From Marj, Your Pocket Grandmother,
Cindy Sullivan is one of my favorite writers. She happens to also be a member of my Women’s Wisdom Group, so I asked her permission to post this latest essay. Enjoy!
CATS AND CONSCIOUSNESS
At 65, I still don’t know what to do with my life, but meanwhile, I am feeding abandoned cats, transforming the world one cat at a time.
In so many ways, this is “not me.” I don’t really like cats, never wanted a pet, find animal stories tiresome. But still, every morning at 7:00 a.m. I find myself putting on jogging shorts, packing up baggies of cat food, and driving to the path at the edge of the university where 15 to 20 abandoned and feral cats live between the dorms and the bay. Their’s is a perilous existence. On the water side of the path is brush and marsh land which is home to gorgeous shore birds, but also to raccoons and coyotes. On the other side of the path is a long stretch of dorms and parking lots. The path itself is used by oblivious joggers, racing bicyclists, student bird photographers, maintenance men on big noisy carts, lawn keepers with mowers, men with metal sticks for stabbing trash or smelly chemicals to control pests,and the occasional dog, with or without its owner. If I try to feed them before full light, the raccoons chase them off and eat the food. If I am later than 7:30 a.m., flocks of sea gulls attack them and eat the food. This university sits on an island. Other than boat, the only way off is by way of a very busy four-lane highway. The cats are stuck.
I never intended to feed the cats; I used the path for a 3 mile jog. It took about 6 months before I started noticing the same cats peeking at me along the trail. As they got used to me, several would howl piteously as I ran by. Before long I started talking to them and then I took them a Christmas dinner including paper plates and wet food and water! Their excitement brought me joy. Things progressed or regressed depending on your point of view. Word spread an before long there were 15 or so cats scattered along the path waiting for food every morning. I couldn’t carry both food and water so I made a decision that I would just take food. Even that is heavy, and before long I stopped running and just jogged, and then I stopped jogging and just walked, and now I just go feed the cats.
Some say to me that cats are wild animals and capable of caring for themselves. Perhaps. I could say the same thing about humans, but I wouldn’t leave you outside with no shelter and no food and no water forever until you become food for coyotes or die from hunger, or heat and thirst and exhaustion,or from cutting yourself on a broken bottle.
This cat endeavor costs more than I can afford; it takes more time than I want to spend; it keeps me from exercising; it makes going out of town painful. And it makes me a bit of a laughing stock among my friends and acquaintances. I now fit the cliche of the old woman using her small pension to feed cats. I endure all sorts of empty comments and knowing smiles from people who really think I am getting my own needs met in the cliche of feeding strays. There is more.
We who are awake like to think of ourselves as Evolutionaries, as people who are living beyond the insanities of modern culture. We aspire toward social artistry. We work to transform the consciousness of ourselves,and all humanity. It seems, however, that we have vastly under-estimated the incredible richness of the natural world that is really here. If we are to live in transformed consciousness, then, surely, we must offer the animal and plant and, maybe, even the mineral kingdoms our compassion, or at least our understanding.
Culture is obviously opening to inclusivity. We are trying to let to go of attitudes of racism and sexism and ageism, but what about speciesism? I look forward to a time when we include the other species on the planet when we speak of loss due to fire or tornadoes. How can a newscaster possibly say, “fortunately there was no loss of life” after a forest fire. Do we so take the trees and grass and birds for granted that we don’t see their loss. Or is the recognition just too painful to carry. If I truly open my heart to all the pain there is here, will I be able to stand up? Maybe not. But ignoring it isn’t working either. Joseph Campbell called humanity the consciousness of the planet. If so, then we must start growing our eyes and our hearts to embody the dignity of that position here on Earth. We need more wisdom!
As a culture we have progressed to the point where we look to nature for more than oxygen and wood and water. We do recognize its outrageous beauty and its ability to model almost everything from architecture to sustainable social systems. But we still act like the top of the hierarchy, expecting that our good fortune will trickle down to the animals. At the risk of sounding ridiculous, I really do feel that as humans live more satisfying lives and find bigger dreams, then so should the elephants, and the trees, and, yes, even the humble cats.
Anyone who has paid real attention to an animal knows that creatures are capable of moral choices. These little cats are living at the extreme of survival. They are skinny, scarred, and scared. But still, they share their food. And when I have poured their little piles of food on the cold cement of the lamp posts where I feed them, they stop, look at me and meow before ravenously attacking the food. You can call it what you will, but I call it gratitude. And as I come back down the same path where they have been fed, they call to me with their tiny little voices from the high grass at the side of the path where they hide. Usually it is just a single vocal sound which sounds to me like, “I am here. Thank you.”
We all know the blessings offered by nature. Every one of us has enjoyed the comfort of a leafy green tree offered in a time of pain, or the sweetness of a rose bush in a place of despair. We feel deeply humbled in the majesty of mountains and the power of the ocean. Our feet are joyful walking on green grass, and we smile watching squirrels chase each other in play. The sight of a dolphin leaves us breathless and a spider web leaves us awed. How then can we ignore their pain and their despair when we make decisions about oil drilling and parking lots and another, yes, another Walmart.
I know I sound preachy and way too serious. I haven’t made you laugh, or opened your hearts. But I so am deeply deeply troubled by this issue that I can’t get to my own “lightness of being.” I just want to stand on street corners like the Salvation Army and scream at people to wake up, or drive around town with an enormous megaphone castigating strangers, or run away, join Green Peace and spend my life chasing Japanese whaling boats.
I once had a wisdom dream. I was lying absolutely still and a million wasps covered my face. I knew that if I so much as blinked an eye I would be stung. I imagined the pain and knew I would die. So I was caught between paralysis and death. What to do? After some agonizing time pondering my choices, Wisdom came as a disembodied voice. She said, “There is a third option; communicate with the wasps and ask them to leave.” In absolute wonder I immediately awoke. Since then, I have never doubted the profound intelligence of nonhuman life. That doesn’t mean that I will let scorpions live with me, but it does mean that I will think hard about what to do about such a situation.
We speak blithely about the religion of kindness, but does it stop with our neighbors?
I don’t know how to make the whole nature-people-living-together-in-a-finite-space- thing work, but I know with my whole being that unless we offer compassion and graciousness to all living things, we will not, cannot move into transformation.
What would happen if humanity began to make intelligent and wise decisions based on the needs and desires of the animal kingdom even when it meant having to give up some of what we want? Imagine a huge out cry of relief and appreciation coming from all creatures —from whales and wild horses and dragonflies and flamingos. Imagine cherry trees and azaleas and jasmine and magnolias all blossoming in gratitude. Can we begin to perceive the unfathomable beauty of such a festival of joy? Surely, even Al Qaeda would have to give up hatred and fall into the splendid light of such a powerful loving consciousness.