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.”