Episode Forty Nine: A Beautiful Ride

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It’s Virtute’s last night living here at Dublin Street.  We’ve been having conversations off and on over these last few days of what it will mean to move and how to make the transition easier.  This afternoon we spent about an hour searching around the house for lost 1.5″ mylar crinkle balls, we sorted his cans of food (he obviously told me to place chicken pate at the top so that it will be the first one Jenny opens for him in the new place), and we also spent time chatting with Gumption.

Gumption is the wild card in this whole process. She’s never lived without Virtute and it will be important for us to see how she adapts to living on her own.  I overheard Gumption and Virtute having a conversation earlier today. Gumption seemed nervous about forging ahead on her own – she talked about how much she’s learned from Virtute (how to window hunt birds; how to find the best napping spots to catch maximum rays of sunshine; how to play ball; how to fight for herself).  Gumption worried that without Virtute around, she’d lose her way.

I expected some dramatic and comprehensive list from Virtute on the dos and don’ts of life.  He’s usually always good for lengthy monologues of advice.  But in this instant he stayed quiet.  Extending out his right paw, he gently tapped Gumption’s shoulder in an affectionate way.  Finally, he spoke, “I don’t have any specific advice for you, but I’ve learned a great lesson from John C. Reilly’s character Dewey Cox in the comedy film Walk Hard.”  Now this was something I was going to stick around to hear.  It definitely didn’t seem to be the time to reference a movie where the main character lives with the demons of accidentally cutting his brother in half while sword-fighting, resulting in the oft-spoken lines “You halved me Dewey!”

“At the end of the film, Dewey Cox is reflecting on his life,” Virtute continued, “when he suddenly gets the idea for one last great song. Are you listening Gumption?” Virtute tapped her shoulder again to re-focus her attention from the string she had begun playing with.

“Here’s my advice for you Gummy,” Virtute said with unusual care.

“In the end
It’s family and friends
Loving yourself
But not only yourself
It’s about the good walk
And the hard walk
And the kittens you’ve made cry
It’s about makin’ a little music everyday ‘til you die

It’s a beautiful ride”

And just like that, Virtute slunk off the bed, ran downstairs and returned with a 1.5″ mylar crinkle ball.  He turned to Gumption and said, “I guess this is yours now.  You’re going to have to learn this game on your own.”

I sat to ponder this act of kindness and to reflect upon the two years that we spent living together.  Though I will undoubtedly see Virtute regularly, I couldn’t help but think that he was right: it’s been a beautiful ride.

 

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Episode Forty Eight: Gifts

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I am no Ebenezer Scrooge, but truth be told,  I always feel pretty ambivalent about Christmas. Part of this ambivalence is from trying to negotiate time, space, and expectations as a teenager when my parents lived in different cities. Another part derives from my political values wherein I harness my disdain for the way Christian monotheism supplanted land-based rituals like Solstice and then capitalist consumerism supplanted family-based practices.  But most of all, I feel that we all lose our ability to differentiate responsibility from desire during this time of year.

Last night as I came home from a weary Christmas road trip through southern Ontario I was talking to Virtute about these feelings as he played with his new one-and-a-half-inch mylar crinkle ball atop a big old gift box (that was doubling as a crypt).  I recounted how in our contemporary times, despite our best intentions, many of us grow up learning that Christmas is about seeking easy gratification.  We hear the word “next” spoken (as in “open the next gift”) more often than we do “care”.

Virtute, taking a pause from his new toy. Leaned over and whispered “gifts”. A little dismayed at this intransigence, I presumed Virtute had temporarily joined the “cult of the consumer,” I was ready to head up to bed in defeat. Just then Virtute stiffened up, stretched and then perched on my lap.

“Gifts,” he repeated, a little more thoughtfully this time.  “The word comes from old germanic – it has roots in both that which is given – and that which is poisonous.  Perhaps that explains our conundrum.  As beings we survive because we aren’t afraid to give.  But if one gives, one must also be able to receive.  The poison, for most of us, is in our fear of what receiving gifts does to us.  We can veer easily toward gluttony, we can succumb to addictions and obsessions, we can put desire above care.  That is why many of us love to give, but struggle desperately to receive – while others love to receive, but don’t know how to give.  The poison is when giving and receiving become unbalanced.”

Wise words – and I could definitely relate to what Virtute was saying. I’ve always had trouble asking for help or have felt anxious about receiving gifts or praise.  Perhaps it is a fear of my inner megalomaniac – I am afraid that by accepting gifts or praise or kindness that I won’t be able to control my desire for more. Perhaps it is my fear of being lonely and I allow the practice of giving to stand-in for the practice of building meaningful relationships.

Virtute had disappeared. He likely noticed that I had zoned out.  But as I was snapping out of my mental fog and started heading up to bed, I heard the pitter patter of his feet come down the stairs. Clasped between his teeth was a small partially chewed up bow. He sat it down on my lap. A gift.  I clutched the bow between my fingers and told him, “I’ll keep this as a token of the long and loving relationship we’ve formed.” He smiled and he, Gumption, and I all snuggled up in the cold bed on Christmas night and fell asleep.

Episode Forty Seven: Δ

IMG_20151030_150031.jpgVirtute shut his eyes to avoid thinking about it.  After about an hour of anxiously scurrying around the house watching furniture get moved out, he could foresee that he was on the precipice of another life change. Virtute is not a fan of change – and frankly – I can relate to him. I also like familiarity, routine, schedules, and stability.  Change is unsettling.

For a few weeks we’ve been talking about the fact that Virtute would be moving with Jenny to her new place on St.Clair Avenue and that he would have a lovely fireplace mantle to crawl on and a new set of stairs to perfect his 1-inch mylar crinkle ball chase sequences.  But Virtute struggled to deal with this reality.  He burst into my room and unloaded dozens of questions in rapid fire succession: “Where will my feeding bowl be located? What if the smell of the new place isn’t familiar? What if there are new noises that scare me? What will life be like without Gumption? Who will sing with me in the kitchen?”  All very valid questions, but these were difficult for me to answer.  Part of what makes change so unsettling is that you must surrender to it in some way. You need to be willing to pass through change with all the uncertainties, fears, and anxieties that it brings. That’s what makes change transformative.

Exhausted and weary, Virtute asked me for advice on dealing with change. I suggested that I am probably not the best person to provide advice about this topic, but given that his question came with such sincerity, I would do my best to respond.  I told him that one of the techniques I’ve used to negotiate large changes in my life is to think back on other pivotal moments where change occurred.  What was it like when my parents divorced? How did I negotiate moving to Toronto? What did it feel like to be radicalized in a political sense? And when did I realize that being radical didn’t mean being self-righteous?  What does it feel like to fall in love? To leave home? To make home?

We talked for a few hours about these things, before Virtute sat up, stretching his paws upwards in a long, drawn-out way, and said, “Change is the part of the story that’s interesting to the reader but difficult for the main character.”  I thought about this for a bit, I wasn’t sure if that was exactly correct – change can be such an exhilarating experience. It can be liberating, like the first time you see that collective organizing can produce victories or the initial moment when you are free to be who you are or who you wish to become. Change can be inspiring, like when you hear music you thought was impossible to create or read words that bring you to action.  It can be purposeful, like when you begin to learn from past mistakes or develop a skill you thought you’d never have.  But even if it can be positive – change is never easy – and so I’ve been comforting Virtute with things that are familiar – mylar balls, regular meal times, games on the cat condo, and taking time to write in the blog.  After waking up from his nap and seeing that I was hard at work on this post he quipped, “I’m glad to be the main character in your story.”

It’s in moments like these that I fear I’ll miss him the most.