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By Judith Gayle | Political Waves

IF LIFE is a journey, then the companions we meet along the way are the substance of it. We may look back on our lives focusing on those who thwarted and challenged us, but the daily, the mundane, the usual seems -- suddenly -- an extraordinary presence of grace.

For 17 of her 18 years, my life was joined by a little cat we called Meeschka -- or Meesha; Mia; The Kitten. She was a wisp of a thing, coming to me when she was about a year old, already having had a litter and been discarded by her owner. Perhaps that's why she was so distant for most of her life.
Mia didn't have many of the "kitty skills" I prefer in a feline. She wasn't overtly friendly or demonstrative. She wouldn't sit on your lap or allow herself to be held; preferring, instead, to keep her boundaries even as she sidled up to await a scratch. Her purr was so subdued you had to listen for it carefully. I complained over the years that she wasn't a "satisfying" critter, but she was constant and pretty much took care of herself.
Meesha didn't play well with others; shortly after she came to live with me, I was given a miniature long-haired Dachshund puppy, Widget, who pretty much took over my life. Mia tolerated him as best she could, although he was given to spurts of "race 'n chase" that annoyed her, threatening her dignity and spinning her in a vertical direction to walk the backs of the furniture, peering down at him with her tail a'twitch. Still, he was "her" dog, and they co-existed peacefully enough. On our travels, we were joined by many other critters: she met them hissy and kept her distance. If it were possible to fall back to the shadows even more, she found a way. Did I mention? She was a wisp of a cat.
My son and I are roommates, here in the Pea Patch, and besides Sunshine the canary, Meeschka and Widget have outlived all the rest of the menagerie, a pair of geriatric pets beloved by us both. For years, Widge was my constant companion, headquartering in my room and sleeping on my bed while Mia selected the Boy-o, waiting until he was asleep to settle beside him at a respectful distance. About a year ago the canine and the feline evidently had a stealthy critter-conversation of some sort because, within a space of three days, they'd switched partners, Widge shifting to my son's room and Meesha settling in with me. I thought it odd, but trying to change these kinds of things is like trying to divert a stream -- no matter what your druthers, it will go as it pleases. That was when the little black cat and I began an unexpected relationship that we'd put off for years.
If you're trying to picture her, Mia was shapely and sleek, her face slightly exotic: she looked faintly Egyptian to me. Her coat was shiny black as night; in fact, she was so completely black that it was hard to pick out her details.  Nature had given her the kind of vision-blurring invisibility that perfectly matched her preference as a loner. Her eyes were gold and wide, or, they were before they clouded with age.
For a long while, it seemed that she would never grow old -- that she'd sold her soul to some Cat-Devil and would remain dainty, dignified and unchanged while the rest of us grew into our years, the only sign of her aging would be her slowly whitening whiskers. And then, several months ago, a startling thing happened. A friend was visiting with his Beagle and Meeschka came walking down the hall, oblivious. She padded through the living room and the dog, wagging his tail, took a run at her, prodding her with his nose. She didn't react at all -- but I did, grabbing her up and breaking her "Thou Shalt Not Touch Me Unbidden" rule to peer into her foggy eyes. The Kitten was blind, covering the distance between my bedroom and the back of the couch with a kind of instinctual kitty Braille, assisted by her whiskers.
Those of us who can't think of living without pets are put into an uncomfortable position -- we are responsible for both their life and death. It's heart-gripping and unthinkable, but that's the requirement of these arrangements. I began a daily check of quality-of-life issues -- was she eating, was she active, was she suffering? Fortunately, she appeared healthy and, in her own indomitable style, able to come to terms with her environmental limitations. The glitch in the picture came when she found herself alone -- perhaps it was the kitty equivalent of a senior moment -- she would yowl, loudly. If she heard my voice, she'd settle down. Eventually, she became used to me picking her up and bringing her with me to whatever room I was in. She's been my constant shadow since last summer.
Trusting me to meet her needs, bedtime became a ritual in these last months, intimate between us and predictable. Meeschka would have found her way to her perch on the back of the couch and spent the evening dozing to the noise of television, computer keys clicking, whatever. At some point I would turn everything off and say, "Ready for bed, Mia?" She would stand up and wait for me to lift her, and I’d carry her to the foot of the bed. After the lights were off and everything settled in, including me, I'd tap my fingers on the bed next to me and call her. She would move, carefully, slowly, into position next to me, hesitate only a moment before her face found mine and then she would bump my nose with her head for a while. I would stroke her and she would begin to purr loudly, a purr I'd never heard before. If I woke in the night, I could feel her, pushed up against me and, in the morning, she'd still be there. After all these years as pet and pet owner, these last months had made us dear friends.
I noticed that she wasn't eating much about ten days ago; in the last few days she didn't eat at all -- I coaxed her with wet food, with dinner scraps. She turned up her nose and got thinner by the day, yet when I would pet her, she would purr. This morning when I woke, she had left my side and made her way back into the living room. When I stroked her -- and I did, for a long time -- there was no sound. So today, I did the responsible thing, and -- yes -- I write this in tears. For the first time in forty-odd years, there's no cat in the house.
Jane Roberts, an early channeler of an entity named Seth, and author of The Seth Material, spoke from universal consciousness on matters important to the world, and occasionally, to Jane herself. One such communication concerned a cat that had attacked her. Seth advised Jane that the cat had come to her in order to work through her issues with her mother-in-law (I believe it was her mother-in-law, but perhaps it was her mother). Her ability to co-exist with the cat and meet its needs was the key to understanding an aspect of the relationship that had eluded her. I think reading that, back in the 60s, was the first time I got validation on something I'd intuited long before -- that animals exist on levels beyond our understanding. I'm not sure what Mia and I were teaching one another -- her issue was trust, mine was appreciation. Perhaps the fact that we came to just that, at last, was all it was about. Perhaps that was the dance.
There will be other cats, and when Widget's time comes, other dogs; I'm sure of it. I can no more face the world without the kind of love that pets and I share than I can breathe underwater. I'm sure each will be unique because cats are not just cats and dogs are not just dogs -- they're aspects of ourselves, of others that confound us, each with their own psychic ability and complexity, each individual. I know people who have lost pets and refused to ever have another, insisting they'll never put themselves through that loss again; people say that when they divorce too, or when loved ones pass away: I don't understand such a declaration.
Each pet, each person I've lost has taken a bit of my heart with them when they go, yet my heart continues to grow and expand in its capacity to love and appreciate. Each opportunity to share love has enlarged my appetite for it, sharpened my ability at it, blessed me. To push back any opportunity to experience love, in whatever way it comes to us, is to push back life itself, isn't it? Is the pain of loss so sharp that months, even years, of the best that life offers should be avoided? Doesn't death come soon enough, as the inevitable? The daily, mundane, usual moments that conspire to offer us an opportunity for love and sharing IS the journey, isn't it?
It will take a while to get this catch out of my throat, and for the waterworks to dry up. It will take time, the great healer of wounds. And sometime soon, I will catch a shadow out of the corner of my eye and think of Mia -- think of how she trusted me in an untrustworthy world, think of how she butted my face each night, sightless but present with 100% of her kitty self, and purred louder in those last months than she had in all her life -- and I'll smile. In a world that goes bump in the night, love came, with a nod to Sandburg, "on little cat feet." 
She was a wisp of a cat. Did I mention?

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