So I kicked the cat this morning. Actually twice. No just once. The first time I just kicked at him, without connecting. I could have connected, but I pulled back at the last second. The second time I connected. Not that hard, but hard enough to fill me with remorse and self-recrimination. And then the cat ran away from me and hid, and cringed when I approached him. And all the while I was thinking how selfish I was, how enslaved to my anger, and thinking about how bad the cat must feel, and how unfair the whole thing was, and that I hoped the fucking cat didn’t wake up the boy and why won’t he just eat his goddam food?
The cat hates his food. We have to give him canned food now because he’s old and dry food gives him urinary crystals. But he loves dry food. The cheaper the better. He likes Alley Cat, Mistigri in French, the dry food you get at the cheaper supermarkets, the second-tier supermarkets. The cheap shit. If I gave him a bowl of Mistigri he’d gobble it up and then settle down on the couch, purring. He’d rub against me. We’d be friends.
But I can’t give him Mistigri.
I’ve tried all different kinds of canned food. Whiskas. Fancy Feast. Every kind of organic, free range, open source ultra-food from the fancy pet food place. One dollar cans, two dollar cans.It’s always the same. He’ll try them when they’re new, and I’ll get a gratifying rush thinking, “Ah, this is the one! This is the food he’ll eat!” But inevitably, often before he’s finished the first bowl, he’ll sniff the new food disdainfully, and hop down from his feeding place, and start meowing for Mistigri.
The cat craves Mistigri.
I heard this brassy Australian broad go on about how wild animals are working out karma from past lives. For instance, a lion is compelled to get its food through violence because of unskillful past deeds. On the face of it this is laughable. And it seems unkind to think of the lion this way. And isn’t there something impressive and noble about lions? I mean, it’s the Lion King, right? But, then again, think about the awful violence the lion as to commit every time it wants to eat. Think about the fear coursing through its prey as it flees. I’m not anthropomorphizing here: I know their experience is not the same as ours but, regardless, watch what happens: the lion is violence manifest and the prey, shrieking, wild-eyed, desperate, is the definition of terror.
Now I don’t know if the law of karma is true. It’s one of those things. Sometimes I buy it, sometimes it sounds like bunk. But, in its simplest form, it’s just cause and effect. If this happens, this happens. If there is a lion, there is a lion’s prey. And if it is five-thirty am, my cat is meowing for Mistigri. And if the cat is meowing for Mistigri I feel compelled to do something about it.
And this is where my own karma comes in. Because, on the one hand, I’m self-aware. Well, a little bit. It’s 5:30, after all. (Although I could have gone to bed earlier, which would have led to me being better rested.)So I know that I can just let the cat meow. I can choose to let the cat meow. Except it’s not really a choice, because if I let the cat meow he might wake up the boy. And if the boy wakes up now he’ll be tired all morning. And I don’t want to leave my wife with a tired, cranky 2-year-old and a five-month-old while I gallivant off to my glamorous job at the Drug Dealership. So I won’t make that choice. I can imagine an alternate reality where I make that choice, but in this realm, where I live, everything about my past experience and physical makeup combines to make sure I won’t make that choice. It’s not my karma to make that choice.
So I get up to feed the goddam cat. And I guess I’m working out a little something-or-other karma-wise, because at a certain point I kick him. Not very hard, no real harm done. Just enough to make me feel bad. Just enough to make us both feel bad.
But there’s another choice to be made. I can tell myself a story about how bad I am. How I’m a bully and a mis-treater of animals. How I can’t control my anger. How it’s always the same. How the cat will never leave me alone and isn’t that just what life is like? Some selfish cat meowing at you at 5:30 because you won’t give him the cat food that will kill him?
Or I can choose not to tell that story. I don’t want to kick the cat again, and I’m committed to controlling my anger and annoyance. And the way I’m going to do that is by not telling that story. The story about how it’s always the same, about how it’s all so hard, and so unfair. The cat’s just the cat. He’s okay. And so am I.