That's Maggie

It never ceased to amaze me, how Magnificat can transmogrify. When she wants a fuss and lies sweet and quiet like a baby in my arms, she seems so small: compact, warm and surprisingly heavy --until, that is, she decides that she'd had enough and leaves me with exit wounds (the wounds left when a cat exits). Stretched out on the kitchen floor, which she owns the middle of, especially when I'm trying to get supper, she goes on for what looks like yards of tortoiseshell ribbon. That's Maggie.

Personality-wise, she is--well, *vivid*. She is a cat who definitely knows her own mind and announces it. Loudly. Often. At length. She is still very much a grrrrrrrrlcat: aggressive, forward, in-yer-face. If she were a teenaged girl instead of the feline equivalent, I'd spend a lot of my time waiting up very late at night and worrying not about her, but about the boy she's with. But that's Maggie.

What's intriguing, though, is that you don't get a hint of dysfunction about Maggie; there is nothing wrong with her. She's not in the least neurotic. She does not miss the mark in any way. She and her lithe little body are completely at home with each other--in fact, with cats, can you tell where the furperson begins and the fur person ends? The question's ridiculous. The Hebrew word _nephesh_, for the body-spirit unity, might have been invented for cats. Talk about incarnation: is there anything more incarnational than a strong-minded tortoiseshell domestic shorthair?

Healthy cats have this natural incarnationalness because they are beasts of relatively little brain (lots of instincts, though). We skinpersons, on the other hand, get all muddled up because we've got these huge complicated cerebrum-thingies that let us do all sorts of things that cats can't, like touch-type and build antipersonnel mines and play Bach and develop rather startling neuroses. We can reason our way into, but not always out of, all sorts of paper bags. Cats just dive in and claw their way out.

But a healthy young grrrrrrlcat like Maggie makes it abundantly clear that there really is a major difference between perfection and perfection. (Or perfection and. purrfection.? Sorry about that.) Maggie is perfectly Maggie, but perfectly Maggie is not, on the whole, what most people would describe as perfect. In fact, the family line is that Maggie is only evil on days that end with a "y" and in months with a vowel in them. Still, she is all of a piece, that you have to admit.

To be perfectly who you are is to be as fully and completely yourself as you can be: to be as wholly and happily at home in yourself as a cat in her fur. There are no cleavages in Maggie; there is no insecurity. There is no dis-integration in this cat; she has not had to peel off parts of her self that she saw as unacceptable and put them off to one side, where she doesn't have to look at them and can pretend that she is just fine, thank you. (Of course this sort of foolishness would never occur to a cat in the first place. Cats know serenely that if there's a problem, it's certainly not theirs.) She is integral, and she is fully and freely herself.

For us to try to follow this particular perfection-path wouldn't, I think, be a good idea, because much as we'd like to have things that simple, we aren't cats. A human being with a personality like Maggie's would certainly be diagnosed as having one of the major and least tractable personality disorders. Whatever cats possess in the way of soul isn't the same sort of soul we're given to work with. So our notion of perfection isn't in the least feline.

Cats may be to the glory of God, as Christopher Smart noted. ("For I will consider my cat Jeoffry. For he is the servant of the living God, duly and daily serving him....") But so far as we can tell, cats cannot glorify God, or even be aware of the suspiciously God-shaped hole in the universe, because they don't have all that spongy grey stuff under their neatly sloping foreheads. We have so much more to work with than they do, and also so much more to deal with; so much more we can make of ourselves, and such an infinite number of ways to screw it up.

We can't be perfect in the cat sense. We also can't be perfect in the conventional sense, because (since there are an infinite number of ways to screw it up), we're bound to screw it up. We can, however, work toward perfection in St. Paul's sense, although that's hard to describe. I will be perfectly myself when I become as God would have me be: and that means going through the loss of much that makes Maggie a healthy, well-balanced cat. Narcissism, for example. That has to go. A blissful failure to deal with the bits of reality that I don't find immediately useful or gratifying: toss it overboard. Careless, playful cruelty: give it the heave. Our job is to become more and more uncomfortably aware of others around us, not to expect them to top up the kibble and be available for behind-the-ears-scratching whenever we feel the need. Our job is to be willing and ready to accept necessary suffering (but not unnecessary suffering, since that's disrespectful to this people we are, the people whom God made and loves). Tell that to a cat!

Our job is to stretch and push and extend our souls, without ripping the fabric, until they are as large as they can be. We are to grow into an ever deeper, ever more loving awareness of God, ourselves, and the world around us, and that love is inevitably as full of pain as it is of joy. At the same time, we are also to be fully and completely the souls that God made us: no two of us the same precise flavour. We are to nurture and develop whatever gifts we've been given, We are to use those gifts in Godpleasing ways, not because we're compelled to be good little boys and girls out of fear or guilt or blind obedience, but because we have deliberately chosen to do so.

We are to be as fully ourselves as Maggie is Maggie, but fully God's at the same time. Discerning how to go about being like that on a practical daily level can be difficult; there are no simple answers, no easy regulations except, of course, the Great Commandment, which is neither simple nor easy. We get there by living as fully and completely as we can while staying firmly centred on faith. It's a journey full of mountains, valleys, bands of pilgrims, bramble bushes and the occasional dragon, and it is extraordinarily rewarding. Easy as Maggie has it, I wouldn't trade. Not for a moment.

Maggie has jumped up beside me and is singing loudly at me, wanting out, food, or fuss--she tends to be pretty obvious. She's giving me that grrrrrrlcat look: five of her six ends are pointy (to quote Calvin and Hobbes) and she's not above using a claw to bring home a point she thinks is important. Okay, okay. Off to do her bidding.

Copyright © 2000 Molly Wolf. Originally published Sat, 17 Jun 2000
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