My Cat Taught Me To Hear the World Speak

Humans have had pets or animal companions for thousands of years. They have protected us, helped feed us and, in times of stress, they have been a source of great comfort. Their non-human minds have confused and fascinated us. They have also taught us a great deal.


I was returning home earlier this summer, after a long walk up my hill in a very rural area of New York, when I saw a small animal a hundred yards or more downhill from me. It was black and, at first, I couldn’t tell if it was a large bird, maybe a raven, or one of my three cats. As I got a little closer, and the animal just sat there, I realized it must be my cat Max.


I called out to him, and he started up the hill to meet me as I walked down towards him. As he got close, I stopped. He stood up on his back legs and rubbed his head against my hand, as if urging me to pet him, and I couldn’t help but comply. His giving such attention to me led to my opening up to him.


I then tried to continue to walk home, but Max made it difficult. He walked a figure eight between my feet, rubbing against me as frequently as he could. Why do cats do this? When he walks with me, it’s as if he is trying to weave a spell that would halt me in my tracks. I stopped to pet him. He sat down and stared off at part of the scene around him. And I did the same. Maybe that’s all he wanted. Maybe he was telling me to slow down, look and listen. Smell the roses.


I noticed a dead branch of a maple tree supported by an evergreen. I noticed blackberry bushes, and little wild strawberries. Thirty years ago stately trees lined the road. Then the road crew came with their big machines and devastated the trees, cutting them down so the road could be made wider and the plow could clear away the snow. This, at first, outraged most of us who lived here. Two neighbors chained themselves to their favorite trees. Now, we’re glad the road is plowed and the trees are returning.


I listened to the gentle wind, birdcalls, insect cries and it sounded like the world was purring to me. If we give the world a chance, it speaks to us.


Not that Max or any cat is “perfect.” There are things he does that make me angry or cringe. But because of him I listen more to what the world around me has to say. Sometimes it purrs. Other times, it cries or rages. I listen because without this land, what was I? For Max, the land, the road, the trees, the other animals were not just part of his home—they were part of who he was.


This, this scene all around me—without it, I didn’t exist. Not just that it was part of my identity. My lungs breathe in sky, so when I speak, I speak sky talk. To walk forward, I press back against the earth, so each step I take is the earth walking. One movement of many feet. We humans have such powerful words in our heads we easily lose sight of what nourishes those words. My cat taught me this today. In this day and age of false talk, we need to be reminded of such truths or we might lose it all.


In these days of hurricanes and other disasters, I feel fortunate to live in a place where the earth is now gentle⏤and I am distressed seeing what so many have lost, homes and possessions, friends or family, and pets. I know everything can change at any moment. This is even more of a reason to listen, carefully. Even more reason to appreciate what I have and to work to preserve the environment that sustains us all.

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  1. Steven Kellerman

    So, did Max pass away? Sounds like it, since you refer to him in the past. Allow me to share one of my blogs dedicated to the death of my cat Tresor’, back in October, 2012. She was both a “hand-full” and a “head-case”, but she was such a beautiful creature and a true inspiration. I miss her terribly, but fortunately I still have such fond memories…she will always be with me. I hope my words provide some source of solace to you and anyone else who has experienced the joy of a feline companion. The following is a copy of my blog (including a link to a very pertinent poem, “Pangur Ban”):

    October 8, 2012

    (Scathing Screeds from a Cultured Custodian)

    Entry # 13: Wiping the slate clean

    My cat died.

    I’ll get back to that, but first allow me to apologize and explain my long absence. It’s been 6 months since I posted a JTJ blog. Please forgive my lack of dedicated diligence. Sometimes life hits you up with a slate of unexpected circumstances and you just have to take a break. When this happens, one needs to regroup, re-evaluate, and then resume. I am in this said process. If you’re gonna clean the slate, you need to erase your trials and injuries of the past. C’est la vie.

    We all experience tragedy and we all must muster the resolute spirit to rebound. Besides my cat’s death, I have also been dealing with many slings and arrows of mundane life: issues of jobs, relationships, economics, future prospects. When reality slaps you in the face, you either lick your wounds, or you mop up the mess and move on. I have been doing a bit of both.

    Tresor’ (my cat) finally passed on after 19 long full years of magical existence. She was an extraordinary creature of loyalty and nobility. This miraculous wonder of supreme devotion gave me not only love beyond all comprehension, but she manifested a god-like resonance of equanimity. She was the paragon of agape love. Rest in peace, sweet angelic amie. You will forever be the muse of my creative persona – the source of my felicity.

    So, now what? Do I retreat into a shell of fatalistic antipathy, or do I forge a new path of resurgent optimism? This is the prime question that challenges each and every issue of our lives. Life is a quandary of opposing options: do I acquiesce or do I act?…should I mourn or should I move on?…will I just survive or will I actually thrive? Life is often either/or. hmmm… Balance…aye, there’s the rub!

    As a janitor, I daily confront the task of cleaning up the mess that is left behind. Don’t misunderstand me; Tresor’ did NOT leave a “mess”. She was “clean” and “tidy”. But now, I find myself “straightening” up the “detritus” of former experience and past memories. It is impinging upon me to “wipe the slate clean” and get on with life again. And that’s not easy; infact, it’s a real bitch. I’m prone to cling to the comfort of memories, but I certainly don’t want to wallow in the pity of regrets. I have heard it said that the best way to honor a loved one’s death is to merely live on. So I shall.

    This heart-wrenching experience calls to mind a beautiful old poem (circa 9th cent) written by an anonymous Irish monk (some speculate it was Sedulius Scottus) about his cat, Pangur Ban. The author, in 8 short 4-line verses, compares the playful activities of mouse-hunting by his cat with his own scholarly pursuits of word-sleuthing. It is an absolute gem of pure simile and simple pleasure. To think that it was penned over 1000 years ago, yet still holds such relevance and quite obviously is so apt to my current experience, just leaves me in awe! Too long to reprint here in my post, I invite my readers to google at their convenience. Find at: Enjoy!

    but then, what the hell do I know?! I’m…

    – Just The Janitor

    ps. Je t’aime, ma Tresor’…je t’aime.

    • Dear Kelly:
      Max is, fortunately, still with us, still taking long walks and running around like a mad man. I hear your love for Tresor. Animals can love us and evoke a sort of love that is so rewarding, alive, a sibling to human-human feeling yet different. I will read about Pangur Ban when I have more time. Thanks and be well.

  2. Kim Kluxen Meredith

    Max wanted to turn up nature’s surrounding whispers. I am glad you stopped to listen.

    • Thank you, Kim. I’m also glad to have had the sensitivity to listen. Be well.

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