On the Mortality of my Cat, or How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Finiteness
This, too, shall pass. Unless, of course, the “this” in question happens to be the impermanence of all things – that alone seems pretty much eternal and all- encompassing.
Nothing stays, nothing lasts. We’re all doomed, we’re all saved. It’s a matter of perspective, perspective that’ll change.
I am rather fond of my cat. I guess I love her?
Would I love her so much, I wonder – would I so value her presence in a particular moment – if she and I and everyone else were going to live perpetually in our present states? I’m inclined to think not, though I do think I’d still enjoy her contribution to what I imagine would be a hellishly boring existence.
No degree of contemplation and reflection is going to make me happy about Daisy’s impending death. I don’t want Daisy to die. But she will!
There’ll be the general inconvenience of not having a cat, of not having the comfort of a mass of warmth by my legs at night, of having no ears to scratch for my own therapeutic purposes. When I get, or find, a new cat, there’ll be the general inconvenience of initial unfamiliarity, the headache of concerns as to whether I can let him go outside and know he’ll come back.
I want to believe that I dread more than the general inconvenience, that my relationship with my cat amounts to more than pleasure in the convenient. I rationalize that it must, since it’s rather inconvenient to have to pick her shit up out of her litter box, to feed her, to postpone her death, to try to keep her happy. But cost-benefit analysis doesn’t represent an awful lot more than pleasure in the convenient.
I say, “Aw, Daisy,” when she rolls around, puts her paws in the air, does something cute. Occasionally, I recognize in my tone a slight affectation of regret.
“Aw, Daisy,” I suspect I’m truly saying, “would that I could be here for every moment you do something cute, for I know that someday you will cease to do these things, and I will miss you.”
Only philosophers, it seems, members of a profession we’ve been conditioned to scorn, care to think about this crap.
Paul R. Fleischman, in his The Experience of Impermanence, tells us: “The fantasy of our own greatness, the love we have for ourselves and everything we call ours, is the rock on which all of us build our lives. But every rock is a form of river.”1 That is to say, people can only seem to function as long as there are enduring fixtures in their lives on which to cling – but they are deluding themselves. Nothing endures. Everything is fluid.
That is to say, most everything I’ve been saying, and this guy’s paid to say it.
It’s so easy to get lost in the consideration of my feelings concerning this or that, and their justification, and whether I’m foolish, or misguided, or evil for feeling that way.
But if I’m sometimes saddened by the impermanence of all things, what worse way to make use of what limited time I have than to dwell extensively on its brevity? Are Fleischman and I idiots, flailing around for comfort through contemplation of what’s discomforting, when we’d be better served hanging out with our friends, kissing our girlfriends, petting our cats?
I don’t really think so. I do believe that contemplation breeds understanding, and that understanding of something is what allows me to come to terms with it.
I don’t like that Daisy is going to die, but I do like that when I’m ill, I know I’m either going to stop being ill or die; I’m not going to be ill forever. I don’t like that my youth is bleeding away, but I can’t tell you how glad I am that middle school only lasted three years. We’re still doing cost-benefit analysis, but in this instance, it doesn’t feel contrived.
Thanissaro Bhikku writes: “Insight begins with a question that evaluates change in light of the desire for true happiness. It ends with a happiness that lies beyond change.”2
Not all rocks are rivers. Impermanence is my rock. From the assurance that all my problems will go away, I derive my strength, my happiness beyond change, to cope with the reality that my cat is going to die.
1 Paul R. Fleischmann. “The Experience of Impermanence”. Karma and Chaos: New & Collected Essays on Vipassana Meditation (Onalaska, WA: Pariyatti Publishing, 1999).
2 Thanissaro Bhikkhu, "All About Change," Access to Insight, accessed Oct. 1, 2012, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/ authors/thanissaro/change.html.