07 February 2011
My son-in-law Jeff invited me over for the Super Bowl, and mentioned that Bingo had died. The news of a family cat's death did not, on the face of it, augur well. There's plenty of mischief to be had by paying any attention at all to omens, but the only casualty I can ascribe to this one was the obvious feline. My own day couldn't have turned out better.
I've heard of more than one criminally insane cat whose demise would make the world a better place, but Bingo wasn't one of them. My grandchildren named Bingo in his kittenhood after a dog—Bingo was his name-o—in a song they'd just learned, and had sung over and over. And over. He was eccentric even for a cat—a recluse and a wanderer. He mostly stayed in the house, and mostly never showed his face. But when he appeared, he was insistently friendly, purring and hooking his claws in my waist as I walked by him—did I mention he was wicked long, as well as almost entirely black? Twice, when he went outside, he didn't come back for two or three months. The last time, we guessed that the coyotes had gotten him, but he showed up Halloween night, skittish, thin, and a little worse for wear. We figured he was the ultimate survivor. Even though he deliberately proved us wrong, we'll miss him.
When I arrived, Jeff was finishing up his Sunday house-cleaning routine. We soon settled in with our adult beverages and chips and dip to watch the game. A couple of touchdowns later, my three grandchildren came home from Auntie Carmel's birthday party. The turbulence in their wake as they burst through the door nearly drowned out their three separate comments about my fresh haircut, and football lost its tenuous grip on me as I marshaled facetious comebacks. As it always does in the presence of the grandchildren, my Grinch heart swelled.
The three dogs sprawled placidly; occasionally a wagging tail thumped the floor. The two girls and I went into the study, where Hunter worked on her book report, not due for at least a week. Alison was trying to finish a report about King Khufu, unsure of whether it was due the next day or sometime during the following week, the documentation specifying the date lying forgotten at school. In some ways so unlike, Hunter and Al are still twins. They spontaneously started to crack their joints: knuckles, wrists, ankles, shoulders, necks. Al announced she could crack her nose, then sandwiched it between her two hands and jerked it sharply side to side as she surreptitiously snapped her thumbnail across the edge of an upper front tooth. She had me hook, line, and sinker, and her face lit as she saw her success.
Jord stayed with his father in the living room to watch the spectacle. Jeff knows and cares about sports, and I could hear him explaining the appropriate strategies as the game progressed. Dogs and humans exchanged brief visits between the two rooms, and Jeff brought out new courses of shrimp and buffalo wings. We all chatted easily, sometimes goofy, sometimes serious.
We were a family, three generations of us, content in the moment, yet not constrained to that particular moment or place. With no effort at all I could easily imagine our scene, its essence unchanged, in far distant times and surroundings. These transcendent moments of timelessness are extraordinary and rare treasures. Time seems to lose its linearity, and becomes more compact and three-dimensional—any moment is within easy reach.
Yes, we were participating in one of the major cultural phenomena of a great and gaudy nation, and it felt right and proper—we belonged. But bigger still, we belonged to the entire universe. I could sense our insignificance in the vast starry still winter night, balanced by the profound feeling of inclusion that those so inclined are willing to accept as proof that God exists.
Ill-equipped to swim in such seas of emotion, I was grateful for the chance to regroup and quietly sip my anise cordial—sweet and heady—while the girls got ready for bed and Jeff took Jord out for a brief moonlit cross-country ski run in the neighborhood field. On the way home I ran the brain diagnostics: the onslaught had fried my metaphor generation circuits, my basic vocabulary retrieval functions were shorted out, and my rudimentary capacity for coherent speech had sustained a severe hit. The emotional tide was still running high when I arrived; I'd not yet regained my usual detached tranquility. Cheryl asked about the evening. Teary old fool could only just manage: "It was freaking perfect."