The Rounding

By Posted in - Life on September 3rd, 2019 The Rounding

I was once engaged to a man who loved animals. His devotion to his cats and dogs was utter and complete.

I loved animals as well, but lacked the immersive, day-in-day-out experience of taking care of a pet. I was given a puppy one Christmas when I was a child. My father did the lion’s share of the training and walking, while my mother oversaw the feeding. When the heart-rending decision about ending the dog’s life needed to be made, I was away at college in another city. It was my sister who drove Alfie to the vet for the last time and came home with the empty collar in her hand.

So when one of my fiancé’s cats died, I was bewildered as to how to handle his loss. He was inconsolable. I was young. I said something very stupid. To be fair, I said it after trying every salve I knew, every soothing word – I did not yet know how to simply be with someone’s pain. In a desperate attempt to jolt him out of the dark, unreachable place he was in, I said something I still cannot believe came out of my mouth: “It’s just a cat.”

That must’ve been such a red flag for him, it’s a wonder to me now that he married me anyway. In the end, almost every one of his pets had a longer life than our marriage. But I’d like to think that I made up for my insensitivity. I jumped willingly into sharing the responsibility for his animals, had my heart broken by loving and losing them. I helped put them to rest in the way my then-husband thought best, which included trying to hail a taxi in Paris with a small, stiff cat curled in a satchel and a large dog frozen legs-out and wrapped in trash bags. Four cabbies refused us. I told the fifth we were transporting sculpture, and we finally made it to the pet crematorium in the suburbs, where we waited hours for the ashes, sitting on black plastic chairs, trying to decipher the entries in the mourners’ book: Chère Gala, fidèle compagne, tu nous as quittée pour aller courir parmi les étoiles….

 

When my fiancé and I first became intimate, he told me he was happily surprised to discover that I had curves. What did he mean? Was he expecting origami? I was a gangly dancer then, and his delight was genuine, so I took it as a compliment and moved on. It is possible, however, that he imagined he’d find a body to match a certain side of my character: pointed, cutting, insistent, sharp – my strategies of choice.

In physical terms, humans are not particularly sharp creatures. Before the invention of cutting tools, teeth and nails were our ancestors’ Swiss Army knife. Maybe you still use your incisors to rip open a package, or your nails to scrape, scratch, and dig. Fingers, knees, elbows, and the outside edge of your hands can do some damage if you know how to use them. But more often, when we talk about human sharpness, it has to do with temperament: we’re sharp as a tack or have a sharp wit or tongue or eye; we’re on the cutting edge; we cut to the chase and spearhead projects. And more often than not, sharpness is considered a quality. Lately I have come face-to-face with its limitations.

 

As I write this I am on “vacation” with my Beloved (who also loves animals) in a house in the middle of nowhere in my favorite part of France, the Dordogne. “Vacation” because the holiday has been overshadowed by the illness of our cat Jack, who’s here with us. The day before our “vacation” began, they discovered a tumor on his pancreas.

The house in the middle of nowhere is on a hill surrounded by woods. Grapevines bask in the sun above the doorway, heavy with bruise-blue fruit and hovering wasps. Beyond the small outbuildings are fields peppered with wildflowers: purple, white, yellow. The grass is rich with mint, green on green, fragrant. Butterflies flit. Deer visit us regularly. It’s all so bucolic it hurts like hell. The cat is dying.

We distract ourselves with visits to medieval villages tucked into hillsides, coffee in cobblestoned squares surrounded by the ochre stone of the region. But all the while we’re squashing down thoughts of the pills we’re supposed to give him, his flagging energy, his refusal to eat. There are mysterious bursts of activity: he brought us a mouse, he caught a bat. He spends part of the night close to us under the sheets, wakes us with his soft purr, sits by our heads, then goes out and finds a good hiding spot where he can sleep undisturbed or watch the grass, the butterflies, the sun setting behind the trees.

For days I’ve been responding with my old strategies. Look sharp. Understand. Strategize. Outwit. They worked fairly well in the beginning. But the clearer it becomes that there’s no way around the diagnosis, the more futile my sharpness becomes. I’m left with a rock in the pit of my stomach and a dying cat.

In the house in the middle of nowhere there is ample time to think. I’ve been thinking about the why of this story. Is there anything to it besides sadness and loss and the ruthlessness of nature? Yes. There is love, of course. Love is the source of the sadness. But what of the whole deal, the loving and the losing? Is there any purpose to it? I find myself thinking about my ex-husband and the animals and my only-a-cat pragmaticism, about my desire to understand what’s happening and control it. I’m happily surprised to feel something drop away and soften. The conclusion I have come to is that life is asking me to let it round me: to blunt my edges, smooth what is jagged in my nature. Once I’ve done what I can, as best I can, I’m faced with what I cannot do. And here is where the Rounding occurs.

You who have measured-out meds; you who have known the despair of food gone uneaten; you who have waited in waiting rooms, filled out forms, answered the same questions again and again; you who have learned to give needles, apply pommades, pulverize pills; you who have lifted, carried, spoonfed, and bathed; you who have had Death come and stand in the doorway but not quite enter, not yet, don’t let me disturb you, I’ll just wait right here – I salute you. I salute you and I wonder: along with the beautiful thing you did for a fellow traveller, how did it change you? Were you Rounded? Or Opened? Or Slowed? Or Stirred?

 

It’s the tail-end of the Perseids meteor shower and late at night the three of us sit outside the house in the middle of nowhere in the dark and watch the stars, the falling and the fixed. Wishing is tricky. This is not going the way I’d imagined it. Beneath the runes of the constellations we take our rightful place on this curved Earth. I bow to the invitation. Jack swats moths with gusto.

 

Jack


Elaine Konopka is the founder of The Attentive Body in Paris, offering private sessions in attention-based bodywork and pain management, and workshops on writing and conscious breathing. You can also find her on her YouTube channel dedicated to writing for wellbeing, The Write Thing to Do.

Motivating, thought-provoking, informative: The Attentive Body monthly newsletter. It’s free and your privacy is respected.  Sign up here.

(20) awesome folk have had something to say...

  • Karen Harvey - Reply

    October 31, 2019 at 13:35

    This is beautiful written. Our animals steal a little bit of our heart don’t they. We always say ‘Never again,’ but at the last count we have 1 cat, Milo is almost identical to your Jack, and 5 guinea pigs, the sweetest most responsive small pet in my opinion. We lost 2 of our guinea pigs in the heat wave this summer despite extra water, shade etc. and I stood crying my eyes out in the garden.

    I’m sorry about your loss. Right now you might be saying ‘Never again,’ but …

    • Elaine - Reply

      October 31, 2019 at 18:18

      Thank you so much for reading and sharing a bit of your animal story, Karen. Yes, they certainly do occupy a big place in the heart. I can understand that some people might not want to go through the experience of losing a pet twice, but I think the love is worth the loss. When the time is right, in the not-too-distant future, I hope to see furry creatures chasing moths in the grass once again. All the best to you, Milo, and the guinea pigs.

  • Ann - Reply

    September 15, 2019 at 19:00

    Beautifully written, Elaine. How wonderful that Jack was able to enjoy the peace and joy of the great outdoors and be surrounded by so much love.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 15, 2019 at 19:04

      Thanks so much Ann. Yes, it was perfect for him and I’m glad he got to spend time in such a magical place.

  • Marie - Reply

    September 15, 2019 at 16:00

    Beautiful. I will share this immediately. I’ve had to send four pets to the Bridge in the last years. I’m not sure it rounded me–but maybe in an erosive way, as in taking away small bits of me when they went. But they all added so much to my life and experience, that’s OK. Love you and much sympathy about Jack. He was a lucky kitty.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 15, 2019 at 18:24

      Dear Marie, I thought a lot about you when writing this, especially since you were very present with advice and consolation, but also because I know you’ve been through it yourself. ‘Rounded’ is my take on it, but I think anything you may feel life is asking you to accept is applicable here. And no, no regrets, right? The love is worth the pain. xo

  • Peter Begans - Reply

    September 14, 2019 at 16:56

    Wow. Wow.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 14, 2019 at 17:01

      Many thanks, PB.

  • Kathleen - Reply

    September 14, 2019 at 11:08

    Your September blog moved me more than I can say. And, as always, the quality of your writing is a joy to read.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 14, 2019 at 16:26

      Thank you so much Kathleen.

  • BB - Reply

    September 11, 2019 at 01:55

    Such beautiful, poetic prose. Sending lots of hugs to you…xo

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 11, 2019 at 08:51

      Thank you so much for reading. All hugs are welcome. xo

  • Hermine Sperr - Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 18:03

    Would not call myself a cat lover – but falling in love with your writing, beautiful story. And Jack is just more than a cat!

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 7, 2019 at 20:08

      Thanks Hermine. I guess everyone thinks their cat is special — and they are.

  • Gisela Carolingia - Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 15:25

    What a lovely, touching essay. As a cat lover myself I too have felt those losses. Thank you,

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 7, 2019 at 15:48

      Thank you for reading, Gisela, and for taking the time to respond.

  • Anne-Catherine Wright - Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 14:47

    So sorry to hear about the loss of Jack your cat. And yes, as you say, it is part of the nature of things…this leaving and departing of loved ones….that soft , round, fullness of a life spent despite our plans, our regrets, of what could, and should have been; those sharp edged thoughts with which we sometimes brace our minds in an effort to face time and loss and our place within them. But just as I read your words, woven so beautifully around those twilight feelings of departure, a new dawn appeared in my garden this morning. Perhaps I should use the word serendipity? I don’t know but there it was, just as surely as your article in my mailbox, a faint wail under a pile of logs I had cleared yesterday: A small, cold, black and white kitten with eyes barely opened and too weak to move. Its sibling next to it had already died. The mother, a local wildcat, was nowhere to be seen. A departure and arrival all at once then….and a pressing need for the smallest of attentions, for soft warmth, and nutritious milk and time. So far my day has been tempered by the ebb and flow of its cries, and I too am reminded of the ’roundness’ of life…..of holding a moment, of a ‘glowing’ awareness, and the yin and yang energy it cradles within. Thank you for post.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 7, 2019 at 15:47

      What a gift, right in your garden. Amazing how life comes to us, and leaves us, and comes to us again. I know you know this. Thank you for your lovely words. Godspeed to the little black-and-white one!

  • Jan Boyd - Reply

    September 7, 2019 at 14:38

    My heart breaks with yours. Your beautiful, poignant words help to round my edges. Bon voyage to Jack who knew he was loved.

    • Elaine - Reply

      September 7, 2019 at 15:42

      Thank you so much Jan.

Please leave a Comment...