchen chores. Annie came in and sat down by her feeding station. I greeted her, then said something to the effect that we (Annie and I) have more for which to be thankful than we can count.
Annie twitched her tail impatiently and stared disapprovingly at her empty food dish.
Given Annie’s signals, I thought that it might be wise to continue the conversation at a later point. I stopped and filled her bowl with a fresh can of “superior, scientifically balanced cat food,” “full of nutrition,” “containing all essential vitamins and food supplements.” (Material used by permission of advertising agency—well, sort of.)
Later, after she had finished eating, Annie jumped up into the chair where I was reading. Her goal, of course, was to be petted and admired, but I reopened the kitchen conversation during the process.
“We have a house, Annie,” I began cautiously, “and we should be grateful for that.”
“Well, yes, I suppose so,” Annie said with a decidedly disinterested twitch of her tail. “But while we’re talking about house, I want to register a complaint about the doors in this house.
These doors are very unreliable. Coming in or going out, any cat would find these doors annoying. Yesterday morning I had to wait five minutes at least before I could go out into the garage. And you remember that day last week when there was wonderful warm autumn sun and leaves to chase on the lawn? Well, every time I wanted out that day I had to wait—imagine!—just sit there wasting precious time, looking through the storm door, waiting for the door to open and let me out.”
“But, Annie,” I protested, “you went in and out at least a dozen times that day. It was difficult to know what you wanted.”
“Not so,” said Annie with an impertinent tail flip. “I was quite clear that I wanted to go in and out as many times as possible that day as the impulse led me. That is the proper cat way to express gratitude for a fine fall day. And these unreliable doors severely interfered with my program. That last trip out I actually had to take a nap on the porch waiting for that door to open and let me in for supper.
I am grateful for a house. I don’t think I would like a shelter at all (whatever a shelter may be). However, I would certainly be more grateful for this house if the doors worked more efficiently.”
Annie stood up, stretched, and turned so that she could more easily watch the squirrel practicing gymnastics on the yard fence. When she had rearranged herself to suit her comfort, I began again.
“Annie, we have a lot of very good food, and we need to be grateful for that.”
Annie stopped purring, and began to polish her right front paw. After a bit, she said doubtfully, “Well, yes, I suppose so. But things in the food department certainly are not perfect. It is quite difficult for any sensible cat to be grateful for a diet from which mice are totally excluded.”
“Of course there are no mice!!” I said, rather loudly I’ll admit, and Annie laid back one delicate ear in protest. I continued in the same tone of voice, however. “There are no mice—there will be no mice—no mice—ever.”
“You just made my point,” said Annie rather smugly. “It is very difficult to be grateful for food when as a cat with a fine palate you are faced with a mouseless future, no prospect for even the taste of a whisker or a tail.”
The conversation stopped. Annie appeared to nap—doze at least—and I thought for a while about gratitude.
The argument went one more round, however.
After a while I said, “Annie, it is true that we do not have everything that we can think of that we might want, but we have so much. In the living context of such unmerited plenty, at our house I think thanksgiving should be a chosen way of life, a daily act not a designated holiday.”
At this Annie gave a rather sharp twitch of her tail and thumped it twice on the arm of the chair. I have lived with Annie long enough to know that this did not signal Annie’s approval.
As usual, Annie had the last word.
She left the chair and settled on a cushion on the sofa with her back turned to me.
When comfortably settled, Annie said, “That may be. But your expectations should take my circumstances into consideration. Daily gratitude is an unreasonable task to assign an elegant cat like me, forced as I am to live in a mouseless house with slow doors.”
I wonder if Annie learned this sense of the entitled wonderfulness of her cat-self from the culture around her?
I hope sincerely that she did not learn it from me. I strongly reject the concept of shaping gratitude in the context of deprivation or plenty. Paul was right: abase or abound, gratitude is an act of daily reasonableness in response to the gift of life itself.
See you next week.