What I really have to say about this topic is simple:
NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO! NO!
And I suppose an ugly cry is entirely appropriate.
But Morgan deserves more than that. Dealt a hand that deserved despair, he instead chose to praise life through the living. So how can I keep from singing his praises?
First of all, I can’t top Jonathan’s gut-wrenching report, written for Morgan’s sponsors. Before wading into my humble words, please read Jon’s powerful update here.
Morgan was, even years after leaping out of his office, “Jonathan’s cat.” Jon loved him, communed with him deeply, and translated his life for the world.
But Morgan was also, more than almost any other cat I can think of, everyone‘s cat. I don’t think there’s a single Tabby’s Place staff member who couldn’t sincerely call Morgan “my Morgan.” The same was true for so many volunteers, sponsors, and visitors who’d met him just once, but knew they’d been changed forever.
And Morgan, being Morgan, agreed with each one. There was enough of him to go around, enough heart to hold each human as though she were the only one.
My grieving word-hoard is stammering today. I can’t begin to enumerate all that Morgan meant to me. But perhaps a single memory, a shared song-and-dance routine, will stand in for much more.
One of Morgan’s many talents was giving Tabby’s Place tours — or, more accurately, centering tours on his incomparable orange person. A visitor’s first experience here refracted through Morgan, all the crazy colors of Tabby’s Place converging on him like a placid prism. I think Morgan came to realize that I leaned on him as my go-to, what-we-do story for first-timers. He’d purr and roll and moon for his marvelers, quietly living the truth of the true tale I told.
I could tell that spiel in my sleep. You know the Morgan myth by now, too: Morgan came to us after a Good Samaritan found him during a thunderstorm. His back legs were cold and paralyzed, the telltale signs of something too terrible to speak. Our emergency vet — hereafter “Dr. Fantastic” — confirmed the worst: Morgan had a saddle thrombus, that catastrophic blood clot that cats don’t survive.
“Keep him comfortable,” we said. “We’ll give him the best we can for as long as he’s got,” we said. “We are stubborn,” we said.
“BOOOO!” bellowed death.
“Bollocks!” bellowed us.
Dr. Fantastic was too fantastically honest to sugar-coat things. This cat had made it through his crisis, OK — a miracle. But he would not live long, not with that heart. And what he most definitely would not do was walk again.
“Bollocks!” bellowed us.
A little time, a little laser therapy, a little acupuncture, a mighty act of God…
…and Morgan was alive, ablaze, and leaping over the baby gate meant to keep him in Jonathan’s office.
Every day is a treasure, we mused. His time is limited, we reminded ourselves.
“This is not compatible with life,” his cardiologist reported upon seeing his ultrasound, every time, every four months.
Bollocks upon bollocks upon battalions of bollocks, whispered Morgan…for four-plus outrageous years.
By this point in the telling, I’d be grinning like an idiot. “Morgan never got the doctors’ memo,” I’d chirp, as though the visitor was paying any attention to me now that she’d met Morgan in the warm, furry flesh.
Finally this would fall out of my mouth, every time, unbidden: “Life tends to win around here a lot.”
Awestruck and gobsmacked, the visitor would nod and laugh and love on Morgan, who would love back with his hearty mix of mellow and exuberant, exhilarated and sleepy. Leaping, life, the myth of Morgan — it would all go on another day.
But wait, “myth”? Isn’t the story I’ve just recounted the way it all really happened? Yes. I refer here to “myth” in the older sense. In the original Greek definition, mythos means a story with world-shaping meaning, capable of conveying truth. It could very well be a straightforward account of historical facts — a true myth, as in the myth of Morgan. Closely related is the word myos, or “to initiate into the mysteries.”
And that, perhaps, is what Morgan did more than anything else.
Morgan’s survival was an hour-by-hour mystery.
Morgan’s joy was an inexplicable miracle.
Morgan himself was a living doxology, a song of defiant praise to One who’d made him and kept holding him together.
And where reason and understanding and the inevitability of death didn’t dare…faith, hope and love danced in the huge hazel eyes of a long-nosed marmalade cat.
Much as we said we wouldn’t, much as we made a point of pausing to remember his diagnosis, we took the miracle for granted. Isn’t this what we simple humans always do? Five minutes after we’ve been fed bread from heaven or drunk living water from a rock, it’s old news. We lace up our shoes, roll up our sleeves, stumble and murmur all over the holy ground. We go on.
And, in his mercy, Morgan didn’t mind. We went on together, day after astonishing day.
Until the terrible day when Morgan’s heart read the memo.
What becomes of all the mystery and miracle and true myth in the face of death? At an all-too-real moment in real space and real time, death came for Morgan, the death we’d forgotten to expect, the death he’d slipped out of like an oversized coat so many times before.
Was the miracle meaningless?
Does life, in fact, not win, so much as limp along towards defeat?
I don’t believe that death is natural or beautiful or “OK” in any sense. It feels wrong because it is wrong to see soul split from body, the prism’s colors peeled apart. It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Reality was broken, and all of creation — even the pure in heart, oh Morgan! — groans and grieves and dies.
But I also don’t believe that death wins. In fact, I stake every fiber of my existence on the confidence that life is the truest myth of all.
The same One who gave Morgan four inexplicable years of joy — and gave us four inexpressible years of Morgan — remains on the throne.
Why Morgan’s Maker permits death its ugly deeds here and now, I can’t presume to understand. But I’m convinced, all the more with each year: we’ve not seen the end of Morgan, not hardly.
All the love we gave and received will last and live eternally. It’s not lost. It mattered now, and it will matter then. Each act of love is a small seed for a lush, lasting, living future.
Death will be swallowed up in victory, the final “yes!” where all reality is compatible with life.
Until then, the ache is almost unbearable. Almost…except that we’ve been initiated into the mysteries.
Morgan, my Morgan, our Morgan, we bask in the memories and live towards the life that never ends. Until we meet again, thank you, beloved boy.
Postscript: In the agony of Morgan’s passing, may we also hold tiny Phaedra in our hearts. Our newest resident lost her brief fight this weekend. We will see you again, tiny princess.