Like my own life, I considered that my Bengal cat Liliuokalani would live a really long, long time. Like forever.
Yesterday, after a quick decline (her heart trouble bloomed in about a month) the vet, a hyper gentle, sensitive soul, administered ‘the shot’ and I held Lili in my arms while all the force of her feline instincts rallied to capture: One. More. Breath. Her frame twisting and turning, fighting against the void — her mouth yawned wide, her eyes dilated into black full moons — as she force-rode the border between living and no-thing. And then completed.
All of that moment is seared into my memory screen today. Hard to shake. It’s one of the bookends between our time together. The joy and sweetness of the very first day I met her and the bitterness of the ‘closure.’
In Portland two years ago I watched my stepmom go through similar contortions the day before she died — not as feral, but her body’s elongating and recoiling in the bed — a leg suddenly jutting skyward like a showgirl’s and then slowly curling downward/inwards towards the comfort of a fetal position. My aunt leaned over to me in the hospital room and said, “Well, she always was limber. Used to be a dancer you know.”
When they left me alone with Lili’s body I stood above her and marveled at the mystery. The eerie kind of invasion that overtakes the mind when confronted by life’s literal demarcations: One minute prior there was an animated beast cuddled in my arms — now — just this shell thing. A beautiful thing, but not Lili. A beautiful Bengal cat rug. Gurdjieff remarked once that: “Time is breath.” This must be true.
What’s timelessness about? I’m curious about this.
Even at home, an hour or so before taking her to the vet, Lili came shuffling out from the bedroom after she heard the distinct sound of a can of tuna being opened in the kitchen. Despite the fact that she’d no appetite. And then later in the living room, beneath a chair, she made a small lunge towards a sparrow that had landed on the outside deck. Bird was gone. But her attention wasn’t. She shifted again, fascinated now with a spider that was moving up the sliding glass door’s edge. Could she reach it to swat it? No awareness that in an hour she’d be lugged over to the vet and no longer be alive.
I want that. Not an unconsciousness towards the reality of my death, but a vibrant curiosity towards the last rattle that rides the demarcation. In her song Sweet Bird Joni Mitchell sings:
Out on some borderline/
Some mark of in-between/
I lay down golden in time/
And woke up vanishing.
Seems we’re always on this line, but we ignore its patient persistence to finally blur and then cut. We fill up the space and the time about our death with ideas, beliefs, theories, something some Buddhist told us, or maybe grandma’s ideas about Jesus and family reunions in heaven. Read more
When you notice a cat in profound meditation,
The reason, I tell you, is always the same:
His mind is engaged in a rapt contemplation
Of the thought, of the thought, of the thought of his name:
His ineffable effable
Deep and inscrutable singular