Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Soul, Human and Animal

For ages we humans have insisted that only our life form has a soul and thus is above the rest of the animal world. I am not alone with a different opinion. Having had several dogs and now this one-eyed 'wonder cat' with whom I've had no trouble communicating, I absolutely believe that any advanced animal is capable of thinking and feeling. Some are predators but so are a large number of us people. I especially remember a Boston terrier who had deep eyes, true mirrors of his soul. My late mother used to say that she strongly felt there was a human soul trapped in Daphnis, our little dog, someone that might have done something wrong in a previous life and came back as that wonderful, loving canine.

Back to the topic of this picture and Seymour, our “pirate” cat, here helping me while I tried to access a file with my bio. A month after my mother had passed away, on the morning of Thanksgiving at 8 a.m., one of our neighbors was at the door with a tiny black kitten. The little creature had wandered off from his home and had been meowing all night by this neighbor's house. As he knew we had children, he thought we might like to provide a home to this kitten. The children were excited although I tried to cry out “no cat” in protest but to deaf ears. In my childhood we had numerous cats but they all ended up devouring mice that had eaten rat poison and thus all these animals had suffered a terrible end before I could really bond with any of them. Later when I already had my best pal, a wire-haired fox terrier by the name of Tirry, my father and I brought home a truly wild kitten from a summer music camp. This cat was something else and I'm surprised that my doggie survived all the rough play they had together.

One morning our housekeeper brought home raw lung that the butcher shop had given away free and after tasting it the cat would prefer it to anything else. For those who have never seen lung, it is a tough organ that is usually tossed away as one useless part of the carcass. One cannot even cut through it with a knife: a pair of sharp scissors were our only means of dicing the organ for the cat. He would be in ecstasy, tearing into the bloody and foamy substance with his claws and teeth, hissing, purring and singing all at once. This cat, too, had a taste for mice and often had a competition with the neighbor's Siamese. One cold winter morning when our housekeeper arrived, she screamed as there were ten dead, frozen mice in a neat row on our steps, in front of a proud cat, a night's catch. The neighbor cat had only six, but his row was equally straight. Soon our cat met with same fate as the others and hemorrhaged to death after killing a poisoned mouse. Thus I always connected cats with a tragic end. My fox terrier on the other hand lived a good life and even with a heart condition reached an age of sixteen.

Now, decades later, a new kitty came to my life. This little curious fellow managed to find an endless number of excellent hiding places in the house. We would open a drawer and find our kitten sleeping in it, having managed to climb in through the back. At times we would spend hours looking for him. Then our Seymour discovered the space between the ceiling of the ground floor and the oak flooring above. Roaming there became his favorite activity. My wife almost had a heart attack when a cat fell from the ceiling while she was giving a lesson.

This kitty lost at least one of his nine lives while still a baby. We came home late from an insipid dinner party where an East Coast violin dealer was unsuccessfully trying to get people to invest in his rather overpriced instruments. We were there to play and chit-chat. By our front door was our kitten with one of his eyes hanging out by the optic nerve. The next door neighbor's cat was by his side, as if to protect him. Off to the emergency vet who tried to put the eye back in. Naturally, the woman at the desk made fun of Seymour's name and commented how we should now rename him “Seeless”. All the bones of the kitty's head were broken as he must have been hit by a car. The vet wired his jaw carefully and made on opening in his throat for a feeding tube. Soon it became evident that the eye would not regenerate and had to be removed. We fed the poor creature by the tube for about two months. Finally the wires came off and the cat was so happy he ate five platefuls of Fancy Feast in one sitting.

Seymour was young enough not to depend on the peripheral vision two eyes make possible. Amazingly that never handicapped him: he could soon make incredible leaps, never missing his target or losing his balance. We got used to his pirate look and actually think that other black cats with two eyes look rather strange.

Now back to the question of soul. Unlike with my childhood cats I realized that I could easily communicate with this unusual feline. He thinks that I am his playmate and often I am full of scratches and scrapes. He doesn't seem to realize I lack the kind of thick fur he has. At night he sleeps by my wife's feet but sometimes feels insecure and wakes me up with a velvety paw, purring softly and wanting to cuddle in a position where his head is against by chest, enabling him to hear my heartbeat. If I have forgotten to feed him one of his small four to five daily meals, he'll come and bite by right ankle. When I'm about to choose what to feed him, I just look into his one eye and most of the time have no trouble reading what he would like (he is very finicky!). Every student is usually met at the door and Seymour usually stays for the beginning of the lesson, once in a while taking part by accompanying on one of the pianos. He has his favorite people, students and parents, but he certainly wants to be noticed by everyone.

Many of the people I've known and worked with have less of a “human” soul than this kitty, or many of the dogs in my life. Perhaps the Eastern philosophies that believe in reincarnation are not so far off the truth. There are and have been people who resemble more a crocodile or a poisonous snake more than what we treasure as human being. Just yesterday my wife and I were watching part of BBC's 2005 documentary on Auschwitz. Many of the former SS men and concentration camp guards interviewed showed no remorse for their horrendous acts. They still regard the Jewish people as subhuman and seem to be almost proud of their past actions. My theory for a long time has been that since there far more people on this Earth than ever before, there simply aren't enough human souls to go around and people end up with one from a hyena, a lizard, a shark or even an insect. And as I wondered before, perhaps some of us who have done something bad, end up coming back as another life form, possibly full of regrets like our Daphnis.

I am not surprised that the ancient Egyptians worshipped cats as gods.

photo and photo art

© ilkka talvi 2007