In Memoriam


Today, breaking from the usual pattern, I want to share with you a very personal thing. As I neared the completion of the manuscript of my fourth book, late in 2012, my cat neared the completion of her life. As my surreptitious co-author, she sat next to me while I wrote most of the articles in this blog, and most of the words in my books. Her name was ‘Snoes,’ a Dutch word that means something like ‘darling’ and is pronounced ‘Snoos.’ My wife and I adopted her only a few months after we settled in our first real home. Unlike many cats – who tend to avoid direct eye contact – Snoes would always look us straight in the eyes. That was our way to communicate, which we refined into a language over time. For almost 15 years, Snoes was an integral part of our family and lives, filling voids we didn’t know existed until after she was no longer with us.

With an uncanny synchronicity, her little body failed bit-by-bit as I completed each chapter of my manuscript. Because I was her nurse – administering daily injections, giving her pills, helping her eat, cleaning her up, making her comfortable, etc. – we grew even closer to each other. My home life became split between birthing the book and trying to make Snoes’ remaining time worth living. Birth and death, hand in hand.

Although her body was becoming a very unyielding tool, Snoes never failed to be by my side, with a serenity that baffled me. Towards the end, her little heart already giving up, we would go together for short, slow walks around the neighborhood every evening. I was her companion and protector against the odd unleashed dog. Despite growing weakness, her interest in these little adventures increased significantly in the last few days of her life. Mind you, the whole thing was her initiative: She would call me, nose pointing unambiguously towards the door, and then drag her little body as we made our way to the quiet, dark streets. Hard as it must have been, she still took every step with a grace that made me feel small next to her. I, a 6’1” (1.85m) man, was tiny next to that enormous little creature. Walking by her side, I watched as she showed me how to live life fully, and with dignity.

Often she would need to sit for a few seconds and catch her breath. She always made these little breaks look like the only appropriate course of action, never a surrender to physical distress. As she rested, she held her head high. Her ears were always alert, scanning for the smallest noises as if they were of great and urgent import. She smelled the air with gusto, her head tilting backwards as though she wanted to take everything in. She was completely in the moment: Every odd vehicle that drove by deserved her unreserved attention; every bush was investigated with the curiosity of a newbie explorer; the cool evening breeze was savored as it caressed her face. Her eyes glistened with renewed openness and innocence. I sensed that she was somehow becoming young again, rushing to reencounter the wide-eyed kitten she once was. Her body was falling apart, but her spirit was untouched; as radiant and fresh as in the day she opened her eyes for the first time. Snoes was coming full circle.

In her last evening, already unable to eat or drink, she humbled me once again by taking me further up the road than ever before in her whole life. Her single-minded determination was surreal; her steps firm and decisive. Her gaze was pointed straight ahead, without the slightest hint of hesitation. Her entire body language was saying: ‘This time, I am not stopping.’ I had x-rays and blood tests asserting that none of that should be physically possible. Yet, there it was. Who was I to tell nature what could or could not happen?

At some point, she crossed a side street towards a little channel that ran along the edge of our neighborhood, past most houses. She had the lead, and I was following next to her. Together, we went past the former boundaries of her world. She had entered entirely new territory; blazing a new trail as though she were rehearsing for the big journey only a couple of hours ahead. She seemed possessed by an urge to go beyond, into the unknown. As she reached the edge of the channel, she sat – exhausted – and looked longingly at some distant houses across an open field on the other side, lit up and shimmering like a row of small Christmas trees. I believe to have seen her sigh. Yes, she had discovered that the world was bigger than she had ever imagined. I watched her in awe and quiet despair, my heart tearing open.

Snoes spent everything she had in that final walk; there was nothing left in her afterwards. Her epic journey of discovery was her final act in this world; and what a fine, grand act it was. I carried her back home in my arms. Later that evening, the vet came to our place to deliver her of her pain; one final time. She passed away serenely, cozy and warm, in my wife’s arms. As life slowly seeped away from her battered body, I looked straight into her eyes, our noses touching, and gave her a final loving stroke. What a magnificent being I had in front of me; so much stronger than me in so many ways; so inconceivably larger than the physical dimensions of her body. I was the last thing she saw as she embarked on another, bigger journey. But this time, to my agony, I couldn’t go and walk next to her…

Yes, Snoes was ‘just’ a cat, and I don’t mean to belittle the larger dramas of life by going overboard with her story. But that feline’s journey showed me what it really means to say that life is an evocative metaphor for something ineffable, a point of view I was defending as I wrote the last chapter of my manuscript. On multiple levels, her story mirrored back to me the essence of what I was writing, as if to show me the true significance of my own message. Book and life mingled together in a strange, tangled hierarchy. Was I really the author or were Snoes and I mere characters in the book? The richness and rawness of the unspeakable shone through Snoes’ final days in pungent imagery and synchronicities, whizzing past the intellect and lodging themselves firmly in the truest and deepest reaches of my being.

Snoes had no philosophy, no knowledge, no books, and no narratives. She lived most simply. Through her, I understood that there is little better we can really hope to accomplish. She never lost her grace – not for one moment – because she was grace. She lived fully while she was alive, never rebelling against what is. And she never allowed me to truly feel lonely. Her journey and passing forced me, in a pungent but loving manner, to put the intellectual rationalizations of my book in perspective even before it was completed. She was a fine teacher, all the way to the end.

Snoes
Spring 1998 - 2 January 2013

Copyright © 2013 by Bernardo Kastrup. All rights are reserved.

Comments

  1. Sorry about your cat.

    I would still appreciate your thoughts on my Kant-Descartes-Anselm style refutation of materialism:

    http://www.koanicsoul.com/blog/mathematical-proof-that-the-supernatural-exists/

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    Replies
    1. The heart of your argument is that subjective experience is real but _different_ from things as they are in themselves. This is known as the 'hard problem of consciousness.' People who acknowledge the 'hard problem' will sympathise with your argument, except perhaps for semantics (for instance, I would not use the word 'supernatural,' since subjective experience is natural). There are philosophers, however, like Daniel Dennett, that deny the 'hard problem.' They deny that subjective experience is different from matter. See: Dennett, D. (2003). Explaining the “Magic” of Consciousness. Journal of Cultural and Evolutionary Psychology, 1(1), pp. 7-19. http://philpapers.org/rec/DENETM

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    2. Hi Bernardo. I was just wanting to make mention of your cat and I'm sorry this is such a belated condolence, but you may find another experience I had rather interesting and hopeful. I had this wonderful cat in my life named Priscilla and unfortunately, she was a blind cat. I always looked after her and treated her so kindly but then one day she was diagnosed with an incurable cancer. She died so peacefully-simply faded away into a slumber while sitting in my wife's lap. Seven to eight years later, I was experiencing some trauma myself when I laid on my bed and had a very interesting experience. Keep in mind this was quite unanticipated. I laid down and closed my eyes when I literally felt the pressure of what felt like the paws of a cat walking over the lower part of my body. You could feel it through the sheets, blanket, and thick bedspread. It was very palpable. I'm sure you know what I mean since you had a cat as well. This presence had 'weight'-it was unmistakable. It rattled me at first but then somehow recognized it was Priscilla. I whispered her name several times to acknowledge the love I felt coming from her. I'm not sure how that fits your philosophy Bernardo, but I am only giving report as to what actually happened. Sometimes there are no explanatory models for the many mysteries that present in this world. I'm sure Michael Shermer would insist I was only experiencing tactile impressions in my memory that were already there, but like I said, I wasn't anticipating this at all-a real surprise. Just thought you would like to know this for interest and hope.

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  2. Beautifully put, Bernardo.
    I believe that you and Snoes will be reunited in time. In fact, you will at the moment you realize that there is no separation.
    Thank you for sharing.

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    Replies
    1. I just read your memoriam to your cat. It choked me up. I lost my beloved dog this year. My steadfast companion of 15 years and best friend. My bond with my animals is so deep and I guess that is why it hurts so much when they pass on. In some strange way my animals bring so much meaning to my life. I just thought I wanted to share this.

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  3. Sorry to hear about Snoes.

    Sometimes deep realizations come from simple interactions in our lives. Snoes sharing your life and you sharing her life, especially in her last days could be an example of this sort of realization.

    We also live with a dog and a rabbit and from my close interactions with them I believe they have intelligence, like us, though definitely different in degree. I believe they have memory and they definitely feel pain and pleasure.

    I wonder if you are vegetarian. Or if you are not at present, do you think your realizations which arose from this close relationship with Snoes will make you consider to go vegetarian?

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    Replies
    1. Hi Nini,
      I actually consume very little meat. Not due to fundamental principles (there's enough meat-eating in nature that we can say it's natural), but because I like vegetables better and because I don't want to contribute to the criminal meat industry. This last point is close to my heart: The way animals are treated when being 'farmed' for food is atrocious.
      Snoes gave me many profound realizations...
      Thanks, B.

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  4. A Cat It whiskers touch Heaven
    and Earth
    A cat it claws though the veil of Illusions
    It stalks the mouse of self
    It untagles the Ball of time
    A cat It pounces
    to the heart where the mind can not follow
    A cat every hair a universe
    Every Universe a Cat

    For Snoes
    Zenshin Roshi

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    Replies
    1. Thank you, Steve... this was precious. I will print this out...

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    2. Your welcome a Great Being Must have a poem in its honor.
      Steve

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  5. A heart warming peice of writing.
    When I was about 18 years old i did a massive dose of Liberty Caps ( 200-300) it was the first time i had taken magic mushrooms. Lucky for me my my cat was with me.Tiger Tim a big fat tabby . Timothy as we called him knew what state I was in . At one ponit he seemed to expand to about 10 times the size so much so that my friend who had also had some mushrooms was perched on the end of the sofa , barely on it because he too saw the big cat taking up most of the 1.5 metres of the sofa.

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    Replies
    1. What a fantastic story! And I can relate to it. :-) Thanks.

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  6. A gentle ending, read with tears in my ears...

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  7. Oh Bernardo,

    This is quite simply, the most beautiful thing I have read concerning the precious bond we share with our pets; I am never going to forget it.

    You have a talent for sure, this piece should be more familiar with folk who can feel it's power.

    As the servant of three black cats, we in this household thank you:)

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  8. Oh, this made me cry so much! Bless her little spirit and thank you, Bernardo, for sharing! I'm a mommy to a one year old cat whom I absolutely love. It's amazing how much we learn from them!

    Ana Laura

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  9. This was beautifully told. Thank you for sharing her with us.

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