Every year or so, I step away from this blog’s human-centric perspective on the universe and check in with some of God’s lesser creatures. I interview my cats.
We have three — Harriet, 14; Taylor, 5; and Tom, 4 — and in the time I’ve “owned” them, we’ve established a certain language between us. They say meow, I feed them. They say meow, I clean their catbox. They say meow-meow-meow and I presume they’re sick and take them to the vet.
Deeper than any verbal communication, however, is the power of mental telepathy. Now, before you think I’m some kind of psycho pet lunatic, I’m not claiming I can read their minds. Actually, I am, but I don’t do it in a malevolent or intrusive sort of way. It’s just a manifestation of the bond that occasionally develops between one species and another species that sits on top of it. We stare at each other and can just tell what the other is thinking (most days, it’s Me: “You’re a good kitty, yes you are, yes you are”; Them: “This guy is both warmer and softer than any pillow.”)
In previous interviews, we discussed aspects of the relationship between man and his animal companion and, in a landmark December 2009 interview, a range of political issues and current affairs. Two of the three correctly predicted the Obama honeymoon was just about over, and that the GOP would become ascendant and sweep into Congress in 2010 (Harriet, instead, chose to lick herself). Though all three consider themselves Democrats, there’s just enough of an independent streak in them to give any halfway moderate Republican a chance to win their favor in 2012.
But this is the height of the Christmas season, and I was interested to hear what they think about how we humans celebrate our grandest of holidays. I wanted to hear their take on the religion behind Christmas, and whether there were any similar festivities in the cat world. I sat down with the panel near a window sill on a sunny afternoon recently to see what they think about Christmas.
Me: First, let me say Happy Holidays to you all. I won’t use “Merry Christmas” because I presume you’re not practicing Christians.
Tom: No, we’re not. I thought about converting a few months ago but it’s too much hassle, considering you won’t let me out of the house.
Me: Really? You thought about becoming a Christian?
Tom: Actually, you can do it online. My claws make it pretty hard for me to type, though. And, I needed to get a hold of your credit card, which isn’t easy either.
Me: My credit card? Why would you need that?
Tom: The Methodists had a nice no-money-down, no-payments-for-six-months offer that included a free toaster and I was really tempted. Then I realized, what am I going to do with toast? Probably just push it around the kitchen floor until it ended up under the refrigerator. No, mainstream Christianity is not for me.
Harriet: I toyed with Buddhism in my youth. I have a little Siamese in me, you know. But it’s way back on my mother’s side.
Me: Taylor, how about you? Agnostic, I presume?
Taylor: Yes, that’s right. I don’t believe it’s possible for the living to know for certain what heaven and hell and the afterlife are like. I presume it’s just vast, eternal nothingness, but what do I know? I thought that thread dangling from your shirt the other day was wild prey that I had to kill and eat, so I’m not even a real good judge of reality, much less the great beyond.
Me: Well, Christianity teaches that only humans have souls anyway, so you’ve all probably made the right choices for yourselves.
Taylor: Yeah, I’ve heard that too, and it bothers me. Makes it sound like God thinks you’re better than us.
Me: I think it’s just a matter of you being unable to accept Jesus Christ into your heart as your Lord, at least as a conscious choice.
Taylor: How do they know we can’t make conscious choices? Maybe not well-informed choices, but we can certainly act intentionally when we want to.
Me: I don’t know if that’s it, yet I can see … oww! What’s with the biting?
Taylor: Just wanted to prove I can do things on purpose.
Harriet: I think that’s why I was attracted to Eastern religion for a while. You might be a cat in this life but then you get reincarnated into something else in the next one. I was hoping I could make a kind of grand tour of all life forms, sort of shop around for one I liked and when I found it, stop being a believer and just remain what I had become. I was hoping for elephant but would’ve settled for rhino or hippo or really any large hooved mammal.
Tom: That’s not Buddhism, I don’t think. Isn’t that Hinduism?
Taylor: No, you’re thinking of Zoroastrianism.
Harriet: No, that’s the one where they put your body in a tower when you die and the vultures pick your carcass clean. They do that instead of burial. I didn’t like the sound of that one.
Taylor: You’re an idiot. That’s not what they believe.
[Brief spat erupts between Taylor and Harriet, with much hissing and batting but no one gets hurt].
Me: Okay, okay, maybe I should change the topic away from something as contentious as religion.
Tom: I think you’re trying to make us fight amongst each other. Last time, it was all political questions and now we’re talking about what we believe spiritually. These are emotional questions and we all obviously have strong feelings about them.
Me: Well, let’s take it out of the spiritual realm and talk instead about the “reason for the season,” as we like to call it. You can at least acknowledge the birth of a very wise man, and how it’s probably a good thing that so many people structure their lives to emulate his good works and loving philosophy.
Taylor: Or pay lip service to it anyway.
Me: No, I don’t think that’s the right way to look at it at all. I’m a lapsed Christian myself, and yet you can’t help but admit that a lot of good gets done in Christ’s name.
Harriet: The only time I hear you mentioning “Jesus” or “Christ” is when you stub your toe on your way to pick up the TV remote.
Me: That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m referring to all the charity and the fellowship and the Golden Rule, doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Tom: So that’s why you make us get down from the kitchen table while it’s perfectly okay for you to eat your breakfast up there.
Me: I don’t think that’s quite the right analogy. I’m just trying to keep you from tracking cat litter into my cereal. I’m talking about the compassion for other living creatures that brought you guys into our home in the first place.
Taylor: Oh, here we go. The noble human plucks us from the wild, civilizes us, makes us eat that crappy Science Formula, and we’re supposed to be eternally grateful for your kindness. Did you ever stop to think maybe we liked being feral animals? Just because living on birds and squirrels and sleeping under the deck isn’t for you, don’t assume other species want your kind of life.
Tom: He’s right. You Western European descendants were always out to save the savages of the world, not stopping to think maybe the aboriginal lifestyle of American Indians and native Africans and the bushmen of Australia was something that worked just fine for them.
Me: The bushmen? You’re bringing our treatment of the bushmen into this?
Harriet: The bushmen are totally relevant to what we’re talking about.
Me: Alright, I think we’re losing focus here a little bit. Let me ask you this, then: Is there any equivalent myth in the feline world to the ones we have, about God’s son coming to earth to die for our sins so that we’ll have eternal life in Heaven?
Taylor: No, we couldn’t come up with anything that creative. Remember, we’re simple beasts driven only by hunger.
Tom: What about that story we all heard growing up about a glorious kitten being born to a virgin, growing up as a simple cat, assembling a core of disciples, then threatening the power of the human legions and ultimately being put to sleep at the Animal Shelter only to rise from the dead three days later?
Harriet: I believe your thinking about that zombie movie Beth was watching that time.
Tom: No, no. You know the story I’m talking about. A group of Wise Tabbies come from the East bringing gifts to the young kitten, they follow a star to find him, he’s got a halo on his head …
Taylor: Again with the Wise Tabbies, huh? You made up that story yourself just to make you and your kind look good.
Harriet: Everybody knows Tabbies have a mean streak. That story doesn’t hold any water.
[Again, a fight ensues, this time with all three chasing each other up and down the hallway.]
Me: Look, it’s obvious you’re all a little out of sorts at the moment. Let me feed you your dinner and we’ll finish our discussion when saner heads can prevail. Kitty, kitty, kitty! Who wants some cat food? Kitty, kitty, kitty.
[All telepathy is temporarily halted as Harriet, Taylor and Tom rush to their food bowls, and wolf down their meals.]
Tomorrow’s installment: We discuss the secular side of Christmas.