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I lost a friend today, a companion of over ten years. His name was Schooner and he was my favorite cat. It all came as a brutal surprise – he wasn’t feeling well so I took him in to the vet’s office, and found that he had an inoperable lung tumor. The diagnosis was more pain and discomfort for weeks to come, then death. I chose to put him to sleep. I am thankful I could offer that to him. If he were a child, I would have had to watch him waste away in misery, because as a society, we don’t permit the ultimate kindness of release. I’m not here to defend that statement – it’s simply an inarguable fact, and it’s not the nexus of these thoughts.

I chose to release him. I held him in my arms, and with coos and murmurs of love, talked him into the place where good cats go.

Like all the good friends we have, Schooner taught me things. We learn from those around us if we’re bright enough to pay attention. One of the things I came to understand from him was “presence.” He carried an innate presence and power about him – he was uncompromising and incapable of being bested. He was only about 12 pounds, but he was the “alpha animal” on our place, above two or three dogs and a couple of cats. After a while, no one challenged him because they learned he wouldn’t surrender. He would just change tactics and come at you again. I leaned from him how much weight that kind of tenacity carried.

His presence was so powerful he forced the other animals to examine their vulnerability when looking into his eyes. It’s the kind of thing you see in great rulers, and in a sense, he ruled his little compound. Had he been forty pounds I am certain his kingdom would have been greatly expanded. In a time that is so consumed with methods and techniques designed to change and control people, that cat reminded me that nothing is more powerful than the combination of persistence and spirit.  He also showed me the value of living in the present – of spending less time worrying about the past and the future and living in the now. Live for the moment, which is sacred and unrepeatable, and take as much from it as you can.

I am at that age where, in good conscience, I don’t think I can take on the responsibility of another life – times are tenuous, and the future holds no guarantees. But I will carry the recollections and the lessons of Schooner, and all those I have loved, with me, like a locket on a golden chain – something I can open in secret moments and enjoy the flow of memories, from the photographs in my head.

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