How My Cat Taught Me about Death and Christmas

One possible Advent practice is to take your cat to the vet to get six teeth extracted and then wait two and a half days for said cat to eat and drink again. After trying this myself, I recommend shopping instead.

During the cat not eating period, I decided to worry despite some pretty wise people—like, for example, the Son of God—advising against it. Occasionally I paused and told myself to relax; Tux, my cat, was not dying, and if he were, that would be OK.

I realize this whole “death is OK” thing is a bit of a jump, but I’d just come back from a retreat at which Jim Finley told this story:

Say you’re on a cruise ship and you fall overboard. You yell for help, but no one hears you and the ship sails away. There you are all alone in the water, and you realize that if you try to swim, you won’t last long. But if you float, you can last a lot longer (for those of you realists, it’s tropical water and you’re not wearing cotton), but you can only float if you relax. So you lie there relaxing really hard. After a while, you come to an internal place where, though you will continue to do your best to float, you know you’re probably going to die and you don’t have a problem with that anymore. Then the ship comes back and rescues you and you’re incredibly grateful, but you know you’ll never be the same again.

In his poem “And Death Shall Have No Dominion,” Dylan Thomas writes, “Though lovers be lost love shall not.” Perhaps that’s what we would realize if we were floating in the ocean, that we have a “deathless nature” within us, as Finley would put it, that the essence of us, the lovers, is a love without beginning or end.

In reality, we’re all already in that ocean. At the retreat, there was a woman in her seventies who radiated joy all weekend. When I thanked her for it, she said she was so grateful to have someone talk about dying because her friends and acquaintances never did.

It seems a bit out of season, perhaps, to write about death when we are preparing to celebrate a birth. But this particular birth happened to show us our “invincible preciousness,” as Finley says, the eternal at the center of and woven through this passing creation. We are all part of the love that will never be lost. May an awareness of that love be born in our hearts this Christmas.

Note: The blog and I will be on vacation for the next two weeks. Wishing everyone peace and joy during whichever holidays you celebrate.

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