Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Adages, mantras, and cats... oh my!

Today, post-swim and pre-M's pick-up, K and I stopped in at the pet store to peruse the animals. Our first stop was the cat kennels. K loves cats. She likes to point and coo and sometimes shriek, all happy so long as the cats keep their distance. Which they did. Cages and all, you see.

So we're walking along, cooing and pointing, and I'm barely able to contain her. All the while, I'm talking to her about how pretty these cats are, how much they want a home, what great friends they would be. Then one lean black cat stretches his way from his bed and says hello. My voice cracks, my eyes well up, and I'm struck speechless as K continues to wrest herself from my grip.

He looks just like TM. And all at once, I realize: I still miss my cats.

And now I'm having to explain to our cat-loving daughter that we did have cats, that they were good friends too, and that she would have loved them. As I love them. Still. And yes, it was just as depressing as it sounds.

It brings new insight to my existential ramblings from earlier this week. Of course we must continue to grow, regret, and grow more. It's thanks in part to hindsight. Common sense calls hindsight 20-20. Seen in retrospect, we always find things we would or should have changed or done differently. But really, hindsight is blind as a bat. Because hindsight only allows us to look back on an established road from further along. Of course we see things that we would change, but it's based solely on the road we walked. Suppose we had changed those things. Then we'd have taken a different road entirely, and, months or years later, we'd be looking back wanting to change that road too. Hindsight can't show us anything except how we've changed between the point where we made those decisions and the point where we ended up.

I see the cats in the pet store, I see who K has become, and I regret. I wonder if we gave up too easily, if the cats' departure was really the only solution, and whether waiting it out would have ended up with us just as happy. But I don't know anything. Seeing something we would have changed in the past, I'm not sure that that's wisdom. Because, for example, we could have kept the cats. And K could have gotten into the litter as a baby and would up with toxoplasmosis. or she could have found their food and choked to death trying to eat it.

I know what you're thinking: yeah, well, those things are so totally unlikely. But they could have happened. I look back and I see a road of happy things that we didn't have and wish that we'd had them. Why? Because what we had wasn't perfect. Because I know things now that I didn't know then. Because time has passed, and not only is hindsight blind, but it's often rose-colored too. But if we'd kept the cats, I can guarantee only that I'd be looking back with the same sense of wonder: what would have happened if...

I think it's only natural to analyze your life as such. Or maybe it's just my nature. When I read Choose Your Own Adventure as a kid, I used to dog-ear the decision pages so I could make sure to come back and find out what I missed. The not-knowing tortured me. But life is so unforgivably forward moving that there is so much we're always not-knowing. Maybe I should have used those books as practice earlier on, because I'm obviously not very good at it now.

One other adage for today: Forgiveness is letting go of the past you wish you'd had. I can't remember where I heard this, but props to the source because it's been one of my mantras lately. And forgiveness and forgetting and moving forward are all tied up together. So maybe it's not so much about figuring out when and if we stop changing (and regretting) but learning how to move past those regrets and embrace who we've become and where we've ended up. And in that case, we're looking not just for the candidate with experience, but also with the right temperament to be in the moment, attuned to the moment, and without baggage from moments past.

But baggage or not, I still miss my cats. I may say blithe things like They really are just pets and We honestly had no other choice, but somewhere, they know the truth. Thanks, guys, for being so much more than just pets, so much more than an easy choice. It just means you were really worth something, then and always.

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