A Hole Left by a Cat

To be honest, I never really wanted a cat. I was a dog person. Cats were too independent and just convinced you to feed and pamper them without giving much back. But our daughter had recently left for her first year at college and my wife was suffering a bit from empty nest syndrome. Even our old retriever, Jessie, wasn’t scratching that itch. So I relented, and Tina and our son, Steve, headed off to the animal shelter. They returned with a handsome, buff-colored male that was a ‘teenager’ in cat years, maybe about nine months old. Ironically, Andrea had always wanted a cat, and never lets us forget that we got one as soon as she left for school.

We don’t completely agree on who named him. Tina says it was the name of a character in a book she was reading, and I contend I thought of it, as it rhymed with another word that was fitting if he didn’t work out well. Either way, neither of us wanted another pet name that ended in ‘-ie’. So we named him Tucker, and it seemed perfect. We kept him inside for a few weeks, where he quickly took to curling up in our bathroom sink, but we eventually let him become an inside/outside cat and he allowed us to open the doors for him as he chose.

We lived in cat heaven – a Pennsylvania neighborhood of 3/4 acre lots surrounded by fields and hedge rows, with no shortage of mice, snakes, hiding spots, and other cats to make Tucker’s life quite the adventure. And it didn’t take him too long to settle into the role of ‘property guard’ and would walk the grounds frequently, keeping us safe from all things. The only down side to this was taking our little soldier to the vet four to five times a year to get him patched up from his most recent scrap with whatever dared cross our perimeter, including a fox.

Tucker never became the cuddly cat Tina wanted but would make five-to-ten minute visits to our laps before getting antsy and jumping down. He would also consent to being held for a bit, so long as we didn’t overdo it. A minute was long enough. He preferred to curl up near us on the couch, on a night stand when we slept, or under the tree at Christmas, his all-time favorite place.

Twice over the years he just disappeared. Once for three agonizing days when we had resigned ourselves we’d never see him again, and once for twenty four hours shortly after we’d moved to Oregon. We’re pretty convinced he’d gotten himself locked in someone’s garage or shed during the three-day stint, and maybe gotten lost in the new neighborhood the other time. Both times he returned home famished, had a meal, and curled up on the couch to sleep like nothing happened. We took days to recover.

A couple years after getting Tucker, a small, sickly, and recently pregnant young female wandered onto our deck and adopted us. Somehow she knew we would save her and we obliged. Tucker and Leah never became best friends, but humorously tolerated each other. Leah, being smaller than Tucker, was the only thing he was afraid of, and he gave her a wide berth to avoid the frequent playful ambushes she became famous for.

In the ensuing years, Jessie passed on and we adopted yet another kitty, this time Steve’s black cat, Pepper, when Steve moved to Oregon.  Andrea had moved there years earlier for graduate school, and he wanted to see why she liked it so much. Pepper was a young, strong, large male. Tucker immediately saw him as competition, and Leah was happy to have yet another boy to pester. They semi-peacefully coexisted and provided significant entertainment for us. They were our retirement kids.

During the end of summer last year we finally followed our real kids to Oregon and successfully transported our feline gang cross-country to our new home. They survived the trip amazingly well, surprising us all with their ability to adapt to life on the road. Tucker got the prize for best traveler, though, simply hunkering down in his open carrier, peacefully waiting for car purgatory to end, and curling up under hotel night stands.

It is now fifteen months later and only Pepper remains with us.  While Tina and I were away last December Leah suffered a sudden blood clot in her hind legs.  Thank heavens Steve was there checking on the gang when it happened or she would have suffered horribly.  He rushed her to the vet but there was nothing they could do.  She was thirteen.

And now I sit here with tears streaming down my face again. We had to give Tucker the final ‘gift’ from us a few days ago.  He was sixteen. His age began leaving its mark last year, when his kidneys and thyroid started acting up. We were able to control those problems for him until a couple months ago when we learned he had cancer.

All pets leave a void when they depart, and it’s no different for us.  We miss Leah terribly, our little goofball. While the boys slept, she would follow us around all day long, getting into whatever we were doing.

But losing Tucker has left this huge gaping hole in our hearts.  He was our first. Mister independent. Our handsome little soldier.  … The one who turned us into cat people.

The house seems so empty.  I guess I’m still not done crying.

-Russ

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Why?

I’ve spent most of the day asking myself that question, filled with such a deep sadness it hurts to my core. Why is this happening?  What drives someone to inflict such horror and destruction on perfect strangers?  This is certainly not the America I grew up in.

I don’t know the answer.  Whether this was home grown or not, it is not simple.  But I do know we won’t fix it with a government that has divided us, while replacing decency, principle, and doing what’s right for America and others with greed, corruption, and doing right only for themselves. It’s no wonder despair has replaced hope for so many.

-Russ

A Modern Tragedy

With few exceptions, nearly every experience is easier and/or more enjoyable if we are fit and well-nourished. Whether we are playing, working, fending off disease, or surviving a disaster or accident, being in shape helps us both enjoy the good and cope with the bad, and can make the difference between an average or exceptional life, or be the deciding factor in whether we live or die. So why do so many of us choose to be slugs?

In ever-increasing numbers, today’s first-world human is a physical wreck. Modern life has gotten so easy as to nearly eliminate any activity that would cause us to perspire, and the majority of the food consumed is a nutritional nightmare. Most people have heard the expressions, ‘You are what you eat’ and ‘Use it or lose it’. Never have these been more relevant than today. The human body needs more than a greasy hamburger and carbonated sugar water to continually rebuild itself, and bones and muscles only stay strong through use.

The villain in all this seems to be our innate drive to make life more comfortable and to taste better. Madison Avenue, not giving a damned about our personal well-being, has turned that against us to make a profit, resulting in a population addicted to sugar, salt, soft chairs and TV, and we are suffering from a growing list of chronic lifestyle diseases with barely enough strength and energy to climb a couple flights of stairs.

If you aren’t happy with what you see in the mirror, you might consider another of my favorite expressions: ‘Be the change you want to see in the world.’  Nobody will fix this for us. It’s mostly our choice if we want to do it for ourselves, but the deeper we sink into the couch, the harder it will be to get out.

-Russ

Shocked, But Not Surprised

This morning’s news was consumed by stories about the shooting at the Congressional baseball practice.  This was a horrible incident, and my heart goes out to those injured.  I wish them a speedy recovery.

I am both shocked and saddened, but there really is no surprise.  An angry despair has spread across America.  A despair caused not by some external influence, but one from within.  Once one of the most respected institutions on Earth, our Congress has devolved into nothing more than a bickering, partisan mess driven by systemic corruption and lack of integrity, with members worried more about campaign contributions than solving the country’s problems.  Their approval ratings are at historic lows.

This is being felt internationally as well.  A friend in Germany recently said to me, “… there is some sort of vacuum where US leadership used to be. And that is a potentially dangerous situation. … the new star is China. [The US has] handed world leadership to them on a platter. And they gratefully accept since they anyhow see these last few hundred years as a fluke. Otherwise China always has been the greatest nation in the world.  So that’s where we’ll all have to look in the future.”

I believe incidents like yesterday’s shooting are driven by a sense of hopelessness, a feeling that we can’t fix this.  A lack of hope causes people to either give up or it drives them to extreme actions. We are seeing both.  Initial reports of the shooter indicate he was emotionally distraught, in part due to this governmental chaos and associated divisive rhetoric.

As expected, we are already hearing about how to provide better security for members of Congress, including increased police and Secret Service details.  It seems to me, however, the best security would be obtained simply by Congress cleaning up their mess.  Maybe by becoming respectable again, by eliminating the corruption, stopping the petty politics, and getting back to actually working for America (and setting a good example for the world) fewer people would be compelled to violence through desperation.  And just think of the problems we could solve.

-Russ

 

No, It’s Not OK

President Trump tweets almost daily, bragging about how big he thinks his dick is, but it has been five days since the hatred-motivated shooting in Olathe, Kansas, and he has yet to even acknowledge publicly that it happened.  This is all we need to know to understand the measure of this man.  It is not OK. Not for me, not for any of us.

-Russ

What’s Going On Over There?

A good friend who is a citizen of New Zealand recently asked me that, becoming aware of the growing ‘separatism’ here in the US over our politics. My response to her:

It seems a number of factors have come together to form the ‘perfect storm’ over here, but my personal belief is it’s driven mostly by the systemic corruption that has taken over our government.  I understand that corruption has always existed, but big money has now become the primary incentive motivating our elected officials, leaving the business of working for ‘the people’ as a mere footnote, and almost everyone is feeling the effects and is sick of it.  And even though we have this common cause, our two-party politics has created this great divide as each side points fingers at the other.  The adult skills of listening and compromise have completely been forgotten as the sides get more deeply entrenched.  …  Even the media has taken sides, with money driving the need for better ratings, and each source pandering to their chosen side of the divide.  It’s very frustrating these days to simply figure out what the truth is.  … And then there is this recent election, which was more about voting for the lessor of two evils rather than for whom you liked, simply because decent, honest, intelligent people don’t want to get involved in our corrupt politics, so they don’t run for office.  Thus, our choice was, 1. the same old corrupt establishment that was Hillary, or 2. the narcissist billionaire who promised to stop the corruption by ‘draining the swamp’.   The promise of change won out, but that change may be more than we bargained for.  All this craziness has awoken even those who never paid attention to politics before, and they find themselves caught between wanting to do their patriotic duty by voicing their opinion and staying quiet so as not to alienate friends and family who have differing perspectives.  As they say, it is history in the making.

Apathy vs. Speaking Out: Finding a Balance

It appears the decades-long political apathy that has existed in the U.S. may be at an end.  That apathy which has allowed our government to reach systemic corruption, with our representatives filling their own pockets – unchecked – with little regard for the desires of their constituents.  Americans have finally gotten fed-up with it all.  Not since the Vietnam War have I seen so many people actively concerned about the state of our politics.  And it is certainly not a bad thing, since a democracy, after all, is a government by its people.

But ‘waking up’ has come with a price.  Too many years of not paying attention – whether due to job focus, lack of interest, or simply not wanting to offend – have eroded our skills in civil discourse and thinned our skins. It has reached the point where healthy debate over political things that matter quickly devolve into unproductive arguments, name-calling, and strained relationships. This has been magnified by the impersonal aspects of social media, where a person can sit behind the shield of their computer and say things they would not typically say directly to someone’s face. This situation is made even worse by the explosion of ‘fake news’, causing people to fight over things that simply aren’t true.

I feel it myself and worry how many of my friends and family have had enough of my thoughts. Probably more than I want to know.  Where is the right balance between being an educated, involved citizen and not driving those around us completely nuts?  I have tried to read differing, well thought-out perspectives and the debates that ensue, and sometimes add my own opinion.  I think it helps.  These are the debates that will hopefully bubble up to hold our elected representatives accountable and drive them to find the compromises that serves us best.  But the number of those debates and the ugly confrontations that frequently result are becoming too much for most of us these days, myself included.

We need to find a balance between staying silent and speaking out that allows each of us to remain part of a healthy, respectful discourse while not turning us into enemies.   Because it is the discourse that is needed to fan the flames of our re-awakening and let those we elected know their party is over.  We have learned that apathy doesn’t work.

-Russ