Tuesday, March 14, 2006

windy tuesday

I drove this morning to an animal hospital out in the country, just past the belt of affluent suburbs across the north of Indianapolis. The cat had an operation last week, and I was taking him to have another one, much more radical in some ways, not surgery that could be conducted by the cat vets that usually deal with him. With our pets, we live in a zone of not fully knowing or understanding each other. The cat has an Elizabethan collar around his neck, and his belly is shaved. It is good news that he is alive and that this operation will help, but to the cat it is all unknown, this riding in the car, the heavy contraption around his neck and face, the operations, the shaving, not to mention periods of pain.

No amount of my telling him I love him or want him to feel better will pierce that basic unknowing between us, in terms of facts or words, those human qualities that signify us - we live in the words. He lives in touch and smell, and of all our pets, he is the only one that is accepted by the others, cats and dog. He is sweet and simple, affectionate and big, bigger than you can ever imagine a house cat, and yet within the past week he has lost 3-4 lbs.

So I leave him at this country animal hospital, and drive across the affluent northern suburbs, passing Indiana versions of gilded age horse farms and large housing developments. It takes more than a half hour more of driving to get to work. I listened to a friend's set of tapes from the Teaching Company -- lectures on the history of the Crusades, those years when Europeans began armed religious campaigns to claim and re-claim the Holy Land. I heard about Basil II, the Byzantine Emperor who was the great power in Europe -- and how the Empire imploded from what we say today in business terms, the lack of a good exit strategy or succession plan.

And how the Patriarch and the Pope excommunicated each other, something that the Pope started and that the Patriarch responded even though the Pope had died two months before the message was finally delivered in Constantinople. The lecturerer described the golden throne of the Byzantine Emperors, how it flew up into the sky while the supplicant was kneeling, surprised when finally raising his head to see the king flying above his head. Which, of course, reminded me of Yeats' poem, Sailing to Byzantium, and the oddness of flying thrones, and the so very human need to divide, to tear down, to make distinctions.

We thrive on it, this winnowing out, pulling the wheat from the chaff, the us from the them. We need it. It is us. It is who we are.

In between the large horse farms and acres of new and utterly poorly scaled houses, I drove through a little town, so small that I didn't recognize its name. It was the perfect small town, a midwestern village long before the cow pastures became the affluent northern suburbs. I recognized the 1920 and 1930 bungalows, painted white, or clad in siding, the paring down of any ornamentation or excessive color. I didn't see a person on the streets -- it was too early. You are in Indiana, I said to myself. So much of living in Indy is living in places that could be anywhere else, a feeling one can find in most American cities. And then I drove through a patch on either side of the road where new housing is being built.

The weather has been sickly, first too many days of rain -- the sump pump underneath our house is only now beginning to slow down its surge like sounds. And then windy, a mixture of warm then cold. The threat of tornadoes and other terrors. Dark gray clouds and heavy winds. Finally getting to work, I walked across the parking lot, getting out of the wind, away from the sky where the clouds are moving so fast that it alternates between blueness and murky, dark storms. If I listen to Byzantium's story again, it will implode again, no matter how fantastic it must have been, with its levitating throne.


Rob+ said...

For Lent we are studying CS Lewis' The Great Divorce. To that end I'm in the process of reading through Lewis' latest biography, The Narnian--which is quite good.

Anyway, The Narnian talks about, among other things, how Lewis equated longing with Joy. I've been thinking about that, and it makes a lot of sense to me.

That's one of the things I like about your writing. It is very evocative. Like this post. Reading, I think how wonderful your relationship is with your cat--the great blessing of God in such simple and ordinary things. But I also hear the pain it, both for you and the cat, and in the limits the differences between "word" and "smell" cannot transcend. That in turn makes me long for the new Heaven and the new Earth, where the blessings are still present but the sorrows have slipped away... As I've said before, you have a gift, and I continue to appreciate your sharing it.

lemming said...

On a much more prosaic note (as Rob has already made all of my points!) hugs to all and do keep us all posted on the cat.

Don said...

Father Rob and Lemming -- thank you for your comments. The cat is doing much better -- a bit black and blue on his now pink shaved stomach. He has to wear his collar for 14 days, and I don't think he is very happy about that.

But of all my animals, he is easy, easy in the sense of contented. Touch him and he purrs.

Shelley said...

Glad to hear kitty is doing well, Don.

Lovely writing.