Monday, June 06, 2016


A classic quote from the Venerable Bede:

“The present life of man, O king, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another, whilst he is within, is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant. If, therefore, this new doctrine contains something more certain, it seems justly to deserve to be followed.”

It was a pitch for Christianity.

Life as I’ve experienced it is a little different.  A scholar was sitting at a dining table alone about midnight with a lamp hanging over the papers where he was working.  It was summer and the windows were all standing open so the breeze could come through.  Because the light was attracting moths that fluttered and even died, falling on the papers and into the ink, the scholar became impatient.  But when bats also came swooping in to catch the moths, he lost his temper.

A tennis racket was leaning in the corner.  WHAP!  WHAP!  WHAP!  How do you score that?  Love all?  It was quite satisfying.  The question was whether to put up screens the next day.  He didn’t want to take the time from his writing.

I was trying to compose something intense this afternoon when two cats came shooting through like rockets, but that wasn’t the sound.  I was hearing small-scale terror-bleating.  The two cats were the Weirdo, formerly the Martian who became the Striped Terror but more recently Finnegan; and the Bunny who dearly loves Finnegan and sleeps wrapped around him if he doesn’t plant a back foot firmly in her stomach.  She’s a funny little blue cat, not quite properly developed.  The desperate cheeping came from a small bird, but I couldn’t tell which cat had it.  I opened all the doors so they could take it outside.

I thought the assassin, whichever it was, went out with its victim, but it didn’t.  I could still hear the bird, but the two cats had split up.  I had to move a lot of furniture to find the bird and enclose it in my hand, softly so as not to crush it.  It’s heart was beating wildly.  My hand was a flesh egg, a flesh nest — just for a moment.

I took the bird outside and hurled it up into a tree.  It was too hurt and fell back down.  I put it on a plant shelf to give it a moment to recover, but it wasn’t moving, just gasping, near the end.

With my thumb I pressed its heart until it was still.  When I took my hand away, a little heart-shaped spot of blood was on it.  Not actually from the heart, but from where its mouth spilled lung blood.  Ironic that thumb and heart are little social media signals.

This story has a bit of an edge because I’m trying to decide whether to put down Squibs and Crackers, my old cats now  with crippled hindquarters and out-of-control GI tracts.  They beg for food, but when they get it, they throw it up and get thinner.  I finally found a litter box big enough for them not to squirt the wall.  It’s about like a baby bathtub with high sides, but Crackers can barely climb into it.

The Venerable Bede was right — the ultimate tragedy of all animals and plants is that they live a span and then, just when we get attached to them, they die, disappear.  Jesus was only a tease.  Too bad.  I think he might have taken little birds into heaven without blaming these two household predators.  But I forgot to renew their water this morning and it was a hot day.  He might get after me for that.  But God is not my mother.

Squibs and Crackers the day they came in 2001.

If the two old sedentary cats — perhaps destroyed early by their rich canned catfood — were gone, it would mean freedom and more money for me (about $100 a month in cat food and extra light unscented cat litter.  Roughly 10% of my income.) which only makes the action wear on my conscience more.  But they ARE in pain a lot of the time.  They come to sit beside me, not wanting to be touched, purring in a strange self-comforting way.  They look in my face as though I might have a cure for them, a way to get rid of their pain.  The fact that I have a little pain myself is not helpful to my conscience.  Schweitzer said,  “I am life in the midst of life — life that wants to live.”  But he could have said just as truthfully, “I am death in the midst of death — death that wants to die.”

A tall old man from down the street waited for me on my nonexistent sidewalk in order to offer to “help” me cut my grass.  I got mad at him. I HATE being helped, because it means they’ll try to push their agenda on me and then I’ll owe them.  He was very patient and didn’t get angry.  There’s no use trying to explain how different I am.  He just accepted it.

They get on their riding mowers and cut everything the same height.  The front yard is a mess from when we dug up the broken sewer last fall.  I’m waiting for the backhoe to come replace the other half.  Estimated cost is about $1000, but no one ever knows what’s under the dirt.  The last trench wiped out half the daffodils.  I’m leaving the other half of them until they grow new bulbs and I don’t want to mow where I planted snowdrops and scilla in case they didn’t die after all.  

The peonies from the past will be cut down if you don’t already know where they are, because they haven’t quite bloomed and are in tall grass.  The robins kept planting cotoneasters under the poplars in the sideyard until I decided to just let them become a hedge but the wild honeysuckle has invaded, needing to be cut out, and there is a kind of path where the cotoneasters ought to be cut.  I like the way the path looks.

I hauled the front room carpet out to the backyard in 1999 and spread it as a marker for where the deck should be, but it’s imaginary still — no money for a proper deck.  Still, cats like to roll around on it.  I made a raised box for sweetgrass but it turns out I got it backwards — they want swampy places, so there’s tall grass in the box but none of it is sweet.  Then there are the stepping stones I’ve used to mark out the path in the sideyard and the cat path to the back shed that I shovel in winter.  Most of my yard is only in my head.

This tall patient man and I agreed it’s hell gettin’ old.  The top won’t go back on the toothpaste or come off the aspirin bottle.  Things are bubble-wrapped so protectively that it takes hedge cutters to get them open.  Spoons leap out of hands and wrists aren’t flexible enough to wash dishes.  I had to put up little cards to remind me what to take shopping (the store is thirty miles away so you daren’t forget, like, the check book) and all the steps for getting up in the morning: squirt this here, rub that there, take these pills, be sure your buttons are in the right holes.  

It would be different if we just went along to a decent age and then dropped over.  But it’s a long expensive slide to oblivion at last.  We two shook our heads and shuffled our feet in the dust.  Then one of those little all-terrain jitneys went puttering past with a noisy beagle puppy, his tail whipping cheerfully.  We laughed.  It’s all right.  For now.  But the windows are open.  I’ll write it down.

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