The plumber who came to fix the pipes today was enamored of my cats, Ollie and Hakim.
He spoke affectionately about his own cat and a community cat that he and his family had been feeding before it disappeared.
When his work was done, he showed me the missing cat’s picture on his phone. The man who handles metal parts all day long then muttered to himself in Mandarin, “他失终这么久了,可是我就是不舍得把他的照片给删掉.” (translation: the cat’s been gone for so long, but I can’t bear to delete his photo from my phone).
In that split second, I felt I was watching a very private moment in a man’s life.
The picture that accompanies this post was from a friend who visited the desert during the full moon of 5 July. It was very windy there but she managed to find a spot to light a butter lamp in honour of her dog that recently passed on and a community cat that had not shown up at her home for meals.
May the Heart that grieves and pines be comforted by Light.
Oliver came to sit on my lap during morning prayers.
Half way through my mala beads, the sky darkened, the wind rose and the rain fell. It was bright & sunny just a while ago!
I resisted the urge to get up and rush about to shut the windows in my home.
“What if the wind sends in more dust?”
“What if the rain wets my study table?”
The what ifs were threatening to unseat me.
Meanwhile, Oliver, the Grandmaster of Sleep, continued to nestle more comfortably on my lap, paying no heed as the sky darkened further and the wind swooshed about, sending hangers in the balcony clattering.
After I decided to let them be, I realised maybe Rain and Wind had come to assist me to scatter my prayers further to reach more sentient beings! It was a precious moment in my practice.
With that thought in mind, I stay put and completed the morning dedication.
By the time the prayer ended, the rain had also stopped and the sun appeared again. It was all so brief!
Oliver did not protest when I put the mala beads over his neck. He simply went onto another cane chair and continued his morning nap. 😄
I thought of the occasions when non-action was my only option.
For example, holding an umbrella while walking is not possible for me. And when a light drizzle suddenly becomes a downpour in the midst of a traffic light crossing, I cannot run. But I’ve had strangers offering to share their umbrellas with me.
Then there are times I cannot make the crossing from the steps of a bus to the kerb. One time a youth with tattoos from his arm to his neck gave me his hand.
We’re often told to take initiatives, to be proactive, to solve problems, to eat lunch or be lunch, but sometimes staying put or not having any option, IS the way out.
So my wish is, if anyone is feeling trapped or lost, may he or she not panic and seek unhealthy distractions, but to try & stay put with the situation, because a solution could be just round the corner. 🙏
After the cremation on 27 May, China Black’s ashes were held in a little box on the shelf he used to sit on during his youth.
And for the past few nights, I would check in and find his cat brothers, Hakim & Emmanuel hanging quietly in China Black’s favorite corner, below his ashes.
Last night was the 6th day of his passing going on 7th. There’s a belief in my culture that on the 7th day of passing, the deceased would come home to make one final visit to check on his family before moving on.
So I lit a butter lamp to light China Black’s path. Then I decided to place a dish of his favourite food next to his ashes to assure him that he’s healed and all’s well in his home, and most of all, he’s free to move on.
I could leave the butter lamp burning and the tuna dish overnight on China Black’s shelf without worry of fire hazard because Hakim and Emmanuel are too portly and too old to climb on the shelf to topple anything.
This morning the butter lamp had finished burning. Every item on the shelf was in place except for the tuna meant for China Black. It was half finished like the way he usually ate when he was here. He was a small eater, easily distracted and seldom finished his food.
I am grateful that China Black could eat which means he is now healed. His visit on Day7 of his passing has helped me to clear all doubts of animals having souls.
My practice of honouring the souls of animals whether they are alive or dead shall continue, and this time with renewed conviction.
“Would you like to hug him one last time?” the pet crematorium staff asked as I stood at the furnace.
China Black, the slipper-sized black kitten that I rescued from under the vending machine in Chinatown some 15 years ago had passed on in early dawn.
I took the white shrouded bundle from the crematorium staff & held it close to my heart, like I’ve done so each morning for the past years.
China Black loved cuddles. He began his day by hopping onto one of the shelves to make eye contact with me when I entered their room to feed and water them. Only after getting hugged would he leap out of my arms to join the rest for breakfast.
Of late he started sleeping more in his favourite corner on the floor, and eating & drinking soon became a chore.
Hospitalising a cat like China Black that had never left the security of his home since the day he came back from sterilisation was out of the question. He was as affectionate as he was nervous and he resented being caged or confined in any way.
So I tried to make his last days at home as comfortable as possible, and let him pick wherever he wanted to lie down.
A few hours before he passed on, the rain came, followed by thunder and lightning. I lit incense to give thanks for the cool breeze and deliverance from the suffocating humidity of the past few days.
Then I cleaned China Black in scented water with pomegranate leaves like I had been doing for the past few days.
Despite his weakened state, he purred loudly and his eyes glowed affectionately, as if he was trying to memorise my face.
As I massaged his limbs that used to be so nimble and quick, I told him not to be afraid of bodily deteriorations. We had to give up this old shell for something better.
Then I stroked his face, held his little paw that I had kissed so often and said, “You’ve given me so many things. You don’t have to struggle to hold onto this body anymore. Wherever you go, you’ll always be home. Go & rest now, Momma’s always here.”
After he had 3 sips of honey water I carried him back to his favourite corner on the floor. I had wished he would sleep in the cat cage where it was cosy and clean. But I respected his will. To shield his bony body from the cold ceramic floor, I put a cotton shirt on him.
Before I turned in for the night, I lit a butter lamp that would accompany China Black and all in the room.
As I passed the butter lamp over China Black’s head and body to bless him, he looked up at me in full awareness. I felt him receiving the blessings. I did the same for Hakim & Emmaneul, his cat brothers. They seemed to understand what I was doing and didn’t try to hide or run from the fire, but looked at me intently and calmly.
The next morning I woke up and did my morning prayers before I checked on the cats, which was my second act of the day. And as I faced the rising Sun to give thanks for Life, I was surprised to find myself giving thanks for Death as well, for the first time.
When I looked into the cat room, China Black was lying inside the cat cage. As I stood wondering how he could possibly have the strength to walk and climb onto the raised cage, the words, “Angels were here,” popped into my head.
China Black had passed on as if he was asleep.
It lifted my heart to know that my little cat’s soul has left in the cool of the night, where the air was crisp and the sky was sparkling with stars.
I’m no student of theology or devotee of any particular spiritual teachings, but I felt assisted when needed. In sharing this experience with China Black, I hope that all who deal with animals be given guidance and resources to honour the death of their animals as much as they have benefitted from their lives.
And for those who are struggling with the inevitable end of animals in their care, may they find the rituals most suited to them to help their animals and themselves to make this difficult but necessary crossing. 🙏🌈🐾
Today is the birthday of a deity in the female form called 妈祖, pronounced as Ma Zu.
Ma Zu is the Mother Goddess that watches over oceans & seas, and is highly revered by fishermen and all who make their living by water. In Taiwan and Kinmen Island, shrines and temples are dedicated to her as she grants seafaring safety and plentiful harvest.
Last year we visited a Ma Zu shrine on Kinmen Island that was about 600 year old.
This morning I brought clean water and cat kibbles downstairs for the block cat, Aquarius. I dedicated that feeding to the Mother Goddess Ma Zu since it is her birthday.
As Aquarius was slurping up her water and eating her kibbles, a voice in my head repeated, “Feed others as you are fed.”
I didn’t think too much of it as I was more concerned with the cat getting her sustenance and me not seen by anyone to be lingering longer than necessary. I had my mask on and identity card with me in the event that my presence raised question during this semi-lockdown.
A short while after I got back from feeding the cat I would receive food gifts of biscuits, bananas, mango and even a coconut!
For that one meal I gave to a cat, I was given more than enough to last me a few meals.
Unsought mercies like this helps me to give, while fighting off the urge to hold & grab.
I also read that Ma Zu was the deification of a young girl who protected her village with her life.
And perhaps during difficult times as we learn to protect and care, instead of destroy & blame, each one of us is potentially a goddess or a god in the making. 🙏♥️
This is Day 7 of the semi-lockdown in Singapore in response to Covid-19 and the 6th day of my cat, Grace’s passing.
This morning on a piece of blue bandana I assembled some of the items that have supported Grace in the past few months as her health deteriorated.
The nebuliser kit that helped to unblock her nasal congestion so that she could breathe, the eye drops that moisturized her eyes so that she could blink comfortably and the syringe that delivered liquid to her mouth to quench her thirst were duly thanked as I visualised the Medicine Buddha through the fire of a blue butter lamp.
Her little turtle neck of blue & white argyle that protected her from chills and cushioned her as she lay in her cat condo on days she needed to rest was also blessed.
There were other important containers such as her stainless steel water bowl that had to be of a certain weight and depth so that it wouldn’t topple over when she accidentally walked into it and the carrier that served as a nebuliser chamber.
Then there were the flower essences and comforting oils that calmed both of us down as her end drew near.
Every birth has an end. And every end is an invitation to practise grace.
My cat has given me 13 years’ worth of lesson on grace, the quality from which all good springs from.
On the night of her passing, when it was evident that all the external tools were no longer required, I recited “Gate Gate Paragate Parasamgate Bodhi Soha,” to help her to cross to the other shore.
And today, by looking at the tools that facilitated her exit with gratitude and affection instead of dread and fear, I hope this little ritual will invoke grace to come & stabilise the hearts of all healthcare professionals and we who are now learning to walk in the shadow of Covid-19.
This week little pink buds in clusters of fours are appearing quietly on the palm sized plant that I received during the lunar new year this January.
“Clusters” has taken on an ominous tone these days, so I hope seeing clusters of flowers helps to provide some balance.
3 days ago the super pink moon graced the night sky even as residents in Singapore retreated indoors to avoid Covid-19.
And on that full moon night among the pink buds and under the pink moon, I sat up with Grace, my 13-year-old cat.
She had suffered rat glue trapping in her kittenhood while living on the streets of Little India and endured spaying and dental surgeries after her rescue. Now in her old age she had to battle blindness and ill-health.
Her life hadn’t been great in the normal sense, but she was loved, treated for her discomforts and had outlived the vet’s projection of her life span by 11 years.
After a final drink of honey water to quench her thirst and in anticipation of a sweet rebirth, eye drops on her eyes to regain her sight in the life to come, and a brief cuddle, Grace left her body without struggle.
The stars were sparkling that night as I lit a butter lamp to give thanks for her easy passing and to guide her home. 善终 meaning a peaceful death is one of the 5 blessings (五福）
Yesterday on Maundy Thursday, Grace’s ashes came back to me in a small porcelain urn.
Amidst the restrictions of physical movements, sufferings of loss and shortages of tangible goods, I hope that acceptance of whatever we’re facing will also allow compassion to flow, so that our heart can expand a little & we can breathe a bit easier, even as our body retreats temporarily from the outside world.