Try To Remember

1 Sept 2021

This morning for the first time the two warring cats in my home stood very close to each other to receive pats without erupting into a fight. Normally I have to stroke them separately if I don’t want to lose my eyes.

Emmanuel gives Oliver a brief sniff after the latter licks him a couple of times on the forehead.

For a few minutes I had one jealous cat purring on each side of my face within striking distance, while I calmly reminded them what good boys they were when they were kittens.

Against his territorial instincts and to my surprise, Oliver even gave a stunned Emmanuel a couple of licks on the forehead! And Emmanuel returned the favour by sniffing him briefly.

Perhaps they remember what it feels like not to be constantly on guard. And maybe they recall the peace that comes with trusting another.

“Try to remember the kind of September
When life was slow and oh, so mellow
Try to remember the kind of September
When grass was green and grain was yellow…” goes the song by Harvey Schmidt & Tom Jones.

This song and “Bavarian Gentians” by DH Lawrence made September my favourite month of the year.

As September begins, may we try to remember all the good that we’ve received, so that we can be promoters of peace even as we’re often enticed to be agents of hostility. 🙏

Fake pearl; Real love

11 Aug 2021

My Kinmen grandmother loved jasmines, wore black jacquard brocade satin pants on special occasions, and appreciated beautiful things.

She would buy me little trinkets of real gold but told me not to wear pearls because they were made by making oysters cry.

Oliver the one-toothed cat modelling grey faux pearls.

In my adult years, I would always stop by Mikimoto’s pearls whenever I was in Centrepoint but did not buy any. Even without the tears, I found introducing a foreign matter into an oyster on purpose to cultivate a pearl somewhat disrespectful.

Still, I’ve always loved pearls for their milky shimmer, and their association with the Moon. That was how pearl costume jewellery came into my life.

Emmanuel hates collars but will tolerate pearls.

Over the years, these fake pearls of mine have regularly stopped strangers in their track to smile at me and comment how shiny and bright they look.

Some of my pearls are nearly 20 years old, and peeling. Despite their humble origin, I keep them properly as if they belong to the Queen.

When told that the object of their admiration was not the real deal, the pearl admirers’ enthusiasm did not fade.

Perhaps the faces of men & women light up at the the strands around my neck because they can tell that even though my pearls are fake, the love is real.

And I’m reminded of the conversation between the Velveteen Rabbit and the Skin Horse in Margery Williams’ book for children:

“What is REAL?” asked the Rabbit one day, when they were lying side by side near the nursery fender, before Nana came to tidy the room. “Does it mean having things that buzz inside you and a stick-out handle?”

“Real isn’t how you are made,” said the Skin Horse. “It’s a thing that happens to you. When a child loves you for a long, long time, not just to play with, but REALLY loves you, then you become Real.”

Emmnuel wears pearls effortlessly.

Grooming Divina

3 Aug 2021

Divina, the aging shelter cat always perks up when visitor approaches her enclosure.

Divina aka Hoonie, remains keenly interested for company even when the grooming session has made her comfortably sleepy. Her medical conditions require her to be isolated from the rest.

It doesn’t matter that her fur is unkempt and her whiskers are snotty.

A portion of the offending clumps that weighed on her shrunken frame.

She’ll make an effort to totter from her sleeping space towards anyone that stops by her enclosure without any idea if you’ll still be there by the time she makes the distance to say “hello.”

The life force emanating from this cat’s shrunken frame is unmistakable. It has so far attracted a regular visitor who has a Phd to give her special attention even as he’s charmed and surrounded by many cuter and fatter kitties.

Yesterday Divina’s love for life attracted a professional groomer to drop by.

Groomer being escorted by the charming and fat orange cat, Tenzin, in the morning light, as she went to greet the cats from enclosure to enclosure.

Moved by her gentle spirit, and encouraged by the glorious morning sunlight, the groomer felt that it was the right time to give the old cat her well deserved spa. Permission from her caregiver was sought and given.

Manicure and pedicure are part of the cat spa package.

Deftly & decisively, matted knots and dead skins were removed, and dirt filled nails threatening to maim were trimmed.

Shampoo and warm shower followed to wash off all offending residues that had weighed her down. At the sink, I found myself giving thanks to Mother Water.

“I want spa package like Divina’s!” – demanded a sweet Calico that managed to squeeze into the bathroom from a gathering of curious cats peeping from outside.

Back to her enclosure, the ancient cat purred and closed her eyes in dreamy bliss as she was being fluffed & towelled dried.

Divina’s fluffy fur and clean nails after the spa session. With or without the cleaning, her spirit is pure & loving.

Yesterday was the Groomer’s day off. And she had chosen to spend a part of her rest & play to serve someone who cannot pay.

I believe with or without the cleaning, Divina’s spirit is pure and loving.

But in the grooming of Divina, I felt we’re in some ways grooming ourselves to be free from impediments & judgements. 🙏

One more cuddle till the next visit. (3 Aug 2021)

Territorial Instincts


9 June 2021

Despite being only the size of a cushion, and weighing less than 6kg, Emmanuel growls menacingly when Ollie tries to cosy up on the couch he’s on.

Emmanuel, the cushion sized cat with a loud voice and a ready bite.
Different locations, same bickering over who occupies where.

In return, Oliver sneaks up at night on Emmanuel ensconced on the cane chair, and scares the wits out of him.

My counselling falls on deaf ears.

Both cats are loved, have free run of my home and access to food and clean water 24/7.

Once in a while they grudgingly share space.

Furthermore they are also somewhat related, having been born on the grounds of a girls’ school I was teaching in some 14 years ago.

Yet they bicker constantly about who occupies where as much as they can only bodily be in one location at a time.

Perhaps this fear of losing out & needing to own more than what one needs is hardwired into the survival instincts of all living beings.

Oliver posing with a literary magazine from Kinmen Island, a political pawn used by warring parties since the Ming Dynasty. My grandmother was born there in 1914.

Unlike cats, we humans have the advantage of analysis, and perhaps even tame some of our natural inclinations for power and control, and be free from fear and possessiveness to some degree.

Through Animal Eyes

3 June 2021

Day after day, Emmanuel the Cat lives the new dawn by the way he looks at the sky as if he’s seeing it for the first time.

His trancelike attention to light descending upon creation to the music of birdsongs shows a timeless appreciation for new beginnings even as he is aging.

Release

20 May 2021

Yesterday at the animal shelter, an elderly Persian cat started purring loudly and turning her forehead to meet mine each time I managed to snip off a knot of matted fur that had twirled and tightened around her like barnacles growing on whales.

I hope Divina will still be around in my next visit. I hope to give her a bath and dry her properly.

Shelter trips are sobering reminders of abandonment, broken promises and vulnerabilities.

Shelter people are stretched to their limits to compensate the animals for the suffering in the hands of fellow humans.

This morning I came across a picture of a doctor holding a patient to comfort him. I thought of my encounter with the ageing Persian whom I had named Divina.

Different species, same loneliness.

Different contexts, same gestures.

Different professions, similar offerings.

At the risk of sounding melodramatic, cutting off the knots for the shelter cat felt akin to making a liberation gesture for me.

For some time as I leant against the plastic shelf with Divina purring loudly, I had an idea of the elation divers must have felt when they cut off fishing lines that have trapped marine lives.

Divina leaning towards me each time I snipped off a knot of matted fur from her body.

And today I learnt that some communities celebrated the birth of Buddha yesterday.

May we be free to offer relief to others with all the skillsets we have and in whatever situations we come across. 🌈🙏🐾

Emmanuel’s Acceptance

27 Apr 2021

Me smiling cautiously at the peace between the 2 cats behind me.

Today for the first time, Emmanuel allows Oliver to occupy the space on the couch that used to be his buddy, Hakim’s.

Emmanuel and his orange brother, Hakim, before 12 March 2021.

Today is also full moon observation at Boudha Stupa. In the morning I lit a butter lamp to join the 1000 lamps being lit on behalf of animals by my friends there.

A butter lamp from Singapore to join the 1000 being offered on behalf of animals by my friends in Nepal this full moon.

In 2 days’ time Hakim will have been gone 49 days. I continue to place a light at his picture daily even as I progressively put away his things.

These days when I touch Emmanuel, he doesn’t panic and run away like he used to when had Hakim’s protection.

After so many night of calling for Hakim, perhaps Emmanuel now understands that his brother is never coming back. He decides to accept my cuddling.

So here’s to a new path of less fear and more trust between these 2 boy cats and me.

And may all beings be given the grace to accept what cannot be changed, and the peace to embrace new beginnings.

Emmanuel’s Search

31st March 2021

Hakim and Emmanuel on Christmas Eve 2020.

It’s been 20 days since the passing of Hakim, the orange cat.

Hakim’s cat buddy, Emmanuel, continues to call for him at all hours of the day.

He has also been lying on the spots frequented by Hakim. Now and then he’ll walk about the house and let out a wail here & there like he used to whenever he wanted Hakim’s company.

It must be so confusing to the white-socked tabby that no matter how he pleads, his fiery play mate of over 10 years just won’t appear.

Emmanuel does not allow anyone except Hakim to come close.

This afternoon Oliver tried to get on the couch but Emmanuel wouldn’t allow him to take the spot that used to be Hakim’s.

Good natured Oliver then retreated to the kitchen and squeezed into the tuna can carton on the floor for his nap.

I’ve been told that cats have short memory and are disloyal. The first trait makes them difficult to control and the second makes them less reciprocal to goodwill.

But watching Emmanuel search for Hakim the past 20 days has made me wish fervently for him to be forgetful & disloyal.

Emmanuel’s Loss

17 March 2021

Emmanuel calling for his buddy, Hakim.

Emmanuel the Cat walks around the flat, calling for Hakim, his buddy, since they were 2 years old.

Hakim (2007- 12 March 2021)

5 days ago, he watched me from a distance in wary silence as I supported Hakim in his final stages of life.

I continue to place Hakim’s supper in his usual place with a light. Hakim ate fast and would go to Emmanuel’s plate for round 2. And Emmanuel always backed off & gave Hakim his food as he approached.

Emmanuel’s nightly calls for Hakim after supper to join him in the cat room is much like a human who cannot or refuse to accept that a loss has occurred.

Ever since Hakim’s passing, Emmanuel has been lying at the spaces frequented by his orange buddy.

A yellow khata for Hakim, my sunshine boy. (2007-12 March 2021)

A “khata” is a fabric inscribed with auspicious symbols & scripture in the tibetan tradition. It is offered as a gesture of blessing for all important events in life. This yellow khata is a gift bought from Boudha Stupa.

Hakim, my orange boy cat left his body at 2.20am this morning. He was 13 going on 14.

He remained soft and warm when I gave him one more hug before he left home for the crematorium.

Last night he listened quietly as I bless him with pomegranate leaves. He heard about all the good that he has done for me and all who knew him, and the names of people praying for him.

Hakim loves to lounge. (Dec 2020)

Then I assured him I will look for him again and he will never be forgotten.

At the crematorium he was surrounded by fresh orchids. A simple altar by a staff articulated the deep bond between human and animal.

I gave thanks for Fire’s cleansing and transformative power, and hugged my Sun one last time before he entered the Fire to merge with Light.

Hakim loves treats. My students called him 胖爷 pang ye meaning the Well Fed Gentleman.

Hakim crosses his forelegs regularly like a well mannered person.

I placed a pearl from Oman in Hakim’s mouth to wish him a prosperous new birth and a sprig of pomegranate leaves between his paws to bless his heart.