Forcing myself to look

Our little village of 283 people has been having a big problem this year with feral cats. Now, I am a cat lover, but these wild cats poop in the garden, kill the birds, and breed more cats that do the same. Recently, they’ve broken several of the pots in Andy’s kiln shed. At first, we tried to give some of them to the Humane Society, but the woman who answered the phone said they have a waiting list.

So last week Andy and I bought a Havahart trap, and so far we have relocated four cats to a woodland area on the other side of the Susquehanna River 9 miles away.

It’s hard to do. I have to remind myself that they’re already wild. They are not housecats. They fend for themselves and eat only what they catch. We’re only moving them from one outdoor habitat to another. But I always make sure I really look at each cat sitting there in the cage, allowing myself to take in how cute and appealing it is. When Andy advised me to quit torturing myself by doing that, I told him I have to. I have to do it, so I don’t override my compassion for these animals with a blunt sense of necessity.

This morning, as we delivered yet another cat to its new wilderness, I thought about a conversation I had with my friend Alison, when we met for brunch last Saturday morning. We were talking about the immense heartache that America is perpetrating by separating children and parents who try to cross into this country over the Mexican border.

“They are shutting down their own ability to feel compassion,” Alison said. “They say they have to do it because it’s the law, but they refuse to look into their own hearts and see that it’s wrong—and that they themselves might have feelings of sadness and regret for what they’re doing. They are causing trauma for these children for the rest of their lives, even if they do end up being reunited with their parents—and that’s not at all guaranteed.”

It’s as tough to see (a) some sweetness in that which is painful as it is to see (b) what’s painful in something sweet. Examples: (a)—taking a good look at the caged pussycat you’re about to cart off to a strange location and (b)—acknowledging that you’re abetting in the release of a big load of carbon into the air when you go off on your dream vacation to Venice.

However, if we can hold the balance between the sweet and the sour, the beautiful and the ugly, the sad and the joyous, as if they were two fragile bowls we can hold, one in the palm of each hand, then we uphold our own humanity, our ability to feel, to be real. By being as honest with ourselves as possible about what we do and experience in the world, we can make decisions with our eyes wide open.

What I’m Reading

“Losing Earth,” an investigative report by Nathaniel Rich that fills the entire New York Times magazine of Sunday, August 5. It’s a heartbreaking story that focuses on the decade between 1979 and 1989, when politicians, scientists, and activists recognized the immensity of the problem of a warming planet and tried to do something to halt it before it was too late. It shows that we as a nation did not just slide mindlessly into the calamity that is now upon us—but how greed and self-interest prevented the right thing from being done. With aerial photos by George Steinmetz of how climate change is wreaking havoc on several areas around the world.

A Savory Moment

Sunday afternoon. A hot day. I am in the backyard with a large plastic container, picking blueberries from the bushes. Occasionally I eat one, and if I space the tastes out just right, I get a serial flavor from each that begins with tartness and then turns sweet. On the grass at my feet is a piece of paper I’ve printed out. “Are those your instructions?” Andy teases, coming outside. I tell him it’s a sonnet of Shakespeare that I’m memorizing. It begins:

Th’expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action, and till action, lust
Is perjured, mur’drous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust,
Enjoyed no sooner but despisèd straight….

Why this poem? Simply because the language is hot, fruity, and delicious.

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