My sister’s cat Mercer has been sick and suffering for a while lately with some mystery malady, and his symptoms have thus far refused to explain themselves to his faithful veterinarian, so we’re in a watching, waiting and hoping phase. It’s sad and frustrating, and poor Mercer needs some serious respite from his ailments. I’m afraid I haven’t the skill to give him anything more palliative than the occasional pettings he allowed me to give him while we shared living quarters this summer. So I send out this little ditty to bring him good vibes of well-wishing long distance, as it stars the two most faithful fellow fur-babies who live or visit in his home, Ruffian the cat and Basil bunny.
You know that I love animals, however dilettantish my adoration may be. I have never owned (or been owned by) pets, I know nothing of animal biology, and I’m not even all that outdoorsy, so incidental or casual contact isn’t an obviously automatic occurrence. Yet they provide, when they do appear in my life, a sprinkling of the most welcome kind of seasoning, the salt and pepper if you will, of my days.But you also know how attention works: when something is in mind, it can seem to be everywhere. The minute I think of animals, I tend to keep my eyes open for them wherever I go, because just seeing them makes me happy, lightens my mood, warms my heart. ‘Therapy animals’ are actually all animals, for me, whether trained or not, in immediate proximity or not, because just thinking of them cheers me and actually seeing them is a delight. That makes it worth my while to really, actively look for animals whenever and wherever I can. The wonder of them, the distinctive characteristics each has, their habits and hijinks, and their inherent beauty, all fill me with pleasure. That’s a lot of sunshine.
Off she went to see the market, basket full of goods and greens,
And the fond companions with her came to see the market’s scenes,
Prancing, dancing, baying, barking, nipping at her head and heels;
By the time they neared the city, all beset by crowds and wheels,
She her petticoats beribboned had all stained and soiled and torn;
Hat askew and heels unbuckled, basket broken, cob and corn
Strewn, her lettuces and flowers flung amain, and so she sat
In the rutted road’s dry scours, in the dust, and that was that–
No point now to going onward to the market if she would,
Dog and pony show now ended (at the least, that part was good)–
Then the animals felt sorry for the chaos and the mess,
Made a show to make her cheery, give her back her happiness.
Nothing mended for the market, recompense for not a sou,
But she smiled at how they capered, no more anger and to-do,
And they picked up, swift and swishing, tails and coattails all a-sway,
Backward home, though she was wishing it had gone another way;
To the market back, tomorrow, she would go to sell her wares,
But avoid her current sorrow,
Locking up those pranks of theirs!
I suppose it’s incumbent upon me to state clearly that I do understand that a lazy and fearful person like me is unlikely to plunge into newness and adventure, no matter how alluring the topic or event. Not that you didn’t already know this about me from any number of previous confessions and revelations in a related vein. Yet while my lack of courage and spirit will undoubtedly hound me for the rest of my days, I’m happy to report that I still manage to grow and change over time, if perhaps more slowly and accidentally than others do so.The ancient adage that ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ is ridiculously pessimistic, if you ask me. I’ve known plenty of senior citizens to avidly pursue and conquer all sorts of new skills and knowledge, and I’m working my way toward being a bit of a Grandma Moses myself, being ever hopeful that at least by the time I hit my eighties I might also hit my stride in whatever turns out to be my life’s calling. But beyond vocation or avocation, that tired and cynical aphorism also assumes that we can’t just continue to better ourselves once we hit a mythical age barrier. What an unpleasant and unproductive idea!I much prefer the concept of discovering what we are capable of learning, accomplishing and enjoying for the first time (or anew) and embracing it at whatever pace suits us. While others are busy jumping through hoops of flame and running obstacle courses and playing catch with other dogged devotees of the disc, if all I can do is learn to Sit Up and Beg, then at least I’ll get some handouts from wiser, more talented and skilled beings. Could be downright fun, and I’ll lap it right up I’m sure. It certainly beats sticking forever to the one trick I’ve known best since my youth, Rolling Over and Playing Dead.
For a universe where we’re all so hung up on our status, image and importance, the world as we know it is also the locus of a truly great leveler: fun. Very rare is the person, however high or low in the hierarchy of social or political or religious or educational import, who doesn’t relish laughter. Fun, and the love of it, are boundary-resistant. Childlike happiness should know no limits.
I know the little tale attributing to Queen Victoria the remark that ‘We are not amused’–a condition she can easily be forgiven for bemoaning, even if it was ostensibly because of someone else’s attempts to convince her of his own divergent sort of hilarity. Throughout history, contentment has been best enjoyed when it’s pushed to its jovial limits by gently encouraging frolic and humor, curiosity and amazement and amusement that can be shared. The current culture oughtn’t to hold anyone back from being pleased and entertained any more than these should be constrained by one’s politics, nationality, gender, tastes, age or any other facet of personal identity. Joy is joy, no matter what your nature or your preferred brand.
So I, for one, think it’s a good idea to cultivate smiles and laughter and playfulness as assiduously as I can. If I can share it with others, even better. If others can contribute some fun to the cause as well, we might be able among us to create a contagious stream of happiness that can expand further and further yet. Doesn’t that sound worthwhile, now, really?
Cats are nature’s hate-seeking missiles. If there’s a houseful of guests, only one of whom dislikes or is wildly allergic to felines, everybody knows that’s where the household cat will make a speedy beeline and glue itself to the ankles of whichever sufferer would rather the cat were somewhere about a thousand miles away. As it happens, when they choose to do so, cats can also sense affinity. Some are so quick to attach to the humans who will indulge their every whim that they must probably have a sense transcending the dimensions we with our merely mortal five senses perceive.
In both, I have seen parallels in human form. There are some who manage at every turn to recognize quickly and attach themselves instantly to others who will love and appreciate them and all their gifts—and some, conversely (or perversely) who have only the knack of finding and sinking their hooks into people who would rather they were about a thousand miles away.
The Duchess was inordinately fond of animals. Though her courtiers would never dare say so to her face, they imagined she ought to have been born a zookeeper, or at the very least a farmer. This idea was strengthened, especially, by the fact that it always fell to the housekeepers and servants to make the palace tidy enough for Her Ladyship’s dainty passage through life and to freshen the air when the royal menagerie had pranced, prowled or otherwise paraded through its rooms and left unseemly gifts along the way. The Duke, who was as allergic to all things animal as the Duchess was attracted, considered for some time whether he oughtn’t to have a team of expert taxidermists and artisans solve this problem once and for all, creating a large display of preserved zoological beauty that might be both lower maintenance and less powerfully scented than the living creatures populating his estate indoors and out, day and night.Unfortunately, the Duchess’s sisters who lived in the east wing of the palace did not support the Duke’s enthusiasm for the design, making noises of disapprobation at least as loud as the Duchess’s favorite dogs’ barking or donkeys’ braying. Perhaps, the Duke thought, he had been a little incautious in discussing this artistic concept with his secretary while within earshot of the sisterly ladies-in-waiting, for they both appeared quite ready to dash off squealing with rage to their unsuspecting sibling, or at the least, to imitate the household fauna in some other impolite fashion.As it fell out, the Duke, however incautious he may have been in heat of the moment, was not without the wit born of hard experience. Working swiftly with his retainers, was able to resolve the situation quickly and suitably merely by shifting the subject of the new art to a slightly different one featuring the Duchess and her sisters. As an added benison of this resolution, it was discovered that he wasn’t allergic to winged or four-legged pets after all. The palace staff found maintaining the menagerie surprisingly less onerous afterward as well, even with the added curatorial duties of dusting off the Duchess and polishing her sisters from time to time.