Sunday, November 27, 2011

Three Words I Learned -- No, Dieu et Mon Chat

Well, anyway, Three Words I Learned is what I'm calling the next blog entry I hope to make, if I can manage to figure out how to get one document from one place to another without erasing everything.  I don't understand why I seem to be the only person on the planet for whom these cyber-mechanisms are definitely not intuitive.  (So sorry for the lame ranting, but...)

Dashboard?  That's where you check to see if you're going to be pulled over by that State Trooper.

I am not a patient person.  I am not a gracious person.  I hate asking for help.  I worked very hard on this newest entry, and it's cheek-bitingly frustrating not to be able to put it out into the wider world.

So.  I've pledged myself to make a blog entry every single day (we'll see how long that lasts), and as far as I'm concerned, this one doesn't count.

But... wait.

It just occurred to me.

It's Sunday, isn't it?  And I actually have, in the back of my mind, a little set of thoughts that, for a Sunday, might be remotely (if unpleasantly) germane.  (For my friends of the Jewish faith, pretend you've just come from Temple)

I think of this as 'Dieu et Mon Chat'.

Dieu et Mon Chat.  By Walter Zimmerman. (who thanks you for your patience)

Usually, I start these things kind of at the end, but this time, it might be better to start more in the middle.

I had a wonderful cat, named Princely.  We met on my porch steps, outside my fourth floor walk-up in Hoboken NJ, in 1982.  I had just come back from New York and visiting a co-worker in the hospital, in intensive care, with AIDS.  (There was little I could do, visiting Bill, but sing songs -- which I'm afraid actually annoyed him -- and wipe the saliva from around the breathing tube in his neck)  Feeling a little drained, for many reasons, I sat down on the concrete stoop, and up jumped this brown and grey cat, right onto my lap.  Purring and rubbing, and purring and kneading.

So I opened the outer door, and then the inner door, and sure enough, this grey and brown cat followed me all the way up the stairs, and into my disheveled apartment. (I'm firmly of the Quentin Crisp school of housekeeping -- he maintained that, after the first five years of not dusting, it never gets any worse)  Kitty seemed hungry, so I scrambled him an egg.  (I'm cooking for A CAT?)  This did not please.  I ran downstairs and next door, to La Vaquita, the handy bodega with everything from plastic mouse traps to votive candles for some of the grimmer saints.  I bought just one -- repeat, one -- can of cat food.  When served, this sufficed.

I had every intention of posting 'Found' ads, in the local laundromat, and on various utility poles in the neighborhood, really I did.  But when my friend Neil stopped by one April day, to help me with my taxes, (which, as it turned out, were much simpler than I had feared), he took one look at this grey and brown kitty and said, 'This cat needs a bath'.  Whatever.  I gave Neil a bottle of shampoo.  He took the cat and the soap into the bathroom and closed the door, telling me, "No matter what you hear, don't open this door."

Water running.  Splishing.  Splashing.  Nothing particularly blood-curdling.  Then Neil's voice, with some warmth and admiration -- 'Walter, this cat is a real sweetheart.'  They both emerged, Neil only a little wet, and kitty wrapped in a towel.

That night, Neil camped out on my living room sofa, and kitty slept with him.  The next morning, I got up to make coffee, and in walked this pristine orange and white cat, practically glistening.  'Why, don't you look princely.' I said.  And of course, then I knew I would be saving a fortune in copying costs, because this cat wasn't going anywhere.  This Princely cat was going to stay with me.

He was really more canine than feline, actually.  Very affectionate.  Growled and ran to the door if he heard noises in the hall.  When we were together in the country that summer, he went on long walks with me.  Loved to spend the days outdoors, stalking the neighborhood peacocks (don't ask), but at night, he wanted to be on the bed, curled up behind my knees.  I felt very fortunate, either to have found, or to have been found by, him.

That's most of the 'Mon Chat' part.  Now we approach the 'Dieu' section.  Gird yourself.

So, one day, a couple of years later, living in a different apartment, in Jersey City, I came home from another draining day in the city.  Not with Bill in the hospital -- he had died long ago by then -- but from my job at an investment bank, working for a boss who was proud to be known as The Dragon Lady.  But it was employment, and I'd just drawn some cash from the ATM up the street.  Still thinking about that transaction, I walked through the door, and Princely came to meet me, as pretty as always, if a bit chunkier around the middle.  Alert, attentive, even inquisitive-looking, and certainly ready to sit on my lap and be petted.  After just a little snack.

And then I had this... leap, I guess it was.  I was looking at my sweet, sentient kitty, and I was feeling the folded cash in my pocket, and I thought -- for all his wiles and survival skills (he still had his claws), for all his instincts and extraordinary natural gifts -- was there any way on earth that I would be able to explain, to this bright-eyed cat, the principles behind, and the necessity for, an ATM machine?

(I also had a flash memory then, of bringing a friend's sullen black half-Siamese cat home from the vet, and crossing the street as a garbage truck lumbered toward us.  The cat froze in terror, and for one weird instant, I think I actually saw the garbage truck the way the cat did -- some vast, incomprehensible, ravening monster, grinding and roaring, closer and closer, and up to no good)

It was then, dear friend, that I thought about God.

I could have thought, in a general way, about all the lessons I'd learned, in all the Sunday schools, through all the rambling sermons, from all the scripture reading, even from World History class, and of course, from TV news.   Layer upon layer, a great sedimentary deposit of pronouncements and laws, suppositions and canonical decisions, all about the nature of, or the capacities for, or the tastes and preferences held by, this almighty Deity.  Who God is and What God wants.

But instead, I thought about the comparison between myself and my cat, and then a similar contrast between myself and that great force, or being, or whatever one might want to call It/Him/Her/Them.   I thought -- I really love my cat.  I try very hard to do good things for him.  (Alright, he really should go on a diet, but still)  He seems to feel something like affection for me -- he does cuddle behind my knees at night, and seeks me out for petting, when he could just sleep under the piano all the time.  But there is still an incalculably vast gap between what my cat, smart as he was, could grasp, and the world in which I lived, with internal combustion engines and electron microscopes, and other continents.  Moon missions, computers and alarm clocks.  Republicans.  Traffic.  The subway.  Trapeze artists.  Anything at all, 20% off.

And then I thought of the similarly immeasurable gap there necessarily must be, between me, with my nearly two-dimensional experience of my own planet, my limited vision and hearing, my constraints in terms of time, strength, endurance, balance, capacity, and that great... Force.  Comprehender, it might reasonably seem, of clouds of star-shedding gas.  Engineer of the submicroscopic mites on my eyelashes.  (We all have them)  Conciever of orchids that bloom underground.  Designer of birth, in all its various guises.  One could, of course, go on.

So how, I wondered in that instant of... whatever it was -- clarity?  befuddlement?... how can I tell myself, or anyone else, what God wants, or hates, or will or won't do at any given time?  How could I determine scope, or reach, or intent, when I'm no more privy to the extent and reality of what I'm for convenience calling God, than my cat could conceivably be, of my quite mundane and unexceptional life?

I certainly don't discount inspiration, or wonder, or those other transcendent states people associate with their closeness to God -- that would, in effect, just as limiting, on my part, as those mean-spirited pronouncements of hurricanes as punishment for a gay party at a public amusement park.   I just think, for what it's worth, that each of us is, in fact, the clearest window, the closest connection, the surest way of contacting that God thing -- that, by treating each other as though we are all in the midst of some great emergency, and need tender care, is perhaps the best way to understand, on an individual level, who God might be, and what He/She/It/They might have in mind for us, today.

Well.  There you have it.  Dieu et Mon Chat.  (Which is, in fact, a play on Dieu et Mon Droit,  a royal motto of some sort or other.  But that, perhaps, is for another time)


©  2011    Walter Zimmerman


  1. " . . . the clearest window the closest connection . . . " That image will haunt me. I love it!

  2. Channeling Christopher Smart, at all? And they're not really submicroscopic; they're only mites, after all.

    But all in all, a propitious start.