Monday, October 19, 2009
I lost my cat. She's been gone now for a week and it's been a surprisingly hard thing for me to deal with! I value existence without drama and pride myself as being unemotional, normally avoiding social signs of weakness such as crying or talking about my feelings (I was not raised to by your typical girly-girl). But I've been sitting alone in the evenings while Joel's working and sometimes I can hear her little bell following me about the different rooms! I need her and keep expecting her to show up and bug me some more.
My relationship with Shwey is definitely a love-hate one. I love her so much. I rescued her as a frail, tiny, two-week old kitten that desperately needed me. And she in turn filled this massive void Joel and I felt in Mauritania--that is being needed, having an impact. Finally another creature in the world that what we did mattered to! So having her around...we bonded. But at the same time, she's not the sweetest cat in the world. The only cuddle time we have is when she thinks I'm asleep, at which point in her mind it is safe to get in hand's reach, and she curls herself up against my back or neck and purrs herself to sleep. For the most part, we coexisted (her choice).
Don't call PETA on me, but I think while in Mauritania my perception of animals and their role on earth changed a bit. The first time I saw a donkey being beaten and left to die was shocking. The first time I saw little boys dragging around tiny-birds tied to a string, I couldn't help scolding them, even in my pathetically insufficient language skills. But during my time there I hit a point where I saw animals as far more utilitarian in their purpose. Could I really judge those boys for building a yo-yo out of a bird, when they'd never actually been given a toy? (I'm not saying it's any less horrifying of a toy) If your donkey is a tool or machine that has stopped functioning, is there any point to continue putting money and labor into it?
Joel and I had a dog and a cat while in Mauritania. Locals found it very strange that we didn't beat them (much) and actually let them into our homes and become part of our lives. They found our entertainment of animals very odd. But I think we shared in the same ultimately utilitarian view. Unlike the USA's "animals are people too," campaign, I tend to view animals in their relationship and value to us. Maybe I don't need them to work for me, but I kept Shwey around and she had value because she made me happy. I liked having her around. I liked her warm, fluffy fur when she would curl up next to me. I liked her spastic attacks of anything that moved, because it made me laugh. I liked when my dog, Bibi, would leap up on her hind legs in a ridiculous dance because she was so happy to play when we came home. These animals are what they offered to me. They don't have souls. They aren't eternal beings. I don't know where Shwey is now. If she is dead, that is it. If she is alive, I hope she comes back. But I don't want to mourn her. I'm not going to feel guilty if I have another cat. I do miss her and her silly antics, and Shwey if you are reading this I do want you to come home!
I think we learn to love in stages and expand as people. As very small children we only know how to love ourselves and our parents. We learn to love siblings, cousins, friends, and crazy aunts and uncles. When we add a pet, especially one that is dependent completely on us, it opens up another level. Not that pets are more important than the above mentioned relations, but they help to bring us out of ourselves in the way that others do not, because they rely on us more than anything else. I think they are probably a good phasing point towards children. A lot of people that have never had kids talk about their pets as kids, most people that have children never compare their animals to them! Why is that? I think they've taken it up a notch, seen how much more they could love something, and how much less selfish they can be. Even though now it feels like our little family has been broken up, and while I really miss my "baby" that I was looking forward to having around for another 15 years, I know I'm only at one step on the journey, and still have a lot to learn about loving myself less and others more and being part of a bigger family and community. So maybe we'll end up adopting one of the sad little creatures we've seen at the shelters we've visited. Who knows. But if you are thinking about getting a pet I recommend rescuing one--visit one of your local shelters and walking away will be one of the hardest things you've ever done.
And if you see this cat--let me know!!