Hey! I’m a Time Magazine Person of the Year!

As many of you know, Time Magazine chose ME and millions of other “citizens of the new digital democracy” (their term for internet users and content creators) as their Person of the Year 2006 . I would be remiss if I did not respond to such an honor.

First, let me thank the editorial staff at Time Magazine for even considering me. I particularly want to single out Richard Stengel, Managing Editor at Time, for even giving me a shot at this profoundly moving accolade. I wept uncontrollably when the news reached me…to be so honored was almost more than I could bear.

The only award I had ever received previously was 4th runner up in a Chili Dog eating contest in Toad Suck Arkansas (yes it’s a real place). I still have the trophy, a bronze weenie, sitting on top of my eight track tape player which I have cleverly rigged to play through my IBM 386. (How often have I wished for an Apple!). My custom framed Time Magazine cover will now share space with the weenie. I could not be more proud.

For the record, you should all realize that Mr. Stengel faced a tough decision in making his final choice. It seems that Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad was a finalist as well. (it’s true, read the news accounts). In the end, Mr. Stengel told the press, ” It just felt to me a little off selecting him.” Only a fair and considerate man would struggle with such a decision. It must have been hell for him. I’m not sure how I beat out such a distinguished world leader, but am never-the-less very pleased and gratified.

I have sent a conciliatory note to Mahmoud because I know how much his feelings must be hurt. I did, by the way, add a PS suggesting to him that his World Conference disavowing the Jewish holocaust of WWII might have been a little ill-timed if he truly hoped to win Time’s Person of the Year 2006. Timing is everything Mahmoud, live and learn.

There were 26 runners up for the prestigious award, “People who Mattered” as Time described them. Included on that list were such notables as North Korea’s Kim Jong ll, Vice-president Dick Cheney, President Bush, and out-going Secretary of Defense, Donald Rumsfeld. Oh…and the Pope. A pretty lightweight group when you think about it. No wonder we won.

Finally, I want to say to my millions of co-recipients that it is a deep privilege to share this award with each and all of you…well almost all of you. If you surf porn all the time or prowl teen chat rooms, I’m not wild about sharing it with you. Oh and all you guys in Nigeria..forget it, no way. Every mortgage refinance group is also off my share list (really guys, give it a break).

And finally, this is for every Democrat and Republican candidate who wrote and asked for money during the last campaign. If I had known we were on a first name basis, I would have been in touch sooner that we might talk personally about such issues as internet taxation and regulation. Hit me with another personal note and we can set up a call.

The rest of you, however, are good to go. And I was thinking: Maybe we ought to plan a casual get together one of these days…a kind of “after the award party” like the Hollywood celebs do. Hey, maybe Time will host it.

I’ll call them tomorrow and get back to you. Ciao.


Thirteen Moons

Reviewing a book I’ve yet to read.

“The belief I’ve acquired over a generous and nevertheless inadequate time on earth is that we arrive in the afterlife as broken as when we departed from the world. But, on the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed a journey.

Will Cooper in Thirteen Moons

I’m going to do something here that may seem ludicrous at first blush. I’m going to review and recommend a book without ever having read it. Give me the benefit of the doubt and read on—please.

Random House paid Charles Frazier $8 million dollars in advance for his 2nd novel Thirteen Moons. Frazier is quickly establishing himself in the pantheon of great contemporary American writers. His first book, Cold Mountain won the prestigious National Book Award in 1997—not bad for a first time out-of–the-chute author.

The almost inevitable follow-on movie, Cold Mountain, also did well earning seven Academy Award nominations and four wins including best cinematography, best leading actor (Jude Law) and best supporting actress (Rene Zelweger).

If you never saw Cold Mountain the movie, it deserves a look. But, as always seems the case, the book is better. Far better. Frazier’s writing embodies a lyrical style that flows much like free verse. In a word it is poetic. And when skillfully applied to the dangerous and lonely odyssey of an escaped confederate soldier trekking hundred of miles back to his Cold Mountain home and the woman he loves—it reveals a master storyteller with a knack for riveting readers. It got me in the first paragraph.

Now Comes Frazier’s next book, Thirteen Moons, given to me by my wife Donna as a birthday gift. I have yet to read it.

Instead, the book sits on my nightstand while I finish up another tale. Still, the anticipation of reading the works of a great writer like Frazier makes it irresistible. I find myself picking it up, thumbing through it, and hoping for some advance revelation to help satiate my curiosity and satisfy my constant need for a great story from a gifted writer. I am rewarded simply by touching, perusing the dust cover–and allowing myself a few peeks inside.

The physical qualities of the book—and all the ancillary notes and information—already speak to me. These are the things we often overlook in our zeal to get quickly into the story. On the cover, the title is set small in an italicized lower case non-serif font with a black raised bevel look. The words “A Novel” appear just under it in a formal flourish of black script. Frazier’s name is wrought large in all caps (serifed) near the bottom. It is white and beveled and fairly screams, as I am sure the publisher intended, “Look. Great Writer. National Book Award”. Publishers know what sells.

The “dust jacket” art features a muted color rendering of forested mountains and misty sky taken from a photograph, but made to resemble an old and textured painting. It depicts the Appalachians of North Carolina (Frazier’s home state and a first hint that the Cherokee Nation may figure in the story). The cover was designed, elegantly I might say, by a Mr. Thomas Beck Stvan. However, he was not the book’s designer. That honor goes to Ms. Barabara M. Bachman. I learn this on the inside fly sheets where copyright information and other required facts, disclaimers, and legalities are offered up.

I suppose I have known books have designers, but I never really thought much about it until now. Ms. Bachman chose Mr. Svan for the cover art, but she also chose the paper on which the story is printed—a premium cotton acetate made in America—as well as the font in which the story is set. It’s called Fournier, a serifed font named for Pierre Simon Fornier. A prolific French designer of fonts in the mid 1700s, Mr. Simon is said to have created 146 fonts during his life. His legacy seems to have endured in the modern font that bears his name. Would he be honored to have it used in a book by such a notable new writer? I suspect so.

Further hints: The inside covers and their fly leafs appear to be a kind of aged paper containing an unrecognizable form of faded rust colored handwriting. The copyright page sheds more light on these scribblings. They are from the Cherokee syllabary, an excerpt, in fact, from the Cherokee myth of Kanati and Selu dealing with the origins of corn and grain circa 1888.

And finally, there is the teaser copy on the inside front panel of the dust jacket. I am drawn to it, not only by the promise it holds, but by the fresh smell of new ink and paper that greets me when I open the book. The teaser copy does its job well, giving me a sense of what lies ahead in the story. Heres a sample:

“In a distinct voice filled with both humor and yearning, Will [the main character] tells of a lifelong search for home, the hunger for fortune and adventure, the rebuilding of a trampled culture, and above all an enduring pursuit of passion. As he comes to realize, When all else is lost and gone forever, there is yearning. One of the few welcome lessons age teaches is that only desire trumps time.”

For an old man who just turned 61 I instantly knew the truth in these words. And I was filled with a longing to know this Will character–to hear his story.

If all of this intricate examination of a new book created a certain allure serving to heighten my own anticipation of a good read (and it did) then I am left only with having to apply that final test I always turn to when evaluating a book’s potential—a reading of the first paragraph. Read it and judge for yourself:

“There is no scatheless rapture. Love and time put me in this condition. I am leaving soon for the Nightland, where all the ghosts of men and animals yearn to travel. We’re called to it. I feel it pulling at me, same as everyone else. It is the last unmapped country, and a dark way getting there. A sorrowful path. And maybe not exactly Paradise at the other end. The belief I’ve acquired over a generous and nevertheless inadequate time on earth is that we arrive in the afterlife as broken as when we departed from the world. But, on the other hand, I’ve always enjoyed a journey.”

Again, true words that tear at the soul of this old man—broken in some ways to be sure, but still in the journey and still enjoying it from the perspective of that long view back over years and experiences.

Thirteen Moons is gonna be good. Get it and read it. And as for my wife; once again she gives the perfect gift at the perfect time. Love and marital longevity have a way of providing for that kind of insight, but I still find myself asking, “How does she always know just the right thing at the right time? And so it is that books reward even beyond their literary intent. I can’t wait to read this one.

 

 

Love in the Emergency Room

Facing death to discover what’s really important in life

Author’s note: I share this story reluctantly. It is very personal, but I believe it sounds some universal themes worth passing along for others to consider. It starts in one direction, but takes a turn in the middle. Be warned.

===========================================================================

I was watching my wife die…or at least I was terrified that she might be dying. The fear, for both of us, was palpable. It gripped us to the bone like the cold hand of death itself–unyielding, inescapable, inevitable.

This was just not right. After all, I was the one who was supposed to die first; that was the deal we both had always understood. And, as if to affirm it, she was always the healthier one. So this was not supposed to be. This was wrong. I even made sure God knew about the deal. “Take me first” I had prayed for years. And I was certain he understood. So what was this all this about? And why now?

It began on a Monday afternoon with Donna mentioning ever increasing chest pain, off-the-scale blood pressure, dizziness, and a “strange feeling”. These were the much publicized warning signals that spurred our frantic dash for the closest medical facility three miles away…a small clinic, not a hospital. In the car it was just the two of us, alone together, facing yet another of life’s scary and uncertain twists.

We had been there before, many times, in our forty years of marriage. But this time was different. This time we struggled to keep our wits about us with nervous humor, false bravado, forced calm; each of us trying not to alarm the other. Each compelled to offer up reassuring lies, and all the while hoping they were truth. Me: “It will be OK, don’t worry.” Her: “I’m alright,” We knew each other too well. Something was wrong, we both knew it.

We arrived at the clinic in record time, walking with all deliberation through the lobby to encounter an all business receptionist behind a tall counter. I described Donna’s symptoms, expressing our worry, and concluded by asking if a doctor could “just check her over.”

It never happened.

Instead, the receptionist hit the intercom and two nurses appeared in less than a minute. They escorted us to a small examination room, took Donna’s blood pressure, and noted, with undisguised alarm, that it was dangerously high. Life threatening. Almost instantly more medical personnel appeared. Someone muttered “possible heart attack” and less than four minutes later the following ten steps had been skillfully executed with that explosive emergency room frenzy we often see on television hospital shows like ER:

–Blood pressure cuff reset and digital monitor activated
–Six ECG tabs attached to the chest area, ECG monitor activated with constant read out (storing and printing cardiac results for future review)
–Temperature taken
–Patient history taken…allergies, medications, lifestyle issues, etc.
–Intravenous solutions started (saline for hydration and blood thinning)
–Venous shunt inserted into the arm for quick cardiac injection if necessary
–Oxygen mask put in place, flow started
–Chest pain evaluation test completed (“On a scale of 1-10 with 10 being child birth and 1 being no pain at all describe how much you hurt.”)
–Nitroglycerin placed under the tongue (“You will have an instant headache; it will pass, don’t worry, your chest will stop hurting, everything is OK, you’re doing fine”)
–911 call made. A nurse says to Donna, “They’re on their way honey…looks like you got the A-Team today.” It was meant to reassure. It didn’t.

Three more hectic minutes passed and Donna’s medical telemetry was transferred to the EMT team’s mobile monitoring equipment. Then she was quickly moved to an ambulance gurney (“Ready? Lift”) for the “load up” and rush through afternoon traffic to a medical center emergency room a few miles farther down the road. Our lives, our world irrevocably transformed in the span of a few brief but intense moments.

I watched her go—draped in blankets, tubes and wires running from her body to the larger equipment that steadily beeped and clicked the vital life signs her EMTs relied on to keep her alive. I knew how afraid she was. I knew. And the helplessness I felt pierced my heart.

I could only stand and watch. The back of her head moving away, her fine brown hair damp now and matted, her amazing blue eyes wet and afraid, her uncharacteristic frailty in this horrific moment, her unfailing love for me.; all moving away, away to disappear into a mobile confined metal box. Doors slamming shut abruptly, with numbing finality.

The ambulance left; a silent run, lights only, pulsing rapidly…like an errant heartbeat. And I was suddenly alone–more alone than I have ever been.

I stood there stunned, surrounded by the random clutter of the now empty examination room turned trauma room. Less than 20 minutes had elapsed since the two of us walked in the door together. It was quiet now, even still, in contrast to the anxious furor only moments earlier. Anger took hold flooding my mind with recrimination. “They would not let me ride with her.”, I thought. “I should have gone with her. I should have gone. I should have insisted”.

And then I cried. Really cried. Someone closed the door to give me privacy, but a minute or two later someone entered and said softly, “You should go now; she needs you.” And I knew she did. Reaching deep into my gut, I pulled myself together and left to catch up with my wife. A single soul-wrenching question began chewing my heart into little pieces. “What if she dies and I’m not with her?” What if…? Hurry said the voice in mind. Hurry.

Perhaps you have it figured out by now. This piece isn’t really about one couple’s medical emergency and their subsequent efforts to survive it. It’s about love. Or more precisely, it’s about those rare, often unexpected, circumstances life sometimes throws our way to remind us, with profound poignancy, that true love runs deep and endures above all else.

You see, in that cramped exam room, as the usually calm, stable lives of two people morphed at warp speed into fear, uncertainty, and despair, something extraordinary happened. Something rooted so deep in two caring hearts that only those of us who have loved long and true could understand it.

From the moment the drama began to unfold Donna and I locked eyes. We established an invisible circuit and secured the link. We desperately needed to talk, to say things in the unspoken language of two souls made one by a lifetime of going it together. Sometimes the most intense communication occurs non-verbally. Sometimes, it’s the only option.

And so it was, amid the fast, furious pace of our unfolding medical crisis that we spoke without speaking. We spoke through tears that brimmed and spilled down our cheeks. We spoke from the unfathomable depths of a love that’s endured almost fifty years of life’s good times and bad (the better and the worse). We spoke…husband to wife, wife to husband. And our eyes transmitted it all, never wavering, never looking away. Not once.

Ask me to describe the quantum nature of the invisible stream of particles carrying that silent conversation and I could not begin to say. Perhaps it was not quantum at all, but dialed up from some indefinable metaphysical realm. Or maybe it simply tapped deep into the closely held spiritual values that bind a man, a woman and the compassionate God in which they so fervently believe. Did God Himself open that line for us? I don’t know. But whatever it was, it worked. We connected…and I do thank God.

I will not replay here all that we shared in the noisy blur of those first frenzied moments when one life lay on the line and the other felt so lost and alone, except to say this. What passed between us was a mix of things private, painful, reassuring, and uplifting. It moved on a massive wave of energy, fueled by the fevered intensity of all the good folks around us who labored to save the life of a complete stranger. And its outcome was nothing short of a miracle for me and Donna. It created an instant “knowing” through which everything each of us most needed from the other, in the chaos of that runaway moment, was exchanged with crystal clarity.

Of course in all of this there is a point, an ultimate, undeniable truth begging to be restored in my own hierarchy of what is important in life. Let me see if I can put it in context:

I look back, and I look around me, and I realize there are so many of us who spend much of our lives in search of things we believe we must have to be fulfilled, things that give meaning to all that we do, all that we are. I am speaking here of experiences, actions, and acquisitions we think we need, indeed must have, to define us and make us interesting and attractive to others—and to ourselves.

It may be the quest for material wealth, money, status, or power. It may be career and the steady rise up the latter of professional success. Perhaps it is the thrill of one grand adventure after another, the trip around the world, the self-imposed adrenalin rush that becomes addictive because ordinary living and ordinary work can seem at times boring, stressful, empty of meaning or purpose.

Or maybe it is simply “keeping up with the Joneses” because we are, by our very nature, social creatures and we need to feel accepted and wanted…we need to belong somewhere. Such notions are often perceived as the antidote to deeply buried insecurities (but seldom if ever are the cure) Still, the compulsion to be “somebody” for fear of being nobody drives many of us, insecurities or not. We need to be “in” not “out”. And if we can be “in” with the “in” crowd—well so much the better.

I have been there; been there for a good part of my life. I have chased thrills and had them, traveled to far off places, walked and talked with U.S. Presidents and corporate CEOs, been in the right clubs, mingled with rich and famous folks, chased the money…had it and lost it. Were these things fulfilling? Yes, I confess they were; after all we learn from every experience life presents us. And to be entirely honest, many of them, for me, were just plain fun and in some cases exhilarating.

But sometimes, in the quest for status, power, things or adventure, we can get lost in the chase and consumed with self. Seduced by the power of our desires and dreams we can casually, even callously, overlook something more; something so essential to meaning in our lives that we are stunned when it suddenly kicks open a door in our hearts, walks in, consumes our entire being, and screams in our brain, “WAKE UP FOOL, YOU’RE MISSING THE OBVIOUS!”.

For me, that door kicked open in a cramped examination room at the Scott and White Clinic near Sun City Texas on July the 24th, 2006. And the pure light passing through it illuminated a single overarching truth I urgently needed to remember, a truth that seared itself, once and for all time, into every particle and molecule that is me. Here it is:

The one ever lasting constant in my life that transcends everything I thought had some meaning, everything I ever wanted, and everything I have ever done or will do, good or bad, was right there before me lying on that exam table—afraid, eyes searching, pleading with me. It was Donna.

It all came home so vividly for me then. She had been my rock. She was the steadfast anchor that made the two us a single entity. Her love for me and our children, her relentless caring for all of us, her womanhood and motherhood, her devotion to family, her kindness, her morals and ethics, her faith, her common sense, her stubbornness…all of this, and more, was the indestructible foundation that supported our marriage and our life together. It made us “us”. So how, in the press of life, how in the face of my own selfish wants and needs, and how, in the passage of our years, could I ever lose sight of that truth or take it for granted at times? It’s what can happen when selfishness trumps selflessness, when “me” surpasses “us”.

As I stood wondering if my wife was dying (and passionately praying she would not), I vowed, then and there, that those lesser things in my life that had always seemed so important at times could never eclipse the one thing that really is. And I desperately wanted Donna to know it too, to hear the promise in it. The commitment. If the worst happened without her ever knowing, how could I forgive myself? She had to know, but how to convey it in the midst of an ongoing, full out cardiac emergency.

Then our eyes locked. And my promise became the first crucial part of that silent messaging we shared eye to eye and heart to heart in those terrifying moments. Did she hear it? A week later, after our crisis had passed, she told me she understood everything we conveyed at the time. I believe her. (Yes, Donna made it through but not without some scary times and some needed medical attention. It looks like she will be fine).

A Postscript: There is no wrong in seeking all the good stuff of life that make it happy and filled with joy. Go for it. But consider this. Among the great blessings God can bestow (fate for you unbelievers) is the simple constant of having someone to love—and who loves you back. Someone standing with you and by you to share this rollercoaster journey we call life.

Nothing comes close to the ultimate fulfillment that kind of relationship provides. Nothing. It eclipses all else that comprises a lifetime. Don’t ruin that. Don’t miss it. Work at it. Seek it. Go through it—the good and bad, the beautiful and the ugly, the up and the down. For the kind of richness it brings is far beyond anything any of us imagine.

I know that now—and will never lose site of it in the dwindling years I have left.

Summer Salad, Easy and Good

When I started this blog I indicated I might even share a recipe now and then. As most of you know, I love to cook. So in keeping with my promises, here’s a neat recipe I ran across recently. It’s an easy-to-do and delicious salad just in time for summer. Hope you try it and enjoy it.

Tip: Pick good ripe tomatoes.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons malt vinegar
3/4 teaspoon packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt (sea salt is best, but use what you have on hand)
1/2 teaspoon of coarsely ground black pepper
2 lb. ripe tomatoes, cut crosswise…about 1/2 inch thick slices
1 scallion, thinly sliced diagonally

Whisk together oil, vinegar, brown sugar, salt, pepper in a small bowl. Arrange one third tomatoes in one layer on a large plate, then drizzle with some dressing and sprinkle with some chopped scallion. Add two more layers repeating the process above.

Makes six servings.

You could play with this adding some blue cheese or feta as another sprinkle item or even shake a bit of Italian seasoning on the stacks. I like the recipe the way it is however.

New Sunlight for Groucho

New Sunlight for Groucho

A short story by Michael Watson

Author’s Note: This is a short story I wrote when an old cat I had loved died. It’s cheesy, and written from the viewpoint of our other pets as they passed Groucho’s last hours with him. Still, if you love animals, you might cry. I did as I wrote it.

May it be the shadows all
Will fly away
May it be your journey on
To light the day
When the night is overcome
You may rise to find the sun

Simone moved toward the old cat and looked intently at him for a moment. She knew he was dying.

He sat stone still and quietly in the warmth of a Mexican iron lamp accenting a Texas oak end-table. This once Simone did not covet that good heat the older cat so often sought from the lamp’s hot bulb. She would not insist on his moving as her status warranted. She was—after all—the head cat. But he was the oldest. Almost 16 years, and a rapidly fading ninth life. So just this once…

On the worn sofa next to the end table where the old cat sat unmoving with his eyes closed, a rambunctious blue heeler slept restlessly. She emitted faint barks, ominous grunts, and low growls; her rough paws twitched uncontrollably; and her ears shifted forward and back, forward and back.

Simone allocated this poor pathetic creature only a furtive glance, but one filled with characteristic feline contempt. She knew the dumb dog only caught rabbits in its dreams. And she knew it could never catch her. Dumb dog. And so she slipped quickly over its fidgeting front paws, along it’s soft smelly belly, over its’ back paws and claws all a quiver, and finally to the arm of the sofa, arriving only inches from where the old cat sat—motionless and silent under the light of the old lamp on the older table.

She looked back at the sleeping heeler—still chasing imaginary rabbits, or squirrels, or cows, or CATS!. Dumb dog. She never even knew Simone passed within inches. “You ain’t never caught a rabbit—and you ain’t no friend of mine”. Cats dig Elvis; Simone loved him. She shifted her gaze back to the old cat—black and white with a debonair mustache gracing one side of his face but not the other. A once fine tuxcedo cat, but so thin now. Rail thin and boney. As frail as a fading shadow certain to disappear.

Groucho knew she was there—knew she would come to him one last time. His eyes opened to imperceptible slits. It was all he would grant her—all his waning energy could muster. He had never really ceded any “head cat” power to her…never ever. It simply suited him to let her think she was the head cat. And so he indulged her quirky, crotchety ways—and, as he had known she would, she left him alone to live his remaining cat lives the way he wanted. And he did. And she never figured it out.

Yet now, at the end, here she was. Rudely in his face and staring at him with her Simone “voodoo” stare. Not cool. Not even. And cool had always been important to Groucho.

Eye contact is a big thing in cat culture. Almost ritualistic and full of subtle yet complex signals that can inflame mating, ignite fights, and bluff weaker cats into relinquishing even their food and water—a trick Groucho never fell for. Not one time.

His strategy on eye contact was brilliantly simple. He avoided it at all costs. Never look cats in the eye. And never look humans in the eye. And NEVER look dogs in the eye. It served him well across the passing of each of his nine lives. Thus his had always been a peaceful passage. Stable, uneventful—the way he wanted it.

Until this moment when Simone, who had not paid him an iota of attention in years, traversed the length of the worn out sofa, edging past the dumb sleeping quivering yapping dog, to finally—with stunning cat grace—alight on the sofa’s arm next to the lamp under which Groucho sat content and gratefully undisturbed.

And there she settled, a middle aged tabby sitting arrow straight and intense like the cats depicted in ancient those Egyptian hieroglyphics. And she wanted something. And somehow, Groucho instinctively sensed this was an extraordinary moment when his self-imposed edict on eye contact perhaps should be suspended. And so he did suspend it. His little heart raced, his eye slits grew wider, and his deep coffee brown eyes opened fully to engage the wise gold/green eyes of Simone—the head cat.

What passed between them, in the warm light under the lamp, occurred in silence as the dog slept on. Cat talk is like that, marked by tiny whisker movements, refined body language, intensity of gaze, even fur and claw dispositions. It is nuance taken to the level of fine art. And it happens so quickly that humans, and certainly dogs, never catch it—as cats have always intended.

But still, Groucho and Simone—in the dwindling last hours of Groucho’s ninth life—had a rare one-time exchange. It went like this:

Simone: You are dying.
Groucho: I know that.
Simone: You will find good sun where you are going, and never lack for treats, fishy meats, water, catnip, toys, and love. You can sleep where you wish without worry—and there are no mean dumb dogs. All the cats are beautiful.
Groucho: I know that too.
Simone: I thought you would—you are wise. I always knew that.
Groucho: Thank you.

And it was over, having taken only a fraction of a second. Simone turned and left—passing back by the sleeping heeler who, once again, remained unaware of the fearless cat who passed by it within inches throwing all caution to the wind.

From the mantle above the limestone fireplace, the young cat, Alley, had watched the unusual exchange. She had been Groucho’s friend since the people had saved her from the life of an alley cat by bringing her into their home and naming her Alley (very original). She and Groucho had snuggled with and groomed each other from the beginning and often laid together near the living room windows where the sun streamed its warmth and made catnaps a pleasure.

Unlike Groucho, Alley made eye contact with every form of life imaginable and often conversed with it. She once spoke with a scorpion—before she played with it and then killed it with her quick paws. It asked her why? And she said. “It’s what I do.” And it replied, “I will sting you, you know.” And she said, “So be it” followed by a soft “whap” as her swift crushing paw ended the scorpion’s fourth life (It’s a little known fact that scorpions have four lives whereas cats have nine). She strutted away licking the painful sting on her paw—but not really that much bothered by it at all. She gave a cat chuckle. Being a cat should be fun. And it was.

Alley too had no fear of Simone. In fact she feared nothing. Nevertheless she kept an eye on the “head cat” as it turned and walked back across the sofa. With cat pride—Ally noted Simone’s show of “head cat” bravado as she gave Gracie, the blue heeler, the cat equivalent of an obscene gesture. Groucho took no note of any of this—having been drained from the exchange with Simone he had fallen asleep within a second or two after it ended. Groucho was tired. So very tired.

In the early afternoon of Groucho’s last few hours, the Autumn sun once again streamed in through the expansive living room windows. Outside, frigid winds, the remnant of a fall cold snap, whispered low and occasionally moaned as they moved around the snug home and drove south. The fireplace flue rattled now and then and branches overhanging the roof and whipped by the winds, scraped and scratched. But otherwise, the house was still and silent. Even the dog had finally quieted.

Alley Cat heard the winds and saw the sunlight caressing the soft rugs and casting shadow patterns of the window panes and the blinds. And as the ancient sun moved through its eternal arc and the clouds swept by, the light and shadow play on the rugs changed and shifted. The young cat knew it was time for the old cat and in that invisible cat talk Alley called her old friend to join her in the sun.

Groucho rose, stretched—a long luxurious stretch. And then—with considerable effort–he eased off the table to the sofa. He walked slowly past Gracie the blue heeler who did nothing but watch. He gingerly eased himself to the floor and joined Alley on the rug, in the sun, where it was warm—and bright. They laid there together and it was good as always.

Gracie rose and moved to the sun as well. She stood for a moment and watched the two of them and knew that she was invited into the light as well. She settled near Groucho—her head on her front paws, her sad eyes fixed on the old cat. She sighed.

Simone came around the corner from the kitchen carrying an old sock doll in her jaws. She made no sounds and simply set it down gently at the foot of a nearby chair. The light was inviting, but she stood still and watched the cat and dog assemblage for more than a minute. She considered joining them—just this once. But then she remembered. Head Cat. Image to uphold. Without looking back, the head cat turned and made for her special place under the bed in the master bedroom.

As the hours passed, the light began to fade and the shadows darkened. But in that warming light, surrounded by love, Groucho, the cool cat, the old cat, the Grouchmesiter fell to sleep. And he dreamed. He dreamed of the place Simone had told him about earlier in the day. And, in time, he saw the welcoming light of that place while he dreamed. And he went to it. He went while those about him still dreamed about it and thought about how much they loved him.

The sun was good, all the cats were indeed beautiful, and everything was as it should be.

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I think we all—man and beast alike—seek the light, the warmth, and the love. And all of us seek to go to a place where these things are eternal. And when we leave to go there, it’s always nice to be surrounded by those we love and who love us.

We were with Groucho when he went to lay in the light, love, and warmth of a new sun in a new place.

Donna and I think God would not make such beautiful creatures unless he intended them to be with us in Heaven.