The Saga of Moira Aschenputtel

Reading with a cat (or dog!) is one of my favorite images of contentment.

There’s something soothing about the quiet it requires, the warmth of the fuzzy one curled up on a lap or on the floor nearby. It’s an image of comfort, as we imagine the person sitting for a period of time, reading in quiet companionship. And a cat or dog, who can’t interrupt (at least not with speech) evokes a shared silence conducive to reading.

I was lucky enough to spend many hours over Thanksgiving break in such a position. I feel very rested.

I have spent many hours reading with pets over the years, but this weekend was a little different. This weekend we adopted a new cat because her person, my cousin, recently died. This kitty has quite a story.

This kitty found and claimed my cousin’s husband about four and a half years ago. She was alone and needed a home, and they were mourning the recent loss of their previous cat. It was perfect. Brian was retired and lonely while his wife was at work, so the cat became his companion, and in the way these things go, they rescued each other.

But then he got cancer. He was strong and healthy, and he kicked it, but it came back with a vengeance. Through a second round of chemo and some alternative medicines, including trips to far-off retreats and Bucket List vacations, the kitty stayed close, offering what comfort she could. When he died, she was the only other heartbeat in the house, and Carrie was consoled, but still bereft.

A married woman for two thirds of her life, Carrie was lost without her partner. The kitty was a tie to him, but also a reminder of her loss. After a few months, the cat started wandering off for longer and longer periods.

She was on walkabout when the fire came.

When Carrie evacuated, seriously fearing for her house and property, she looked high and low for the cat. The school where she taught third grade closed for over a week. She took refuge at her parents’ house fifteen miles away. She feared for the little gray cat alone in the smoke and ash. Ten days later the kitty returned–haggard, dirty, hungry, lonely.

In the months that followed, she stayed home more. She seemed to sleep more. Carrie described her as lazy. The truth was they were both cocooning, trying to decide what shape their life would take moving forward. My cousin made the decision to stay in the house. She resolved to renovate and redecorate and make the house hers–to shape her next phase of life purposefully.

But just as she seemed to be finding her footing, she went to sleep one Saturday night and didn’t wake up.

The cat went rogue.

How much, really, should one little cat have to take? How much can any of us take? She came and went, and the neighbors put food out for her, but she didn’t live there anymore. No one did. Instead, she watched.

In the weeks that followed, the house was emptied. The last ties to her people were boxed and bagged and donated and dumped. What reason could she have for staying there? The food, sure, but nothing else, really–at least not until the sweet voice and soft hand of a sixteen year old girl who scratched her ears and cleaned the cobwebs off her whiskers.
We went to help clean the house last weekend and came home with a new kitty cat. We have pets, and she was dirty and flea-addled, so she needs to be quarantined for a bit while she heals and recovers and adapts. And while she does, we’re taking turns doing our various homework in the back room with her. Because reading with a cat is the best way to read.

The Little Things are the Big Things, or Thanksgiving in June

Graduation always makes me happy. It’s the best day of the year, as far as my job is concerned—the day we work toward with each class of students, our main reason we do what we do. If faculty do their jobs and students do theirs, the result is Graduation Day. And it’s glorious.
It’s also Big. It’s often the biggest day in a student’s life so far, although we certainly have plenty who have had wedding days or children’s births, or some other Big celebrations, but by and large, it’s a milestone. It’s a time to be proud of hard work and perseverance and a time of excitement (and anxiety) about the future.
In some very concrete ways, we’re taught to measure our life out in these Big Things, as if there’s a checklist everyone’s privy to. High School? College? First big job? First promotion? First car? Marriage? First home? Children?
With a laundry list like that to check off, young people might well be intimidated, might be inclined to feel lesser if they miss one or two or five of those accomplishments.
I’m here to tell you not that the Big Things are a lie, but that you can make your own list, and that you shouldn’t get hung up on it.  The Big Things are the frame of your life, the dots in the connect-the-dots image of you.  But the Little Things—that’s where you live.
And if you stay focused on the Big Things, you miss the Little Things.
It’s a balance, of course, as all things are.We have to pan out, like Ansel Adams, and see the big picture, how we want the shape of our life to look. But we can’t dwell there. Most of our lives are spent in the middle ground—dealing with people and surroundings we encounter. I’d like to advocate for as many close-ups as you can squeeze in—attentive moments where you really see how full of wonder the Little Things are.
Here is an underwhelmingly incomplete list of Little Things that I have come to see as Big Things in my life.  It’s just a matter of changing your lens. Have fun out there.

  • ·         Hot tea on a cool morning
  • ·         Sleeping in
  • ·         Sunscreen
  • ·         Walking dogs
  • ·         Thank-you cards
  • ·         Yogurt pretzels (sweet and salty, creamy and crunchy—what more can you ask for?)
  • ·         Dogs who pose for portraits
  • ·         Homemade bread
  • ·         Goodnight kisses
  • ·         Poems
  • ·         Tweezers
  • ·         Card games
  • ·         Used books
  • ·         Snail mail
  • ·         A good murder mystery
  • ·         Family photos
  • ·         Crossword puzzles
  • ·         Wildflowers
  • ·         Handmade cards (anything handmade, really)
  • ·         Squirrels
  • ·         Learning something new
  • ·         Running in to an old friend
  • ·         Stumbling across a favorite something you haven’t seen in a while

What does your list look like?