Grieving Miles, Two

Perhaps, he didn’t mean to leave us. Maybe, there wasn’t some higher purpose he had to fulfill. How burdensome, after all.

He just, went away.

It is easy to endlessly conjecture about why he had gone, or why he had been with us at all, in retrospect. Many times, we make the meaning we want to have, after the fact, not before it.

I want to believe that the cat we had just lost served us in some, divine sort of way, beyond comprehension. As if he were merely passing through, with a simple but necessary mission of unconditionally-loving his owners, offering them boundless joy, and inducing the most satisfying level of comfort they could ever ask for.

If so, then, mission accomplished. He left with the highest marks.

And yet, I can’t help but wonder the less rosy alternative – the ever-growing elephant in the quickly shrinking room – that, perhaps there was none of that, at all.

Only the reality, written in his eyes, that in what would be his final moments, he actually wanted to come back, too soon.

I struggle to write this, after having previously arrived at a far less bleak conclusion. Surely, this isn’t the alternative I want to believe. Not as the sort of person who believes in some kind of after-life, and some kind of Higher Being that knows ultimately more than we ever will. Being that sort of person, makes me, in turn, the same sort of desperate, finite figure in search for meaning, craving the truth of knowledge like a certain, tragic, being in a Garden, once did.

Perhaps if I knew the answers to the questions I keep asking, I wouldn’t actually want the truth. The version of Miles’ story in my mind, is good enough. In fact, all the details I have to work with, are more than what I could have ever expected.

It is fact that we never learned of Miles’ actual origins – only that he and his sister Madu were found in a box in a Starbucks by a German expatriate family, who then proceeded to leave the country and needed new owners for their newfound pets.

it is fact that Miles was always a clumsy cat (and much to our delight early on), never accounting properly for his own weight (and by weight, I mean belly) before pouncing upon, or jumping from, or leaping towards, anything.

It is fact that Miles stole his sister’s food, both secretly and blatantly. His appetite was insatiable.

it is fact that Miles slept, belly up, about as often as he did the way regular cats do, with limbs tucked in underneath and slight shoulder blades, protruding. Apparently, such a vulnerable posture from cats implies that they trust us completely.

That last fact might be my favorite thing about him, and in part, why all this hurts, too damn much.

I never would have imagined a cat be so, at ease. It was as if he had already, intimately known that precious lesson that eludes so many of us who are searching constantly for the next, best thing.

The best thing, is right now. This very moment. The present is the greatest of gifts.

Again, I project. I don’t mean to, but I do.

I have to make some sense of this senseless loss. I still just don’t understand why he had to go, so quickly.

Chances are, he doesn’t understand either. Life was pretty good for that cat. He lived on the 15th floor, in an ocean view apartment, and ate raw chicken meat, cut into little bite-sized pieces by his loving, doting owners mother.

She did it because we loved him, and he loved her back, and I never would have known why and how I’d ever love a cat as much as I did Miles, and I never would have known how a cat could possibly ever love us the way that he had.

There’s that old saying from Tennyson that comes to mind:

Tis better to have loved and lost, than never to have loved at all.

I hate latching onto cliches for the life of me, but this one, I hold onto, with every ounce of strength I’ve squeezed out of the fruit born from my grief.

I do so, because I don’t know if the meanings I’ve made of his loss, are as true as I’ve come to believe.

I don’t know the greater purpose he might have served beforehand, had he had one to begin with. I don’t know whether his “time was up” or he had done what he needed, and left when it was over.

And if I can’t find any solace from asking questions to which I’ll find no definitive answers, then I must look elsewhere to find the peace and comfort I need, now.

I mustn’t keep asking why he had to leave so suddenly. I mustn’t wonder why he had ever come at all.

I must only acknowledge how surprisingly wonderful, refreshing, and joyous it was to have such a lovable cat. I never would have imagined how much he’d mean to me, spanning the entirety of his life, before ever coming to terms with the finality of his death.

That’s the only meaning I can hold onto with the utmost certainty. I can’t afford to wonder what sort of purpose he had to have completed by the time he left us. It is enough to hold onto the pure innocence and goodness he exuded with the life he had actually lived.

It has to be enough, because he was blameless, all throughout.

I couldn’t possibly answer any of the questions that begin with “Why?” Frankly, I don’t really want to.

But I’m happy to return to the question with which my answer is sure.

What was Miles, to me?”

For a season, much like a breeze. At times, sudden and wild; other times, soft and gentle, but almost always, arriving unexpectedly. I couldn’t have predicted that he’d come the way that he came, that he’d leave the way that he went, and that he’d last just long enough for us to know that surely, his sweet caress, no matter how fleeting, we would never, ever forget.

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Cats

Day 2 of my 31 day writing commitment. Trying to tune out the competing sounds of a Muslim man’s call to prayer and Yuna’s recent album, “Nocturnal”, blaring in my living room.  Still sorting out whether complete silence works in my favor, or having some kind of ambient noise in the background keeps me good company.

Of course, I’m never actually without company. Nearly my entire time here in Malaysia thus far, I’ve been joined by my two cats, Miles and Madu. Miles is named after Miles Davis, of course – though my wife and I also agreed it’s just a good name for a cat. He’s a grey and white and boasts and incredible coat of fur and a surprising belly that sags to the ground. Part of his appeal to us is that he’s almost always so aloof-looking. Needless to say, Miles doesn’t exude the “cool” the other Miles did, but maybe he’ll grow into it.

Madu, meanwhile, is the princess of our house. Her name, which means “honey”, couldn’t have been more appropriate. She’s a calico cat with fur that features blotches of black and orange covering her slender frame. Her small face wears such a sad expression for a cat that’s so beautiful. Had Miles not been around, it’d be easy to assume she’s just lonely, but she just exudes an inherent melancholy that we’ve since come to appreciate. Madu also loves me unconditionally, and for this I am very grateful.

Each of them carry their own distinct personalities – which to me, is testament to the genius of God’s handiwork permeating through all living creatures. I never paid much attention to animals growing up, and it hadn’t really occurred to me until now how, on any given day, they can be just as complicated as we are. Maybe.

To dismiss Miles as merely fat and lazy would do him a disservice to his own unique brand of charm. The way he takes his time to lounge and stretch out on the floor is a sight to behold. He’s confident in exposing his big belly, inviting us to stroke it thoroughly until he’s satisfied. The opportunity to run our fingers through his impeccable fur is just too hard to pass up. There’s no denying the boy of affection, and as oddly as he may pine for it, we oblige him nonetheless. He’s the sort of cat that meows in an empty room that only he is in, expecting that the rest of us join him for the party. And the strange, quizzical look on his face seems to question us – as if to ask why we’d ever refuse. He’s right, we wouldn’t.

Madu, who once was prickly and protected, has since become a surprisingly affectionate cat, quick to curl up next to me on the sofa or climb on top of my wife’s stomach and lie there, perfectly calm. With her though, as is probably the case with most cats, it’s best to let her to come to us on her own accord. She still enjoys her independence – it wouldn’t be surprising if we found her, unlike her brother, peacefully looking out the window of our spare room, all alone, as if she’s musing about the meaning of her little cat life amidst such a big, frightening, human world before her.

Someone once told me that having pets is the first step couples take in preparing for having children. I’m not so convinced the experience of rearing a child deserves the comparison to raising a cat and teaching it not to destroy your house. Or, maybe it is.

Before parents out there consider this all ridiculous, I can only say that having Miles and Madu around is helping me appreciate, and anticipate, the wonder, and the wreckage, that is to come with kids. For all their quirks and their complete dependence on us as the sole providers for their meat, it’s been worth it, having them around – as they lick our toes and rub their faces on our feet and meow incessantly in the morning to signal to us the dawn of a new day, and that it’s time to eat.

Much like, kids, yes?

The best part is really seeing my wife dote on the two cats like they are her own children. She tells them they are beautiful, constantly – even Miles, who could afford to lose a few pounds. To Shuli, he, too, is a beautiful, weird-looking cat.

She scolds them like children too, which almost always ends in laughter, and I imagine this to be far from the case in real-life parent-children  conflicts. But I can appreciate her commitment to raising them well – even though in their case, nature will still trump nurture. Cats just do what they do.

You can probably see where I’m going with this.

The whole, unconditional love thing? That’s the gift, here. I feel it from Madu when she insists on inserting herself in the tiniest of crevices around me just so she can put her tiny little paw on my body, as if to tell me, “It’s gonna be ok.”

And I see it in my wife, who loves and forgives and cares and disciplines and feeds and pets and let’s the cats roam freely…

With a harness and leash, when they are in the balcony. We are on the 15th floor.

There’s a line from the movie 50/50 wherein Anjelica Huston’s character explains to Anna Kendrick’s character, who plays Joseph Gordon Levitt’s character’s therapist (did you follow?): “I smothered him only because I love him.” Huston plays his mother.

All to say, my wife will one day make a good mother, too. Even if a smothering one.