Living in the present is real work
If you are not a cat person, you might want to skip this one.
This is Oscar. We got him and his sister 16 years ago; she died last year from diabetes and thyroid problems.
Oscar is my friend. I don’t mean that as some kind of metaphor; I mean he seeks my company and I seek his, and we hang out together. He greets me when I get home from work and as I type this he’s lying on a cushion on my desk that is there for him. And being a cat he ensconces himself in my arms at night and stretches out and puts his paws on my shoulders and purrs himself to sleep. He’s my little buddy.
The health of an old cat
He isn’t doing very well. His health is deteriorating and his mind isn’t doing very well either. He often goes downstairs and calls out, looking for his sister. Yes, after 16 years I know his vocabulary at least that well.
He has cataracts, and moves with caution.. It takes him a long time to negotiate with his joints to lay down and get comfortable. He’s lost a lot of his formerly splendid muscle mass. We’ve had a couple near scrapes in the last few months, with vet visits, pushing fluids, medicine for his kidneys, treatment for impacted bowell. Last week I went looking for him in at three in the morning and found him under the steps, unresponsive.
Fluids, antibiotics, some kind of medicine for his kidneys. And more fluids. And he has rallied, again, and is getting around and enjoying life. Only I’m not sure he can do it another time; his liver is tender. It just may not be able to metabolize any more medicine. So while I don’t know how much time is left, there clearly isn’t a lot.
We’re just trying to make his time as nice as it can be and enjoy his company while he’s here.
But here’s the funny part, and by ‘funny’ I mean ‘funny-to-think-about’ not ‘funny ha-ha’.
I don’t know how various animals conceive of time, but it’s a fair bet that cats really don’t think about the future much. I think Oscar lives in a sort of eternal ‘now’ with little bits of ‘back then’ in his furry little memory. His confusion arises when he thinks his sister Holly is ‘now’ and he goes looking for her.
Not me though. Like most humans there’s a part of me that pretty much lives in the past – which is not as fixed as we would prefer to think. And quite a bit of me lives in the now, handling what I’m doing at the moment. And there’s also a large chunk of me that lives in the future.
This is the planning part of me, the worrying part of me*. And as I’ve found every time a friend, human or animal, approaches death, the part that gets an early start on grieving. That part of me lives in a time where Oscar is already gone, and already misses him.
Nobody said it was rational; it’s just human.
I don’t want him to go, but before long he will. It takes extra effort to tell that part of me to shut up so I can enjoy the present. The all-too-predictable future will get here when it gets here… I keep telling myself.
NOTES and updates:
- The virtue of living in the “now” instead of in the future is subject of songs, poems, sappy novels and movies – even scripture. And sure enough that’s true when spending time with an ailing friend for example. But I’ve suffered through some things that were made easier by the fact that I knew they were time-limited; either I would get better or, well, stop hurting anyway. Considering what lay ahead gave me perspective to endure that present.
- The worrying part of me is something my employers pay for. I can often anticipate what could go wrong so when it does, we’re ready.
- We got Oscar and Holly from a box of kittens in a trailer court with a sign on it: “Free Kittens”. I was taking a nap and woke up with two little kittens dumped on me.
- People with different cultural and family upbringings – not to say individual neurochemistry – probably have different proportions of past, present and future in their makeup.