Sunday, September 4, 2016

Maggie the cat

     Maggie was a cat, I suppose, based on a jury-rigged shrine I noticed at the corner of Ashland and Pratt a week ago today. My wife and I had visited the Glenwood Avenue Arts Fair, had fun, as we always do, and were walking back to our car, waiting for the light, when I saw these sad decorations festooned around the bottom of a light pole.
     The cat vanished from this vicinity more than a month earlier, I gathered, from a sign on the pole. The burnt out votive candles and general decay of the thing led me to believe that a lonely vigil had taken place here, that time had passed, as time does, as hope gave way to disappointment and despair.
    You see these tributes to people, mostly, white crosses beside the highway where people died in accidents, garlanded with those horrible plastic flowers which, far from being an approximation of actual flowers, are more the opposite, a kind of mockery of the whole idea of flowers. The authorities tolerate these shrines, for a respectable period of time, then sweep them away, lest our landscape become too studded with poignant tributes to the dead. There is something so pitiful about them.
    Still, you can't criticize these memorials either, whether for humans or for animals. The grief is so much, the loss so big, that something has to be done, though there is little to do beyond this. 
     Why is it done? Not to seek permanence, obviously. The memorial to Maggie was already starting to fall apart. Maybe to extend their presence just a little longer, to manifest the beloved on earth in some small way, for some small time, beyond the tragically shortened lifespan. 
      So let us lend our shoulder to the task, and raise a little electronic cairn here to Maggie, a lost cat, a beloved comrade, we am told, who disappeared July 17 from the corner of Pratt and Ashland, under circumstances I cannot speculate upon.
    There is a lesson here. Each of us in turn will disappear and sad as that is, if we are lucky, we will leave someone heartbroken over their beloved comrade. Sad as it is to imagine, that person who misses us will clutch at the space where we had recently been, and maybe decorate the void with a few meager trappings of our former presence. As sorrowful as that tribute might be, it is also a reminder that much happiness was had, for years and years, each day a loan, a withdrawal from the immensity of life, a promissory note that death calls due the debt we can never repay. What they are remembering, and what we must try to remember is that though we will be gone, one and all, in the time that we were here, when we forestalled the ache of loneliness for others, whether human or animal.  They will miss us, and none of us would have it any other way. 


  1. Well-said. I'm certain cat-lovers everywhere are hurting a little bit after reading this. RIP Maggie.

  2. Some literary cats.

    Christina Rosseti wrote a little poem suggesting a way to memorialize a departed cat.

    "Who shall tell the lady's grief
    When her cat was past relief?
    Who shall number the hot tears
    Shed o'er her, beloved for years?
    Who shall say the dark dismay
    Which her dying caused that day"
    Then she gets a new kitten.
    "And that kitten's name as wide
    Shall be known as hers that died.
    And whoever passes by
    The poor grave where puss doth lie
    Softly, softly let him tread.
    Nor disturb her narrow bead."

    There is, of course this famous, fanciful pussycat.

    'Please would you tell me,' said Alice timidly, 'why your cat grins like that?' 'It's a Cheshire cat,' said the Duchess. And that's why.'

    Algernon Charles Swinburn made the case for cats against dogs in a little poem that begins describing his feline friend sitting on his lap as he reads and concludes:

    "Dogs may fawn on all and some
    As they come;
    You, a friend of loftier mind,
    Answer friends alone in kind.
    Just your foot upon my hand
    Softly bids it understand."

    And Doctor Johnson was fond of cats, which was uncommon in his time. A famous exchange in "The Life" about his cat, Hodge, goes "when I observed he was a fine cat Dr Johnson said 'Why yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I have liked better than this,' and then, as if perceiving Hodge to out of countenance adding 'but he is a very fine cat,a very fine cat indeed.'

    I sometimes seem to catch a glimpse of my own last
    little grey cat looking up at me from her favorite perch on the sofa. Then she is gone.

    Tom Evans

  3. There are web sites devoted to beloved cats (and other pets) who have passed on, and I was reading a few of the poems and memorials this morning. As child growing up, I didn't have any furry friends because my mother is so allergic to them, but since leaving the nest, I've always had a dog or cat (or both) sharing my residence. Can't imagine not having one.


  4. Poor Maggie and her family. The last two sentences of today's blog are beautiful. The memorials are important, because memories are all we have left once our loved ones are gone and all they'll have of us once we depart. Thanks for writing this. It helps.

    Linda B


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