The two previous columns I’ve published that involved the two kittens I adopted last year – “Fortunate kittens” and in “Observing my kittens in an evolutionary perspective” – doubtless conveyed, in addition to the ideas I had in mind, my love of those two good-hearted felines.
So you can imagine that it was a pretty heavy thing when one of them disappeared recently. One morning, Wilbur failed to come home for breakfast from his nighttime enjoyment of the outdoors. (We live on a piece of land, partly landscaped, on a forested mountain).
We looked, and we called in vain, for our missing furry friend. For six days – no Wilbur.
I quickly feared the worst. Knowing Wilbur, I felt certain that if he were able to come home, he would. Therefore, he was either lost, trapped or dead. And of those three, dead was the one that seemed most plausible.
Most likely he’d been caught by some predator – a fox? an owl? – out in the forest near our house. And most likely, we’d never know what happened.
That likelihood of “never knowing” gave me a sense of how weird it must be to have a “Missing Persons.” Suddenly, someone you love – someone important in the landscape of your life – is not there, and that absence is a mystery.
Losing a loved one is always strange – the strangeness of “here today, gone tomorrow.” But not to know a thing about what happened is especially strange.
I thought of a funny and macabre moment in the movie, "Dances With Wolves", when our hero and another, coarser man come upon a skeleton in the grasses of the Dakotas – a skeleton with an arrow still piercing the rib cage. The coarser man says, “I’ll bet someone back East is going, ‘Now why don’t he write?’”
But despite the weirdness, as time passed I was starting to adjust to the new reality.
That’s the background for what happened next.
* * *
It was a bit after midnight. I was in bed, minding my own business. No, I wasn’t even minding my own business – I was half asleep.
I heard a cat give a “Hello, pay attention to me” call upon entering the room. I figured, of course, that it was Millie, Wilbur’s sister, who’d been especially desirous of loving contact with us since her brother disappeared.
I turned over onto my back, and the cat climbed onto my chest. The room was very dark, and I could feel the cat, but not see it.
Gradually, I registered with surprise how intense the cat was being – enthusiastically absorbing cuddles, kneading my chest, pressing against my hands, rolling over on top of me, purring very loudly.
I started to wonder: Millie can be enthusiastic and affectionate, but this had an intensity I wouldn’t have expected of her.
Also, this whole choreography of affection reminded me of what Wilbur and I had called, since way back when he was still a kitten, Wilbur’s “Chest time.” (This was Wilbur’s and my most passionate make-out time. And Wilbur’s declining interest in “Chest time,” as the months had gone by, had saddened me.)
So I felt compelled to turn on the light and to take a look at my ecstatic furry companion.
With the light on, the cat turned its face to look at me. And lo and behold there was the tell-tale white mustache. It was Wilbur!
I woke up April next to me, who joined in marveling at this totally unexpected return of the dead. Weird again – suddenly he whom we’d mourned was back, part of our lives again!
Wilbur continued to be very intense, one way and another, for more than an hour. I stayed with him for that whole time to let him express all the powerful feelings that were coursing through him – feelings that seemed to be joy, relief, love, excitement, and being overwhelmed with all that.
His return reminded me of another movie. Wilbur was acting like Dorothy (in "The Wizard of Oz") when she wakes up in her house in Kansas and is filled with the feeling that there’s “no place like home,” nothing nearly so wonderful.
He’s still not telling us what happened – just name, rank, and serial number. (He was slimmer but his fur was perfect, and he was uninjured.)
Whatever his story, this has clearly been a big experience for Wilbur, too. He’s grateful – deeply, passionately – to be back. He’s relating to me with love more than ever – like I’m the Scarecrow, the Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion rolled into one.
I hope for his sake and mine that some of that gratitude and love can persist. (As all our religious traditions teach: it is important to be aware of our blessings.) Persist for his sake, and for ours as well.