August 21, 2018

Let Me Tell You About This Cat


The events of this story took place several months ago, but let me tell you, they are as vivid to me now as they were then. It’s going to sound a bit ridiculous, but I had a chance encounter with a cat that I don’t think I’ll forget for the rest of my life. I’m hoping you’ll find the story quite impactful as well.

One day in the late spring, I was coming home after having run an errand. I live in a two bedroom apartment on the second floor of a small complex. Our apartments are all connected by a wooden deck that meanders between two buildings. Our apartment, in particular, is around a bit of a corner with our entrance being the only one on that side of the building. It awards us a degree of privacy that the other apartments don’t have. It’s quite nice. It also means I very rarely run into unexpected people or things as I come around the corner to my front door.

So I’m coming home from my errand, walking briskly as I do, when I turn the corner and, to my surprise, see our neighbor’s cat, Bullet, lying next to our front door.

I wasn’t totally surprised. Bullet was an outdoor cat and over the last few years, he and I had enjoyed a few minor pet sessions together. Bullet was the old-timer of our apartments. He was 18 years old, pretty skinny at this point. His eyes were a bit occluded and often seeped of some form of fluid. He wasn’t a sight to behold, but he was a good cat who often wanted nothing more than to be let inside his home (something I could never do).

I say to him, “Hi, Bullet!” and he immediately meows back at me. I walk up to my door, expecting him to leave, but he doesn’t. He continues to meow and starts to rub against my legs as cats do. I set my grocery bag down and bend down to pet him. On this particular day, though, he’s quite insistent. He keeps meowing at me. Again and again.

I eventually get the idea and I sit down on the deck, cross-legged. I’m barely to the ground when he climbs into my lap starts to curl up. Bullet has never done this before, never shown this level of affection, but I’m not one to refuse him this.

As he nestles in and I start to pet him, I notice that the sun is shining on us, creating a nice spot of light on top of him, warming up his thinning, gray fur. I can feel the heat upon him as I pet his side.

Perhaps a minute or so into this, Bullet begins to purr. This isn’t a soft purr, one that can be barely heard like my own cats. This is loud. Loud enough to guarantee others heard it. I could feel the vibrations of his chest upon my legs as he did so. It’s about this point that it dawns on me what is going on.

I start bawling.

As I said, Bullet is a much older cat. He’s not in the greatest of health. Under-nourished. Tired. Alone. And now, out of nowhere, he is curled up in my lap, enjoying some pets to the fullest.

All he is trying to do is get a little bit of joy and pleasure out of the last few moments or days of his life.

He knows that the end is near, and he just wants a few minutes of sunshine and good pets before it’s over. He’s just trying his damndest to get something good out of this one and precious life.

I’m bawling as I write this.

We stay like this for about ten minutes. Him on my lap, me crying, sitting in the sunshine. As I stroke his rough fur again and again, I think about how much I understand him. I, too, want to have a little more joy and pleasure in this life. I, too, want to sit in the sun and feel the affection of another (or some similarly equivalent pleasure). I want to have more happiness in this life. To live the best I can with what I have.

That’s really all most of us are trying to do. Almost every creature in the entire universe is trying to do the best they can.

Even the shitty ones.

The universe consists of limited creatures with their limited knowledge and their limited resources and their limited lives, striving to make something “good” for themselves.

I have to put “good” in quotes, because this is not some objective goodness. It’s entirely subjective. I don’t mean to imply that every creature is pursuing an ultimate good, the summum bonum. Rather, that most are pursuing a “good”, even if that “good” is quite awful.

In those ten minutes, I was overwhelmed with compassion, with empathy for others. I understood others better on a fundamental level. Even people I vehemently disagree with, perhaps even hate, I understood now more than ever.

All because a cat sat in my lap for some pets in the sunshine.

Eventually, a cloud passed in front of the sun. Bullet took this opportunity to get up, perhaps to pursue another patch of light elsewhere. As he departs, I say, “Goodbye.”

Bullet died two days later.

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Kyle Shevlin is the founder & lead software engineer of Agathist, a software development firm with a mission to build good software with good people.

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