“The better I get to know men, the more I find myself loving dogs.”
–Charles de Gaulle
“One small cat changes coming home to an empty house to coming home.”
– Pam Brown
This is going to be a weird essay compared to my others. It’s about my cats.
I hated cats for most of my life. It wasn’t anything about them, I just had allergies and so assumed the thing causing me to suffer was not something I’d ever like. But today, I have 2 cats that I don’t seem to be allergic too and I love very much. Both were adopted about a year apart from each other. My eldest is Buffy who is 16 years old and my youngest is Boston who we got as a kitten.
Both have taught me a valuable life lesson about love and privilege.
My youngest kitten Boston lives just about the best life possible for a cat to live yet he will have no comprehension about just how lucky he is. Because there will be no struggle in his life whatsoever. His survival and happiness is all but guaranteed based on winning the lottery of who adopted him. He will live his entire life with no idea of how bad his life could have been. Adversity breeds understanding and empathy but my kitten will never experience any.
This realisation is twofold. One that he will never experience adversity. Two that he doesn’t even know that it is something that he has avoided. Three that struggle is something that can be experienced by other creatures. The cat doesn’t even know what adversity is let alone how it can be experienced or that other experience it. Boston has no idea what privilege even is, let alone that he has privilege. And that is what it means to be privileged.
My eldest cat Buffy understands love in a way that I’m not sure I ever can. Animals don’t generally have higher order functions in the way we do so their actions are dictated primarily by their feelings. A cats entire world is structured around feelings and their emotions. Animals are actually empaths. When my cat feels something, briefly, her entire world becomes that one feeling.
I remember it took me a long time to comprehend that my cats felt emotions. That they have feelings. Buffy once tried to curl onto me while I was working but I was busy and shrugged her off. As she walked away I looked at her and it seemed like I had hurt her feelings. That’s when I realised, you can actually hurt a cats feelings. So when she feels love and affection that is a genuine emotion she has. Then I realised that Buffy is predominantly affectionate, in fact her whole life is entirely about us, her owners.
When people love each other there are implicit conditions and expectations to that love. You love someone but probably wouldn’t if you knew they were a serial murderer. But my eldest cat lives in a world without overt societal structure. So she would love me even if I was a terrible human being, regardless of what type of person I am. The love that she feels for me is only based on how I treat her. It is the closest thing I’ve seen in life to true Shakespearean unconditional love. Not from a person, but from a cat.