In my mailbox today I found a slightly crumpled paper with the picture of a tabby cat on it:
PLEASE KEEP AN [clipart of an eye] OPEN FOR MY LITTLE LOST CAT. HIS NAME IS “SEVEN” AND HE IS ONLY ONE YEAR OLD! IF FOUND OR SITED PLEASE CALL.
My thoughts went immediately back to last Thursday, when my wife and I were driving home from a day trip down the Delaware. Just down the street from our house, we passed a dead tabby on the side of the road, presumably hit by a car. I remember it rather vividly because Seven looks a lot like our cat Antigone; I was afraid I’d be spending the evening comforting my wife. But our little devil-cat was safe and sound and I didn’t give it much thought.
Until today, that is.
My wife didn’t think I should call. Better to imagine your cat gone away, enjoying some other place, on to a better life, perhaps. But I felt like calling was the right thing to do, so I called and left a brief message.
About an hour later, an elderly lady came to the door and asked me if I was the one who had called. Her husband had died some time ago and Seven was all she had left to care for. It was a trifle exchange in the grand scheme of things, but all sorts of curious social decisions were jumping into my head. Should I take her down to see her cat? Do I offer to get the body? Curious things. The circumstances were petty enough, as circumstances go; but the emotional repercussions were far weightier to me. It was more about this woman’s life than about a dead cat.
It reminded me of Tom Hank’s relationship with Wilson in the movie Castaway. “It’s a volleyball for heaven’s sake” our common sense was telling us, but our emotions understood the connection. Emotions are funny, unpredictable things; they can latch on to people, animals, jobs and even possessions. And though the objects of our affection may not hold any intrinsic value, the bonds we form often do.
So I checked the body to confirm it. Honestly, I couldn’t tell. The heat and decay had nearly devoured the remains. And another curious decision: tell her that decay made it impossible to know or make a confident best guess and give her the closure she needed. I decided that I’d rather tell her the cat was dead and risk a joyful reunion than give her false hope.
And there we sat on the bench out front of the house, two strangers brought together over a dead cat.
Goodbye, Seven. I hardly knew ye.