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DOG ON A TRAIN, MAN ON HIS OWN
September 18, 2009
 
June's dog took the rain from Fairfield to New Haven?

Yup.

By himself?

Yup.


Our cousin's dog had gone missing, and she had called the local police in Fairfield. Turned out he had dug a hole under the fence, gone down to the station and gotten on the next train. Fairfield and New Haven are about 25 miles apart. One of the Metro-North guys drove him home at the end of his shift.

More animals should commute. Ben should, especially. He should work for the railroad, in fact. His rather jarring meow would be an asset on a train, I would think: Ben likes announcing things, and he's very punctual. Many's the time he'd leap up on the rectory table in Florence promptly at 9pm and stroll down its length, quacking to announce the end of a vestry meeting -- Ben doesn't think any meeting should last longer than two hours, and he is right about that. On a train, he could thread his way through even a crowded aisle before each stop, quacking as he went. Those who had fallen asleep would hear him and not miss their stops. I have done that, and it's no way to end a long day, believe me.

Once in a while Q will bring a cat with him in the car to fetch me at the train. We are not alone, he will tell me softly, and I will turn around to the back seat to see two round eyes staring at me in the darkness. Q has a great sense of humor where the cats are concerned. Once, he taped a picture of a tiger to the wall above their feeding bowl. It's a pinup, he said. Something for them to look at during dinner. /i> I don't know that the cats needed a pinup during meals; their anatomy is such that they can't really eat and look up at the same time. Still, it was a thoughtful gesture. And Q does with his laser pointer what all academics do with theirs: uses it to drive the cats crazy chasing the little red dots around the living room.

On to another day. Santi is trying to pull a plastic bag out of the recycling so he can eat part of it and throw up. Ben quacks loudly for his breakfast and then walked away from it without so much as a taste. Kitten sails into the kitchen through the tear in the screen door -- one day soon we'll get the storm door in, and he's get a nasty shock. Gypsy crouches under a bush and stares into the middle distance.

And What's-Her-Name? She is not as delinquent as she was in her youth. She is very lean -- I keep thinking she's too skinny, but the vet says no, she's just getting old. She sits on the car hood after somebody drives in, letting the warmth from the engine soak into her old bones.

Any way you look at it, that's a lot of cats. More than enough. I understand there's an ordinance in town now limiting each house to five -- apparently a crazy cat lady created something of a public nuisance with her tribe a few years back, so they passed a law. Fine with me, but it's not like we volunteer to have all these cats -- they just show up. Word must be out that we're a soft touch. Kitten's own mother just dropped him off one day and left, which should have tipped us off about him right then and there.

Blood relationship doesn't seem to count for much with animals, not after they've raised their kids to maturity. Out of the house and on your own seems to be the norm with them. It is not so with us. They tug at our hearts long after they're stopped tugging at our skirts, and we fight our ancient instinct to protect them once the time has come when they must protect themselves. But fight it we must -- in the wrong place, our protectiveness can be as disempowering as our neglect. Somehow, we each must learn to fight our own battles and learn from our own mistakes, and we can't do that if nobody ever lets us experience their consequences fully.

A father sits in a chair and weeps. His youngest son is addicted, and has just bombed out of another rehab. Thousands of hard-to-come-by dollars have been spent on this young man, thousands of miles logged to fetch him from jail, from school, from the hospital. He's had second, third and twentieth chances. All that could be done for him has been done, many times.

It's his time now. He can't come home again. He needs to find his own way, and to fully understand what it is to have lost it. The father shrinks from the cruelty of this, feels it cut into his own heart like a knife. He fears his son may die. And he may.

But then, he's dying right now.

He may not die. And if he does not, it will only be because he has come to understand that there is a power higher than his own and that his destiny is between him and that higher power. And nobody else.

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http://www.nytimes.com/2000/09/07/nyregion/dog-has-his-day-on-metro-north.html
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