Working at my computer, I see the shadow of my 19-year-old cat, McKitty, as she approaches. (My late husband, Frank McReynolds, proposed the name, which we both loved.) She walks slowly and unsteadily now, due to her weakened condition.
Over the past year and a half she has deteriorated. She is down to 6 pounds. She's a Maine Coon cat, and her fur thick and luxurious, with intricate stripes and swirls in black, grey and cream, her green eyes set off with richly painted "eyebrows" is thinning and matted in spots. Her meow is now faint as an echo. Her hearing is mostly gone.
Born of a wild mother, she was abandoned in some tall weeds in our backyard in August 1993. We took her in and she was spry and full of wild racing behind our furniture faster than the eye could follow.
She has never hurt a flea, but with her wild gene, she intimidated strangers. The first time I took her to the veterinarian she growled like a grizzly, hissed up a storm and puffed herself up in such a ferocious attack posture that the vet's assistants were all afraid of her. One time, our neighbor, an Army veteran, came over to feed her when we were out of town. McKitty, who had hidden under a table, he later told us, suddenly leapt up behind him with such a fierce growl that the hair on the back of his neck bristled.
But she has always loved her "family." Since her earliest days, whenever I pick her up, hold her in my arms and pet her, she purrs like a motorboat and pats my cheek with her paw. She'd often jump up on the bed at night and squeeze between my pillow and the headboard. Whenever we pulled suitcases out to pack for a trip, she would sprawl in the middle of the floor, flat as a pancake, her eyes little slits. She never wanted us to go.
McKitty has taught me important lessons about life. She has lived her entire life content in our small adobe home and yard in Carmichael. She never sought happiness over the rainbow.
She has taught me about trust and the power of perception. One time when she was missing for several hours, I became anxious, wondering: Did someone take her? Did she get into an accident? Then I remembered that I had pulled some towels out of the closet earlier in the day. I whipped open the closet door and there she was curled up contentedly in some soft towels and looking at me with an expression like, "What are you looking at?"
The human was frantic in fear, the cat content in trust. It was also a matter of perception. I saw her as stuck in a closet for hours. She saw it as a peaceful new place to sleep.
As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, "Do you see that kitten chasing so prettily her own tail? If you could look with her eyes, you might see her surrounded with hundreds of figures performing complex dramas, with tragic and comic issues, long conversations, many characters, many ups and downs of fate."
McKitty has, indeed, shown me how to appreciate the simple things of life a little pet, a special snack, a ray of sunshine to warm her back.
She has taught me grit in the face of adversity and the ability to accept fate with dignity. For some months her meow had turned into a grouchy bleat, as she seemed to rail against aging, but she seems to have accepted it now and is at peace.
She has taught me the importance of showing those you love that you love them.
I watch now in my office as McKitty's shadow becomes the battered ball of fur beside me. I carefully pick her up, hold her near the wall heater, pet her, rub her chin and touch her pink nose, as I have for nearly 20 years. She purrs softly, slowly raising her paw to pat my cheek once or twice, before she loses the strength to continue.
I know she will be gone from the earth soon, but her love and the lessons she has taught me will live on.
"The smallest feline is a masterpiece," Leonardo da Vinci is said to have observed.
McKitty is truly my backyard miracle.