Rental Cats

Cats tiptoe along the line between pleasure and self-preservation with grace and spontaneity. We never own cats; we only rent them for a few years.

Do you ever think about your cats dying, even when there is nothing wrong with them? I do.

Most of the time, I go along, behaving as if my cats will live forever and I will never be faced with their loss. It’s the kind of benign denial that keeps life from being too depressing. But recently, I saw Sparkle’s breeder at a cat show and found out her mother and her father were both 14 when they passed away. This bothered me a lot, because Sparkle is 12. Do her genes give her an expiration date of only two years away? You can see why I’ve been gloomy.

The truth is, all three of my cats have less future than they do past. Tortoiseshell cats seem to be especially hardy. When you hear about a cat dying at an advanced age, such as 20 or so, it’s often a tortie. But Binga is 14, and even if she makes it to 20 or so, she has already lived at least two-thirds of her life. I know nothing of Boodie’s parents or early life, but she is 13, so unless she is one of those record-breaking cats, she too has already lived far more than half her life.

I think about my own mortality too. I am coming to grips with the fact that like my cats, I have probably lived over half my life. I have no desire to survive to an advanced age. I don’t want to celebrate my 100th birthday in a nursing home. I want to leave when I am still coherent and vital and involved in the world and its wonders. I don’t want to decay into irrelevance, and these days I make my life choices based on that desire. I learn new things and take risks and enjoy what life has to offer, whether it is the healthiest choice or not. I’m going for quality over quantity.

And as I watch my cats daily, I see they do the same thing without thinking. They tiptoe along the line between pleasure and self-preservation with the grace and spontaneity I can’t seem to muster up for myself. They bask in sun puddles, stalk cat toys and beetles and make flying leaps onto surfaces that are too high for them and make it. They don’t know what tomorrow brings. In fact, they don’t even know what tomorrow is and they don’t care. And I shouldn’t care either.

The truth is we never own cats, or any other pets, we only rent them for a few years and then we have to give them back to whatever cosmic thing they came from. And the same thing is true for us humans. We’re only here on rental and most of us don’t know when the contract is going to run out. There really is no tomorrow, for my cats or myself. Why be sad for something that is not happening today? Enjoy the moment.

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