Cat lovers are irrational, and so is love. Not centered in that cool core of reason, the over-developed prefrontal cortex; love is far more than sex or romance, and includes love of God, ideas, art, humankind, family, friends, nature. Some call love a Darwinian survival mechanism, the workings of a “selfish gene.” I call it love.
My family was katzenaren, which means cat fools in German. We always had cats. Elizabeth and I now have Little Girl (photo above left) and Nero (sidebar, below right) who every day after breakfast, curl up on our bed for half an hour of washing and grooming before settling down to serious sleeping.
Nero is usually on my side, Little Girl on Elizabeth’s, or, for mysterious cat reasons, reversed. Sometimes they’re both together, always a picture of glowing contentment. Little Girl, smallish at 9 pounds, is a one-person cat, Elizabeth’s, and regards me askance, except once in a while when for no reason I can fathom,, she’ll approach and allow me to stroke her soft head and back. But Nero is mine, a fine, sleek, 14-pound “Tuxedo,” white chest and paws, shining black body. When I see him sleeping, I can never resist a pet or a nuzzle knowing he won’t mind, and watch to see his paws clench, that tell-tale move kittens make when nursing, maybe to stimulate milk flow. But adult cats do it their whole lives to show pleasure. Nero never disappoints and I’m always flattered.
Some keep cats as a practical matter, like my local locksmith, whose tabby guards against mice in his basement place of business, alone on weekends, yet round and glossy, seemingly no worse off for lacking companionship two days a week. Some people are wary of cats, some cultures fear them, and ancient Egyptians captured their compelling beauty in art. When I visited Thailand in 1955, I was amazed to see valuable Siamese cats everywhere, until I realized that they are the common everyday cats of the country once called Siam. Sir Isaac Newton, the scientist, invented the swinging cat door. After Charles Dickens’ cat, Bob, died, he had one of his paws stuffed and labeled, “In memory of Bob, 1862.” Edward Lear, who wrote The Owl and the Pussycat, had a cat named Foss. The Broadway musical, Cats, was based on poems by T.S. Eliot. Abraham Lincoln had the first White House cat.
Nero and Little Girl have one job, to be loved and admired, and do it well, a whiff of the natural world in our technologically besotted lives. It strikes me as wondrous that these creatures, born for forests and jungles, adapt so well to life with humano sapiens. We steal their birthright as hunters, and imprison them in idle comfort to help us cope.
Despite daily dispatches of human savagery, mendacity, and corruption, animals live natural lives in a galaxy far far away. They remind us that we are but a tiny bit of wondrous creation. Some we keep close by for their mystery and beauty, but we desperately need them all.