Percy is the World to Me
David R. Weiss – October 29, 2022
These days Percy is the world to me.
But wait. I’m not sure you grasp the complicated depth of that statement. Let me unpack it.
Percy is my cat. Our cat. He’s shared himself with Margaret and me for the past eight-plus years. But he was already ten when we took him in, so he’s well into his nineteenth circle around the sun. A ripe old age for a cat: around 90 years on a human scale.
“Shared” is a term he lived into at his own pace. Spent the first week or more “living” under Margaret’s dresser. Slinking out only to eat, drink, pee, poop. Eventually he warily explored our home … and, even more warily, us.
Indeed, Percy has been zealously guarded with his affection the entire time he’s been with us. It’s fair to say he warmed only to me, Margaret, and Susanna (who, despite her rather rare appearances in these parts had a cat-whisperer connection to Percy). Everyone else … he tolerated. At best. Our grandchildren desperately wanted Percy to warm to them. Standoffish would be generous. The unpredictable energy of kids terrified him.
But among the three us—Margaret, me, and our feline housemate—a felicitous rhythm emerged. Nightly he joined us for the 10 o’clock news. “Joined” is the operative word because he insisted on being in between us on the sofa, his body the bridge that joined us to one another. After the news he often led the way upstairs to bed, waiting on the near corner of the bed for his treats, which he chased down as they bounced across the bedspread.
Then as we crawled into bed Percy would often position himself on Margaret’s chest, his chin brushing her chin, their breath rising and falling in silent call-and-response until one of them (usually Margaret) fell sound asleep. Or he would crawl along my left side and pester me for pets and chin rubs until, satisfied, he’d curl up with his butt alongside my hip so that I could fall asleep with my hand resting on his back.
Beyond this, Percy was frugal—even to us—with his affection. He loved to supervise in the kitchen—by settling down in front of the cupboard or the sink so that we had to step around him to fix the meal. And he occasionally sought out pets and chin rubs while we were reading. But mostly he was content with—and deeply attached to—the rhythm of “family” that played out daily between 10pm and midnight.
Percy both begrudgingly and tenderly entwined himself into our lives.
Eight years of that, and now each day hints at an apocalypse. While he slowed considerably over the past half-year, in the past month he’s been making ready to die. In mid-September he lost his ability to find his treats. By early October he was ignoring his dry food, so we upped his wet food servings. A week ago, he stopped eating even the wet food, content to only licking the liquid off the top. So, for seven days now, he’s subsisted—no, he’s slowly withered—on a diet of food juice and water. He still makes his way to the litter box, often bumping gently into objects along the way. Except for these trips to pee or to sip a bit of water or juice, he sits. Sits and sleeps. All day long. Waiting for death. He is weary of life but in no apparent pain.
And so, as best we can, we keep watch with him. We carry him to the sofa for the 10 o’clock news. We carry him up to bed where he is still happy to settle in on Margaret’s chest. And we stiffen our muscles and joints sitting next to him where he lies on the kitchen floor.
All of this suggests HOW Percy became the world to me. And now his impending death sets the orbit of my days. His waning life directs the ebb and flow of my emotions.
But the WHY, that is a deeper darker heavier mystery.
It is my joyful sorrow to accompany him, to offer kindness as he wends his way toward his end. An end that I cannot stop. And while there is sorrow—of all creatures, we humans were designed to run on connection—I am adamant: if sorrow is the price of feeling connected, it is a modest price indeed. I am glad to be present in these waning moments of connection to a life that has never been less than mischievous mystery to me.
So, the WHY.
If you read the news, you know that my world—not Percy, but the socio-ecological fabric of the planet—is stumbling toward death as surely as my cat is. That world. Our world.
Maybe you don’t read the news. Well, just days ago the UN Environment Programme reported there is now “no credible pathway to 1.5 C [temperature rise] in place.” Our best hope for averting widespread catastrophic climate breakdown is now effectively foreclosed. The same report noted that under current policies we are on target for a 2.8 C rise by 2100. The Guardian editorial board opines (2022/10/28) that this “would—and probably will—mean destruction on a scale that is hard to imagine, even after what we have already witnessed.” Meanwhile some oil and gas companies have doubled their profits in the past quarter: taking a burning world to the bank.
I do not say this glibly, but all too seriously: our odds of avoiding all-out catastrophic climate change and socio-ecological collapse are about as good as Percy’s odds of making it through next week. And those odds are ZERO. Those odds are zero.
This is a very heavy WHY.
What do we do when the odds of happy (or even barely satisfactory) resolution are mere fancy? Do we despair? Or rage? Do we cower in fear? Arm ourselves against others? Do we double-down on denial so we can dance the night away until the lights go out?
Well, Percy is the world to me. Which is to say, I know from these very days that it is possible to choose to harbor an abundance of presence and kindness even when “hope” for anything like happy resolution is out of question.
That doesn’t mean nothing else matters. It does mean that cultivating kindness and presence to self and others matters more than anything else.
Yes, action matters, too! Eat a plant-based diet. Drive less. Go solar. And more. But the best ground of worthy action is to root oneself in kindness and presence—and the nearness of death. Thus, joyful sorrow is the paradox in which our lives find meaning. And outside that paradox whatever life offers us is merely masquerading as meaning. When death is so irrevocably near, then joyful sorrow—or sorrowful joy—is the loom on which we weave. We would like a bit (actually, a lot) of unmitigated joy. For ourselves. And our children. Especially our little ones.
But, as with Percy right now, unmitigated joy is not on the table. Not for him. Not for us.
Ultimately, then, it’s less that Percy is the world to me, than that the world is Percy to me.
I look out on the world, and I am glad to be present in these waning moments of connection to an entire world that has never been less than mischievous mystery to me.
There is so much to do. And time is short. But—I will write this in a million ways—what matters most is presence and kindness.
Just ask Percy.
David Weiss is a theologian, writer, poet and hymnist, doing “public theology” around climate crisis, sexuality, justice, diversity, and peace. Reach him at email@example.com. Read more at www.davidrweiss.com where he blogs under the theme, “Full Frontal Faith: Erring on the Edge of Honest.” Support him in writing Community SupportedTheology at www.patreon.com/fullfrontalfaith.