Monday, August 20, 2001

Cynically Counterfeiting My Own Insights

One of the few areas I remember ever disagreeing with the elusive soul formerly known as my most reliable friend is her belief that animals don't have souls. And ironically she was the one who introduced me to the irresistible wily charms of our 1993 Woman of the Year, St. Francis of Assisi.

Now with all the debate raging about using human embryos for stem cell research this whole question about what exactly constitutes a soul, a living being, a sentient life, has crossed my rather lackadaisical consciousness just a little bit more than most matters.

One might define having a soul as not only being able to distinguish between right and wrong but having the ability to act upon that distinction. Using that definition I look at my roommate for the past ten years, that quirky ball of neurotic fur and have to say he has more of a soul than I ever could hope for. He most certainly knows when he has ventured into the territory of a risky mistake. He takes his scoldings with ears bent forward, a look of perspicacity that he knows better in his eyes.

Though his brain is the size of a walnut (on his better days) Mr. Max has certainly picked up his role in the nature of things as well as a few lessons or two. We've had a chance to take a few walks recently and I'm amazed that despite not having taken walks since last fall, as soon as his harness is attached and the leash firmly in my hand, he knows it's time to bolt to the front door, and he will soon enjoy the semi-freedom of the world he usually only gets glimpses of.

But it is Max's most curious characteristic that makes me wonder about how we learn, and how our instincts aren't always picture perfect. The first night I brought him home all those years ago I let him out of the oversized carrier I used to transport him from his former owner's home off Hiawatha Avenue in Minneapolis to my rather small efficiency off Grand Avenue in St. Paul. We sniffed each other out at first, trying to establish some perimeters of what the new relationship was going to be.

After a while Max took to lying on my chest, satisfied that he could trust me in some small way to provide some shelter (and most importantly- his meals). I soon noticed my T-shirt was becoming moist. I held Max above me to try and determine which end of him was leaking. Not that it really probably would have mattered much in retrospect. I had a St. Bernard of a kitty.

His drooling can turn off the more sensitive (and allergic) non cat loving people that visit from time to time. And though I've heard stories about other cats that share his unique trait I've never known another cat who once he is in deep purr can match my loyal feline friend for the amount of spit that can leak out of the corners of his mouth.

The past few years I've tried to determine why it is that Mr. Max drools. After some careful observation I've noticed that when he is purring he tends to stick his tongue between his front teeth thus forcing his mouth to remain slightly ajar. This habit has become even more pronounced later in his life. Did this come because his mother never taught him the proper way to purr? And if so doesn't that suggest that something so inherent (if not mysterious) as to why cats purr is not just an instinct but a differentiating personality quality related to perceiving one's own existence?

Not that having unique characteristics proves that anyone living in this little brick abode has what could be defined as a soul and thus will spend eternity in that blissful little resort known as Heaven when time finally runs out, but I think the one with stripes around here is certainly more qualified than the one with a growing numbness to all that can be perceived.

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