The windows are full of yellow light today, a carpet of yellow leaves on the ground glowing in direct sunlight with shadows of tree limbs running through it like cracks. The reflection of sunlight on the yellow leaves in the trees as well as on the ground gives the impression the air itself has a golden glow. Inside, a young cat curled up in the crook of my right arm on the desktop, kitten energy full of play having a time-out, purrs when I touch her, wants to nap in the hammock of my arms. She understands that I need hands free, yet she needs to be held too. I hold her in my arms a few minutes and use the keyboard a few minutes. As kitten learns my ways and I learn her ways, we will find our flow before long. She is already good after three weeks with staying off the keyboard. It's become almost automatic for her. I've attempted to steer her away from it, the way a mother cat would, without scolding or acting impatient. My feeling is that if I were to be forceful with her and threatening, I would unconsciously turn the keyboard into a taboo, irresistible to cat for life. I'm seeing that gently steering her away from the keyboard has made walking on it largely uninteresting to her. Sometimes she breaks out of her self-control and steps on it. I gently steer her away and she goes without resistance.
All my pets, one at a time over the last forty years, have taught me that gentleness is their nature already. They are made ungentle by rough people. I used to know somebody with a dog that was a cross between an Australian blue heeler and a border collie. It was a vicious, sneakin-bitin dog, a difficult dog to get past from car door to house door, even when it knew me. Somebody else I knew had a heeler crossed with a border collie. It, too, was a sneakin-bitin dog, but it didn't threaten me after it came to know me. There was no getting to know the first one. Both dogs were brought up ungently, made mean by men who want a mean dog. I raised my dogs with gentleness and their natural gentle spirit came through. I believe we humans are at heart gentle, though growing up and living in so-called civilization makes us tough in order to survive. Men who have been in wars, especially, tend to be rough on their kids in the belief that treating kids like shit makes them tough. In my own experience, I've seen that hitting kids only makes them angry, an anger they hold all their lives believing it's natural.
An image popped into my mind's eye of a guy I saw in the grocery store several years ago, a tormented soul in a body bent over for protection, anger seething from his whole body visibly, back arched, head down. My mind said, don't go down that aisle right now. He looked like somebody extremely volatile and maybe just out of prison or another dehumanizing institution. I kicked myself mentally for avoiding somebody who is not going to attack me in a grocery store for walking by, turned the buggy down the aisle and when I passed him, he looked up at me with eyes gentle as a three year old's. My heart broke into tears. I felt an impulse to give him a big hug and say, It's all right, you're safe. He would have freaked out and I would have too. Like my aunt said, if you don't want it started, don't start it. I spoke in passing, hey, a small way of saying, You're ok, you'll make it. Tears come to my eyes now remembering this guy who was a human version of a dog with it's tail between its legs, humped over from fear. It was a moment I thought, there but for the grace of God go I, not saying it to remind self, rather because it's full meaning came through first and suggested it. First thought at the time would have been something like, it could so easily have been me.
Perhaps he was unable to find such indifference in himself as I had access to in myself. From age ten I regarded self a foster child. Indifference kicked in, became an invisible protective shield like Colgate toothpaste on Happy Tooth. Eventually, I came to realize that my own original nature was gentle and wanted to be treated gently. Every time in my adult life I've brought home a young dog or cat, it seemed obvious they were gentle in spirit. Kittens playing look like they are shredding each other and neither one gets a scratch. They learn playing how hard you can bite the other without it hurting. When it hurts, the other squeals and the one biting lets go. Kitten will never bite that hard again, until she means it. I've been training Sophia with a yelp when she climbs my legs. A couple weeks ago she had so little weight her claws poking through the sweatpants material merely tickled my legs. She has grown so much her claws hurt now. I yelp and she lets go. Most of the time. She has recently gone from climbing to my knee to jumping to my knee in a flying squirrel leap. The claws take hold when she lands, the material stretched tight and thin, it makes me about stand straight up. I don't have to scold. Only saying it hurts is all she needs to know. Hurting is not her intent. If I were to be hurting her by pushing her off the desk, being abruptly irrational, she'd get me back. Cats are instant karma. They give back how we treat them, even plot revenge. I treat Sophia with love and grace and receive the same in turn.
photos by tj worthington