06 December 2012

First post in December

In the beginning, I fed the black cat because it was here and in the house lived two domesticated cats and there was food available to share. And in its neighborhood wanderings the black cat would arrive at my cabin door in the cold winter months and I supposed hungry. The moles and mice know enough to stay underground or indoors!  In the beginning, I think the cat preferred to remain unnoticed and would partake of the food only after I had left the scene. Having eaten, the cat would continue on its tour of the neighborhood. I think it belonged to no one and to everyone; I do not know if anyone else gave it sustenance, but when I put food out for the cat, I felt magnanimous, ethical, kind, like a mensch, if you will. And the cat was fed.
But of late the black cat has taken up residence (I think) underneath the deck of the house where I believe that it sleeps at night, and during the day the cat lies in the tall grass outside the cabin, sometimes in the tentative warmth of a late Fall sun, or deep on the hill protected from the chilling winds, and whenever I go in or out of the door (of either the cabin or the house) the animal approaches the bowls and addresses me. It no longer seems to travel far any more; it is not making the rounds of the neighborhood; indeed, I think it has taken up residence. At 5:30 a.m. when I exit the back door, the cat waits for me, and wails its early greeting: “I’m hungry. It’s about time!” And then we together walk the short distance to the cabin; I step carefully to avoid tripping over the cat that shadows my steps with great attention and too-close proximity. I fear falling and breaking something I need. I make it not easily to the cabin door, too often inadvertently kicking the cat as we tread the short path, and and enter in, turn on the desk lamp and place down my coffee mug and whatever book I happened to have transported from the house: the cat stares in, watching my every move and hurrying me along with its cries. I return outside and empty a can of foul smelling cat food and a handful of hard food into the bowls. Once the cat observed my service from some distanceoriginally from around the corner of the cabin where it stealthily watched my actions and awaited my disappearance, but now, however, as I set the full bowls down under the canopied dining area, the cat not only paces by my side, but it neither falls on the food, but insists first that I scratch its neck, rub its head, and offer it some physical, voluble morning greeting. It pushes its head and neck into my hand and caresses my leg with its body. It is more than food that it has come to desire.
And so, what was once a somewhat casual gesture has become now a relationship and a responsibility. I am obliged to the black cat. And I understand that my once-casual, even gratuitous gesture has become more than I might have bargained for in the beginning.
I remember a time when I lived on the Upper West Side in New York City, and I began to hand dollar bills to a homeless man sitting outside the Red Apple Grocery Store around the corner from my apartment; after a few daily passes he developed some expectation from my appearance, and when he would see me coming he would eagerly approach and offer me greeting as I reached into my pocket for a dollar bill. “Hello, my friend,” he would call, though the words were slurred because he lacked most of his teeth. “Thank you kindly,” he said as I went on my way and he returned to his place before the store. At first I handed him money only when I walked North on Broadway, but soon I gave him dollar bills when I passed him in either direction. Sometimes when he greeted me I stopped and engaged in conversation. I learned his name Freddieand there developed some vague social ease between us. He told me his story: he obviously suffered either from some cognitive disability or drug addiction, and he lived on some disability allotment, but I came to understand that his disability check was collected by someone else who was in charge of his care and with whom he lived, and I don’t know that he ever saw any monies himself from the check, nor am I certain what truth his story contained.
In one of our conversations Freddie informed me with the excitement that was childlike that his birthday was imminent. It was November, I recall, and I went out and purchased him a rag wool sweater from a shop on 72nd Street between Broadway and Columbus Avenue, and on his birthday I gave him the sweater. Sporting a great grin he put it on and stood proudly before the entrance to Red Apple Grocery begging handouts a little warmer, I hoped, and certainly more fashionably attired.
But what else could I do? Once I had established some relationship I was not free to abandon it at my whim. An almost automatic, even thoughtless, act of generosity had become an ethical obligation. Random acts of kindness transform into acts of commitment.
I saw Freddie a few times after his birthday, but despite the cold he did not wear the sweater. I didn’t ask where it had gone, but I gave him the usual dollar bills and went about my business. Then I didn’t see Freddie ever again.
I resist adding a moral to this story, but I do love aphorisms. My ethics rests in my relationship to the Other, be it the homeless Freddie or the nameless black cat. And once established, I am obliged to it. A bane and a blessing.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The cat is not nameless. It is aptly named Shachar (shin - chet - resh).

06 December, 2012 07:28  
Anonymous Barbara said...

Shachar...Dawn...a beautiful name for your early morning visitor and it can be used for either male or female. Do you know the gender?

Since "shin, chet, and resh" are letters in the Hebrew alphabet, do you include them for help in the pronunciation of the name?

I've always pictured the cat as female and other choice names could be "Hadassah," "Almana," or "Gershona." If male, perhaps it is Thoreau reincarnated and wanting to visit your Walden!

I believe this particular cat knew exactly which human to begin a relationship with.

06 December, 2012 10:27  

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