Kierkegaard and the Cat

This is a true story about change; life change. This is also a story about saving lives, both physically and emotionally.

Personally, I am not fond of cats; at all. They obey no one, crap where they want, and when the mood strikes, which is often, they sink their claws into you. At best, we tolerate each other.  Fortunately, my wife has become allergic to cats, so the problem should fix itself.

I accept that I am not a cat person.

Dogs don’t fare any better than cats as I don’t require the company of either. I’d rather open the front door and bid them all fond farewell, but I don’t have that kind of luck. After a couple of hours, they inevitably return, the dog eagerly rushing in expecting to be fed, while the cat, taking its leisure, strolls up to the door and then stops in that perfect spot, the little place where you can’t open or close the door without hitting it, and then arrogantly, begins to groom itself, forcing one to hold the door half-open until the damn thing decides whether or not it wants to come in.

I accept that I am neither a cat nor a dog person.

I don’t want to “own” another life. Having to decide when to end the life of an aged or ill pet is more than I can bear and a decision that I don’t feel belongs to me; I’d rather open the door and bid them farewell.

So, imagine my surprise, that while on a recent trip to Branson with three of our Grandchildren, my wife announced that she had bought us five tickets to hell; ok, not really hell but close enough, a stage show called “Amazing Pets.” This was a “live” production featuring the “amazing” antics of, wait for it, trained dogs and cats. The children were over the Moon, and I was forced to plaster a fake smile on my face. She had me by the balls, and she knew it.

I am not an animal person, and as I’m often reminded, I’m not much of a people person either.

After being seated, I pulled out my phone; I was going to pout while reading the news. At some point, though, I glanced up and noticed that spread across the stage was a long row of animal perches, some relatively high, some low, and on each sat either a cat or a dog. “Maybe they would start fighting,” I thought to myself, amused at the prospect. But, oddly, they didn’t; each stayed in their seat, very still and stared, in unison, at the well-dressed man who was facing them in the same way a Conductor faces an Orchestra or, in my case, a condemned man faces his firing squad.

He then pointed to a particular cat and, with hand gestures, guided it towards a tall tower. The cat did as directed. It climbed the tower, walked across a feline tightrope, and then when dismissed, promptly returned to the same perch from whence it came. He then pointed to a different cat who also performed as well as the first.

“This isn’t possible,” I said, sitting up. “You can’t train a $#!#%* Cat!”

I was reminded of a quote from Bill Dana,

“I had been told that the training procedure with cats was difficult. It’s not. Mine had me trained in two days.”

This Conductor, this Trainer, this Man, was doing the impossible with the impossible; therefore, I concluded, he must be a Wizard and that the cats, well, they were, obviously, stoned.

The dogs were then summoned to perform, and they did fine. They were dogs; I’ve seen this before. While the dog act, yawn, ultimately drove me back to reading the news, I couldn’t stop thinking of the cats and how they had remained entirely still while the dogs hurriedly pranced about the stage, often within inches of them; the cats just didn’t seem to care.

When the dogs were finally done; finally, the Wizard’s gaze returned to the “Stepford” cats. They stood upright and rolled barrels at his direction, walked, talked, and jumped from platform to platform. What surprised me the most, though, was that they did it all without hesitation or complaint.

Perhaps I could be a cat person if I found the right cat for me

The Wizard then raised his hand, and stage lights began to change; they began moving until all the lights were centered on one cat. Looking back, It was at this moment that the event became surreal, almost Kierkegaardian, if you will.

The stage had been cleared of all its props except for two small, waist-high platforms, one on the left and another on the right, about six feet apart. The Wizard then pointed at the cat, directing it to climb atop the left platform. Obviously, his intention was for the cat to jump from one platform to the other. The cat then climbed up and sat very still, focused entirely on its demigod master.

Suddenly, about two feet in front of the cat, the Wizard thrust up into the air, a large, red, paper-covered hoop, blocking the cat’s view of the other platform and the six-foot span that separated the two. The audience gasped. A three-foot, circular wall now blocked what would have been, already, a difficult feat for the cat, in and of itself.

The cat lowered its chest as it prepared to leap. Its eyes were keenly focused on the large red wall blocking its path. The master then tapped the edge of the wooden ring twice, tap-tap. Like a compressed spring, suddenly released, the cat leaped forward, hitting the red hoop, center mass, tearing through its paper barrier, and, miraculously, landing directly on top of the opposing platform, where it began to slide, finally coming to a stop near the edge of the stand.

The cat quickly regained its composure and turned around, proudly facing the Wizard. The Wizard then bowed to the cat and gently retrieved it from atop the stand. With his other hand, he raised the large hoop, with its torn red center, high into the air as the audience stood cheering and clapping.

I think that I could be a better person if I spent more time with a cat, any cat

I sunk back down into my seat, relieved; was this a miracle, a true Kierkegaard “Leap of Faith” kind of moment? Yes, it was, I concluded.

Hyperbole, you say? I say, Nay, Nay, and here is why.

Dogs and Cats have been Humanity’s most excellent companions since the beginning of time. Not mine, of course, but everybody else’s. With the dog, we’ve made our peace. Rarely do we overthink a dog’s role in our lives; he’s our most faithful friend, period. A dog listens, obeys, and will fight to the death to protect us, right or wrong.

But the cat, sadly, is quite different. Cats feel that they are “above” us. In ancient times, they were once worshiped as gods, and according to Terry Pratchett, “they have not forgotten this.” Cats will never be our “best friend” and will, at best, tolerate our existence only as long as it serves their Wimsey. Additionally, at the first sign of trouble, the cat will abandon you without the slightest hesitation, as they remain loyal only to themselves.

Yet, this cat leaped…

The cat obeyed the human and climbed atop the stand. When directed, the cat leaped into the air towards what must have certainly appeared to be a wall, a paper wall, which blocked its vision, its path, and though ten thousand years of feline instinct cried out in protest, this cat trusted. It trusted the human. The cat had faith that the wall would yield and that its impact would cause it no harm. Further, after tearing through the wall, the cat believed in the human, that this man would not betray its trust, that the stand would be waiting beyond the oblique, a stand upon which it could safely land and recover without harm. The cat leaped…

The cat obeyed, the cat trusted, and the cat had faith, not only in the human but in the outcome as directed by the human. The cat leaped…

From atop a waist-high stand, the cat launched into the open air at a red wall and believed… The cat launched itself into the red wall, tore through it, and emerged on the other side, into the unknown, and safely landed on a platform and then waited, waited for the human. The human who rescued it, along with the other cats on the stage, from the local animal shelter when they were young and vulnerable.

I need a cat in my life

This cat is not extraordinary, yet it possesses faith, trust, and it believes. Its belief in the human is so complete that it ignores its instincts, and it trusts. It trusts in that which it cannot see or feel, for, during each subsequent performance, when it hears the “tap-tap” against that which would block its path, it yields its everything and takes an incredible “leap of faith.”

Why Are We Here? Right here?

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I don’t mean in the existential sense, I mean here, right here; look down at your feet. Have you ever wondered what kind of bad luck, Karma or whatever, it takes to be struck by lightning or hit on the head by a falling branch?

You’ve tempted fate, driven recklessly, flown in storms and maybe even poked a screwdriver into an electrical socket and still, somehow, you’ve survived.

Yet one day, you’re in a park full of trees and people, and somehow, in all this randomness, lighting strikes the exact spot where you’re standing.

So, why were you at that exact spot, at that exact second on that very day?

Because you were supposed to be.

Somewhere in your distant past, somebody connected to you, moved; maybe an inch, maybe a thousand miles and inevitably, a path was formed.

That somebody had a somebody, who, uncertain of their future, looked down at their feet and back from whence they came and took a step, extending the ancient path

Each time we interact with someone or something, we adjust our direction, but always continuing on the path that preceded us.

From what may appear to be chaos, comes order. If one could stand back far enough and see their ancient path from its beginning to the present day, tomorrow’s direction would become quite clear.

You were struck by lightning because your path in life began thousands of years ago and the place that you were standing, at that very minute, on that very day, was exactly the place where you were supposed to be.

Neither you nor the lightning is random.

M. S. McCown
2019

Thought: It’s time for the sheep to get the flock away from the shepherd.

This picture has been all over social media…

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My thoughts:

Why, of course I can pray
that his burden goes away,
but, why ruin such a well scripted act.
For if in God he believes, then God it must be
who’ll grant relief to his poor aching back.

The issue, you see, lies in what he believes,
as he’ll insist it’s a spiritual fact,
that a preacher is cursed, by the burden of his church, to live with a hunched over back.

The answer, I believe, is quite simple you see;
teach your flock to stop tithing in cash.
Most pastors today, wish the plates just go away, as the weight puts a strain on their backs.

At the end of the mass, when they’re counting the cash and chasing coins that keep rolling away, into bags its all placed and then dragged to a space where no auditor is likely to stray.

It’s because of this weight, those heavy bags and that strain, that his back aches forever in pain.
Dragging bags of the money and bending over quite funny, is why a preacher still stoops to this day.

He needs to embrace, this new modern age,
using credit cards, checks and EZ-pay.
For the sheep of today, won’t even think to complain, when you ask for their accounts in God’s name.

No more plates, no more weight, no more dragging, no more strain, no more pictures of you, stooped over in pain.

Soon you’ll stand straight, before St. Peter’s  Pearly Gates and we’ll see if that money gets you in.
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It’s all about “Choice”

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Enjoy Choice while you still have it!

A couple in their early 50s were celebrating. The last of their 5 children had moved out on her own, and they were now, finally, “empty nesters.” The house was quiet, a bit too quiet they thought, but they agreed to hold off making any big decisions for at least 6-9 months. Days turned into weeks and weeks into months and soon they again, began thinking about down-sizing and retirement, “oh, but what if we have grandchildren?” “we’ll need the space then,” they agreed, and decided to wait a little while longer.

About 6 months later, the phone rings. “It’s me,” she says. “I’m at the doctor’s office and, you’re not going to believe this, I’m pregnant.” (Silence) “Is that possible?” he asked. “Apparently, I didn’t go through, “the change” like I thought,” she replied. “The doctor wants us both to be here for the ultrasound.” “How far along are you?” he asked, surprised. “12-14 weeks, he thinks,” she said. “I wondered…” “Don’t even go there!” she snapped, “I thought I was just ‘putting on my winter coat’ after the holidays.”

The doctor wasn’t optimistic. This would be an age-related high-risk pregnancy and he closed his eyes as the results of the tests began to populate his computer screen. Cringing, he began at the top and, putting his finger on the screen, read each line one at a time. Ok…,Ok…, NT screening… positive, he stopped; Down Syndrome is likely. The doctor ordered a CVS test to be sure … it was positive. Based on the totality of the results, the doctor felt that the child’s Down Syndrome would be quite severe. The doctor explained the results, answered questions and said that abortion was an option that they should seriously consider.

What would you do?

While you’re thinking about that, let me remind you of one word; “choice.” You assume they actually have one. Fortunately for them, they still do; for now. We take for granted the word “choice” and casually allow others to force their beliefs upon us. I say casually because most do nothing, while one politician or another proposes legislation that attempts to take away YOUR ability to choose. I mean you may bitch about it, but that’s about it and then you’ll turn the channel.

Choice matters as when we choose, we evolve. Choice forces us to reason, to grow, to pick a side. One of John F. Kennedy’s favorite quotes was from Dante: ‘The hottest places in Hell are reserved for those who in a time of moral crisis preserve their neutrality.” While it’s not word for word as Dante wrote it, you get the point. Making a choice is important but having the right to actually choose, well that’s the ballgame.

As long as we continue to tolerate those who, for whatever ignorant reason, insist on taking away our right to choose the destiny of our own lives, of our own bodies, we’ll have no one left to blame but ourselves.  I guess we can still choose whether or not to obey, but is that really a choice?

Well, at the end of the day, they chose to have the child; a wonderful little boy. He has Down Syndrome but is considered “high functioning.” It has been a struggle, but they can’t imagine life without him and he seems to doing well. I most likely, would have chosen differently, though.

Society, or actually those who seek to control it, have little need for choice as it just complicates their decision making process. They would prefer that the flock simply follow the shepherd.

It’s just easier that way.

Even with the best of intentions…

Recently, I was helping a couple prepare their new 5th wheel trailer for a long drive home.

Earlier in the day, somehow, my having Parkinson’s disease came up and I, as usual, quickly steered the conversation elsewhere and we moved on.

When it came time to leave, he politely reached out his hand and asked if I would pray with him. He said that he was concerned about my “eternal future,” asked me if I had been “saved” and then handed me a Christian flyer.  I was speechless; he had blindsided me and my brain shut down leaving me without my usual list of excuses to escape.

He then began to pray and asked God, essentially, to cure me of Parkinson’s disease. He then covered the usual prayer essentials and said amen. During the prayer, my brain had a chance to reboot and after “Gotta go; dog died, house is on fire, daughter’s in jail, whatever,” I beat a path to my car.

People rarely, if ever, surprise me but, apparently, this gentleman was a Ninja Evangelist.

Now to be fair, he was kind, genuine and respectful. But, he said the “p” word and what’s even worse, he asked God to cure me.  That’s what bothers me the most. My Parkinson’s doesn’t belong to him, God or anyone else; it’s mine; everyday, all day. Oddly, I felt offended that he was trying to take it away so casually.

I’ve spent the last five-ish years trying to make peace with both myself and this disease. Each morning, as we stare at each other across life’s chess board, I still foolishly cling to the notion that I can actually beat this through sheer will and perseverance alone; new day, new opportunity, I guess. Fortunately, it’s progression has been slow, for now, and I’ve been able to adjust. At this point, I think of it as dying by Zamboni.

The truth is, I own this disease or vise-versa, depending on the day. I blame no one for it, including God. We all have our battles in life, and this, hopefully, will be the only disease that I ever have to fight, but who knows, life can be terribly cruel sometimes.

But, for now, this is my battle, my disease and my life. I’ve invested an enormous amount of time and emotional energy into living with it and if I’m ever to be “cured,” it won’t be because of a few presumptive words and a firm handshake. The world just doesn’t work that way.

 

 

Meeting a Parent for the last time.

In the beginning, a parent, for the most part, dictates the relationship that they’ll have with their child.  As the child matures and becomes an adult, it’s more 50/50.

I have had two fathers in my life. The first, of course, biological and the other, a step-father. As an adult, I chose to be distant from both. Neither possessed qualities that I liked or admired. One an alcoholic fighting his demons and the other, a dishonest man who “played games” with people’s minds.

The first passed away almost three years ago and the second, in late April of this year.

As a child and then an adult, I felt that I knew them well and that they, well, knew me.

When a parent dies, the “curtain” gets pulled back and you as their child, get to see how they really lived. If you’re curious enough, you look through the mountainous pile of paperwork left behind; bank statements, high school love letters, receipts and the 29 cent birthday card they bought sixty years ago. You find their box of knick-knacks, which to you, appears to be a box of miscellaneous odds and ends, but to them, each treasured item was a trip down memory lane.

If you’re thorough, you may have the rare joy of re-meeting your parents. Hopefully, as you sit amongst the enormous pile that chronicled their life, you are left uttering the words, “I had no idea…” and are pleasantly amazed.

But, peering behind the curtain can also be a double-edged sword.

The first peek left me with regret. We were more alike than I ever knew, both good and bad. I would liked to have known him better, but that, unfortunately, was not our way.

The second, I knew all too well and as I pulled the curtain tightly closed, I learned that with his death, the world is now, sadly, a better place.