A different take on one of our wedding photos.
Nothing wrong with a nice story. Santa Klaus is a myth after all. Krampus is a myth. Ganesha is a myth. We all enjoy a good story, and sometimes – as with Aesop’s fables or the Book of Job or Johnathon Livingston Seagull we can and do absorb valuable information about life from them despite the fact that they are largely or entirely fiction.
Problems begin to arise, however, when we stop being able to separate the trappings of the myth from its essential substance. Then it becomes possible, even desirable and convenient to begin focusing on the trappings over the substance.
If you accept the idea that there really was a historical Jesus, then its pretty much a given that you accept that at some point he was born rather than springing full-grown out of a well or something. But reason tells us that pretty much all of the rest of the information surrounding the birth of Jesus was made up rather than being literally true and that idea ought to be accepted. Spending a lot of time trying to justify all the colorful, symbolic details of the stories as literally true wastes the power and beauty of the story. It’s like reading Johnathon Livingston Seagull and spending your time arguing over what species of gull Johnathon was, or exactly which paw Androcles pulled the thorn out of.
I hope that as this Advent season moves towards its conclusion, those who celebrate it will remember the important parts of the myth – that this is the celebration of the entry into the world of someone extraordinary.
Not my art of course, but a worthy reminder that art can be powerful – so powerful that even little cartoons like these can make people very, very afraid and very, very angry.
When he came to our house it was two weeks before he was more than a shadow darting out from under the furniture in the night to quickly grab some food or use the litter box before disappearing again. It was longer still before the patter of feet heralded his first attempt to get up on the bed – again only at night, and only if our feet were well and truly covered.
In the end though, he decided that he would not hold the many injuries he had sustained against us, that he would sleep where we could feel him and stand where we could see him. That he would come to be petted and brushed (and oh how he loved to be brushed) despite past betrayals, despite past injuries, and despite past disappointment and mortal terror.
He was a merciful cat.
I hate going into animal shelters. They break my heart every time. So, after combing through the online photos and background on something like 100+ cats to narrow down my selection to Benjamin, I wanted to go in prepared. I had the adoption form all filled out, I had the money, in cash, so I wouldn’t have to fool around with electronic transfers that might go down, I had Benjamin’s picture, and I checked the night before going to make sure he hadn’t been adopted. I arrived, via my friend Ken, at precisely 10:00 am when the shelter opened, strode into the building and up to the counter, where a nice young man was just setting up the cash register.
“Hi!” said the nice young man, looking very perky, “Welcome to Mercer Island Orphans and Waifs. Can I…?”
“I want to get a cat,” I interrupted, cutting him off.
“Great!” said the nice, young, perky man, looking pleased. “We have many cats here that are….”
I interrupted him again “I want to get Benjamin Black,” I plopped the fully filled out adoption paperwork on the counter.
“OK…” said the young man. A little of the niceness and all of the perkiness seeped out of him. He seemed a bit unsure all of a sudden. He started again, “Let me go back and check the records to see if he is still here and then…”
I glanced over at the cages, and easily spotted Benjamin – he was older, all black, big, and had a bent ear. “That’s him.” I said, pointing. “Right there in that cage.” Now I had done it. I had looked at the other cats. My heart started breaking, but I got a grip and turned back to the young man. For some odd reason he seemed a little concerned. I started pulling out $20.00 bills and plopping them on the counter. The young man looked from me to Benjamin to the money and back at me. Doubt was written across his face. After a second he blurted out “Don’t you even want to take him into the visitation room???”
Well no – no I did not want to take him into the visitation room. I wanted to get the hell out of there before I came home with twenty cats. But it finally dawned on me that the young man had begun to suspect that there was something odd about me. Like maybe I was going to vivisect the cat or use it in a recipe or to summon satan or something. As much as I didn’t want to stay in that shelter for one moment more than necessary I was even more sure that I didn’t want to go back to the photos of hundreds of lost and abandoned cats to start picking another one. So I smiled and said “Oh, sure!” So I went into the visitation room, and the young man got Benjamin out of his cage.
And Benjamin started to scream.
He wasn’t yowling or howling or growling or making any of those noises normally associated with cat activity – this was pure, brutal, unadulterated terror from a cat that believed that it was in peril of its life. And it was earsplitting. It was loud enough that I could feel it. And bad as it was, when the young man put the cat in the small visitation room and closed the door behind him it got louder and worse as Benjamin black wedged himself into the corner that was as far away from me as he could get and just screamed and screamed and screamed and…
“What the hell,” I thought to myself, “has this cat gone through that would make him react like this? Like I was about to murder him? This is awful! ” And suddenly I realized that I very much wanted this cat not to have to scream all the time. I very, very much wanted him to be in a home where he didn’t have to scream all the time.
So I sat there, in the visitation room, with the screaming cat, and tried as hard as I could to do absolutely nothing that might make him feel more frightened.
Minutes passed. Benjamin did not stop screaming. Other staff came in and out and Benjamin did not stop screaming. A woman came in with her daughter looking to adopt a cat, and Benjamin did not stop screaming. People walked by the visitation room and glanced in, and I could tell by their looks that they were worried – the woman and her daughter were worried that I was doing something absolutely awful to the cat. The staff, on the other hand, was worried that I was not going to adopt, that there was no way I would adopt a screaming cat, and that Benjamin would go back in the cage again.
But I placed my hope on patience. I thought that with time the screaming cat might become a non-screaming cat. So I adopted him, and I took him home, and he screamed all the way.
But in the end, patience won.
This is Benjamin Benjamin was a very good cat who had a very crappy life until we met him. Whoever had Benjamin first mistreated him. His tail was crooked where it had been broken, you could feel the lumps in ribs that hadn’t healed properly, one of his ears was a big lump of scar tissue – probably from mites or worms – his front teeth were all ragged, and he was terrified of feet. He had come to MEOW (Mercer Island Eastside Orphans and Waifs) as a rescue project, and had stayed in a cage there for over a year. Then he was adopted out, but didn’t get along well with the dogs in the household and was returned to languish in a cage for another year until we happened to meet him.
I came to the shelter with the $50.00 adoption fee, but it turned out the Benjamin, having been in the shelter over a year and being over 10 years old, had his adoption fee waived.
So he came home to our house, and he was free.
In this joyous advent season, with the celebration of the birth of Christ Jesus so near, what could be more uplifting and inspirational for inclusion in an advent calendar than a shot of prison cells on Alcatraz?