WRITING SHORT: 43/50

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[Come summer heat, much of my blogging momentum melts away. Hence an experiment until Labor Day: fifty minimalist posts about whatever.]

Living with two house cats is instructive. Our condo is their universe. They know in intimate detail the three upstairs rooms and two bathrooms, the laundry room, closets and linen closets. Downstairs is a long open space, from kitchen and family room through dining room to living room and front door. They’ve commandeered all of it – counters, tables, chairs, sofas, cat tree – plus the utility room and guest bathroom.

They also enjoy the open porch off the kitchen, one flight up from the ground, with birds at the feeders, and bugs, and the occasional squirrel. They can explore the garage, the furnished basement and, more rarely, the unfinished storage section next to the finished part of the basement.

But that’s it. That’s all Sophie, the younger, knows of the world. When the weather and my schedule permit, Sasha, the older, has sometimes been outside on a leash. So she knows there’s also a heaven beyond the front door, carpeted with grass, orchestrated with birdsong, and decorated with fragrant bushes and trees. We’ve never crossed the street though, and she regards the occasional quiet car moving slowly through our residential neighborhood with grave suspicion. Moreover, getting to heaven always requires me.

Jokes about cats letting us live in their houses are ubiquitous among cat owners, and I’m no exception. But joking aside, our cats live at our pleasure. They’re here because we want them here; we could wipe out their known universe by giving them away. That will also occur to a lesser degree when Bill and I move elsewhere as we grow still older. And given our respective ages, one or both of our relatively young cats may well outlive us. Then life as they know it would end when we die.

I’ve set aside money in my will for their care, and stated the hope they can stay together. But such concerns are mine, not theirs. They lack knowledge of a greater universe, a different tomorrow. They have no fears, except of loud noises. They simply enjoy what’s now: treats, smells, washing themselves, petting.

Even though we’re more aware of what’s across the street, foresee some of what’s coming, we might learn from our cats. It’s a wise human who, like a cat, can simply enjoy what’s now.

IN PRAISE OF “WHY”

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When I was small, my mother often called me “Miss Why.”   Mine were not the sort of repeated “Why?”s to which an exasperated mother could snap back, “Because I said so!”  I really wanted to understand why things were the way they were.

Why was it all right to go to the bathroom with other little girls, but not with little boys?  Why did I have to stop being a leftie in kindergarten and start using my right hand? (Even if it made me stammer.) Why didn’t I have cousins and aunts and uncles and grandpas and grandmas like everyone else? Why didn’t Daddy like it when the unmarried lady upstairs brought a Christmas tree down to our living-room and decorated it with a Star of Bethlehem at the top — just for me?

My poor mother had wanted a sweet little girl with Shirley Temple curls, not a pint-sized inquisitor.  As soon as I could read, my parents bought me the Book of Knowledge — a sixteen-volume encyclopedia for children popular in the 1930’s, with enough pictures and stories on every page to keep me quiet for a long while.

I did eventually learn to be quiet when necessary. (See next paragraph.) But I still need to understand why things are the way they are — with the people I know or have known, or loved and married, or raised and sent out into the world, or cannot forgive.  And then there’s the world itself — the smaller one I live in now, the larger one I used to work in, and the much larger one we all inhabit.  Why are things the way they are there?

I just don’t often ask aloud anymore. After you grow up, you soon learn it may often/usually/always be wiser — or even mandatory — not to probe in front of other people. Besides, I’m a big girl now and probably can figure out most of whatever it is for myself, as much as anyone can.  I can spot superficial explanations, smell shitty ones, turn away from the politic ones, the expedient ones, the ones designed to deflect further “Why?”s.  I don’t let myself get away with much anymore, either.  (Why did I do/say that?  Why was I so needy, boastful, negligent, unkind?)

Of course, I also now know there’s no full and comprehensive answer to any “Why.”  But without the question, the world is not only mysterious but oppressive. Especially where there’s so much suffering and pain — how can one not ask “Why?”

Other people seem less bothered at not knowing the “Why” of things.  Some trust in God, believing there are divine reasons which will be made manifest hereafter. Others are more interested in the answers to easier questions — “What?” and “When?” and “Where?” and “How?” — and with being first to pass them on. (The reportorial approach.)

And then there are the therapists, in their professional capacities less concerned with the ontology of it all than with “How does that make you feel?”  (Alone with themselves in the night, though, don’t they too cry out “Why?”)

In the end, all we may have are provisional answers to small questions. A disciple asked Socrates, condemned to drink poison in thirty minutes, why he was still practicing his flute.  “So that I may learn this song,” he replied.

But we wouldn’t have known that if someone hadn’t asked “Why?”

Who knows?

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Kate Swaffer is a brave and highly literate woman living with a diagnosis of dementia. She is a tireless advocate of meaningful dialogue about the critical issues impacting persons like herself. She also writes a terrific blog. She says of herself: “I am living every day as if it’s my last, just in case it is. I urge you all to do the same.” I especially liked the poem I’ve re-blogged here — in part for its lovely sound and shape, but more importantly, because it’s true for everyone one of us, and not just for Kate.

who knows

He knows what he knows

And she knows what she knows

But who knows what she knows

And who knows what he knows

Some days I don’t know

What I know

Let alone what he knows

And even less what she knows

It ‘s a strange conundrum

Wondering what he knows

Or she knows

When most days

I’ve got trouble

Remembering what I know

The point being

We know less about more

Nothing about everything

But in the end

Who knows?

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