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WILD WAYS
July 24, 2013
 
In a predatory mode most unlike him, Benito crouches over his water bowl and grows softly at a pigeon on under-the-feeder cleanup duty. The bird takes one look at him and goes back to work: Ben grew up in a New York City apartment, and thinks everything that goes on in the back yard is television. He probably orders takeout on my Visa card. Ben will live and die and never get a bird.

He and Santana are old now-- they're eighteen. Time to go to Jesus, I often tell them, but they never go. I don't think Jesus wants those cats: they're in good shape, considering their age and their indolent ways. What's-Her-Name was the real predator, lean and quick. She has gone to Jesus. She did so in a characteristic way: found a quiet place where no one would bother her and lay down in it. She was a cat who did things on her own terms, right to the end.

There was a big difference between a cat like What's-Her-Name and the two city boys, born in captivity. She was resourceful; they are not. Ben and Santi need us, but she did not -- she'd take what we gave her, certainly, but could have made it on her own just fine. She was born outdoors, and knew how to live wild. On their own terms is how wild animals do things. Theirs is a narrow focus, just a few things: food, water, shelter and a place to raise their young.

Watching them is one of the best small pleasures in my life. They are so diverse, and yet they are so basic. Observing their single-mindedness , I feel over-complicated and overdressed. Human beings have a hard time taking life as it comes. We invent unnecessary nuance and bind ourselves to it -- nothing is ever simple. When something primal overtakes us, we feel embarrassed about it. We hide from our own wildness.

I can't go out, a bereaved mother tells me. Her family is worried: she doesn't want to go to the bereavement group, to a restaurant, not even to the lake her son loved so. I just start crying for no reason, she says, misting up even as she speaks. I don't want to go anywhere because I'm afraid I'll cry. I don't want to ruin everybody's lunch.

The wildness of her grief dismays her: it is irrational and out of control. It ambushes her when she least expects it. She can't even put her finger on what triggers her weeping -- sure, she knows why she's crying. But she never knows when.

How long will I be like this, she asks. I tell her it will take as long as it takes. We hop around a bit during our visit: sometimes we speak of her son and sometimes of something else. She can't gaze steadily for too long upon what has happened to her. Sometimes she must look away.

We are wild, too, in a way. We can't do things in someone else's way -- not the big things, anyway, not the things of living and dying. We cannot weep or cease weeping on somebody else's schedule. We must do it on our own.
Copyright © 2018 Barbara Crafton
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