On a day in early September, 1993 I drove to meet an orange kitten, the last of the litter, being given away in Cambridge, MA. I’d never seen such large ears on such a small little body. And as big as he grew, his ears were always oversized for his frame.
There was some debate about his name the first month he lived with us. I proposed “Pumpkin Bread,” unwilling to shorten to “Pumpkin” because that seemed generic. My housemates refused to call a cat “Pumpkin Bread.” Then it was “Mr. Darcy” when my British Lit class tackled “Pride & Prejudice.” That was a bit formal for such a rambunctious kitten who would bat my pencil as I tried to do my homework. Name enlightenment struck during my Asian Religions class. Maybe this kitten could help me find my own buddha nature. Bodhi it was.
It’s hard to reconcile the cat of the past few months with the memories of the early years. After one vet visit, I loaded him into the cat carrier with a cone around his neck. In the car there was a tremendous whirlwind of activity in the carrier, and when I got home I discovered he’d removed the cone. While in the carrier. I called the vet to ask if I should put it back on.
“Oh yes, please put it back on. You shouldn’t take it off yet,” said the vet’s receptionist.
“I didn’t take it off,” I explained, “He did. In his cat carrier on the way home.”
“I don’t think you should try and put it back on him.”
In the early years, Bodhi spent time outside, getting into cat fights that left him with a torn ear, bringing me presents of little dead rabbits when we lived on the Cape. He was a “dog” cat then, coming when I called him, and following me wherever I went walking.
He moved to San Francisco with me before I had an apartment, living with my parents while I traveled for work as a consultant. When I eventually settled down, I brought him from Marin to my place in the Inner Sunset. He settled on the sofa as I called my landlord for permission to have a cat. She refused to give it to me, and respectful of authority at that time, I drove him back over the Golden Gate the next day.
A few months later my parents moved back east, and I had no choice but to bring Bodhi to my apartment. There was never any issue. I don’t know if my landlord ever found out, and “ask forgiveness, not permission” became my rule of thumb, at least as far as landlords and pets were concerned.
In May 2001, the day I was laid off from a dumb job I’d taken in financial desperation, Bodhi had some weird seizure. At the vet ER they diagnosed a heart murmur and heart disease. They said most likely he’d last six months to a year. At that time it was hard to imagine ten more years of adventures: a move to New York City, a sojourn in New Hampshire, a return to New York City and three different houses before his final home in the West Village.
Our first New York apartment was tiny, and Bodhi got fat from lack of exercise. But I’m not sure he realized it, and when some friends came to visit and sat on our sofa, Bodhi hopped up to join them, wedging himself between their laps, intent on being part of the conversation.
The arrival of two kids meant less attention from me, but more from them. As old as Bodhi got, he was always so patient with the kids, letting them lie on him like a pillow, putting up with their petting and pulling. Even this morning, purring as they played with him and Minna showed him her rain boots.
These last six months he’s lost so much weight, until the bones just poked through his fur, and you could feel his skull when you rubbed his ears. Often I’d pass him sleeping and sort of hope that maybe his chest wouldn’t rise as I watched. But it always did, slowly, as he slept and slept.
I struggled with whether it was time, and how to know for sure. But to know for sure would be in some ways to wait too long, to see his pain and suffering too clearly. He stopped using his box over a week ago, and that was something about which he was fastidious. The dog-cat who welcomed every visitor to our house now barely raised his head when someone entered the room.
The semester before I got Bodhi, I took the best class I’ve ever taken. We studied Buddhism, Deconstruction, Emily Dickenson, and Walt Whitman. I read every word of “Leaves of Grass” again and again, and in times of great sorrow I always come back to it:
They are alive and well somewhere;
The smallest sprout shows there is really no death;
And if ever there was, it led forward life, and does not wait at the end to arrest it,
And ceas’d the moment life appear’d.
All goes onward and outward–nothing collapses;
And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.
I took Bodhi to the vet this afternoon. I petted and stroked him as they administered the injections. At the end, we were left alone. I thought of how lucky we both were: to have shared so much time together, to have been so loved. To leave this world without pain, surrounded by love, is about as lucky as one can get.