Secret reasons

Secret reasons

If you’ve ever sobbed your way through Charlotte’s Web, you are familiar with the tender mind of E.B. White.

Heartfelt children’s author, gifted New Yorker editor, and co-author of a definitive volume on writing style, ol’ E.B. is sadly underappreciated for his greatest accomplishment.

E.B. White is Extra Bonus catlike.

Without rising quite to the level of Flavian, dear E.B. nevertheless demonstrated his catlitude with a single flourish of his pen. When invited to join President Eisenhower’s Committee of the Arts and Sciences in 1956 (which sounds Terribly Important and is perhaps the 1956 equivalent to today’s Federation for the Responsible Containment of Vegan Cheese Product), he wrote, simply:

“I must decline, for secret reasons.”

And all at once, all the cats in all the lands sat up a little straighter.

Ever since, they’ve been trying to convince the rest of us sub-E.B. beings to adopt this phrase. Patient as saints with our dunderheadedness, they are willing to demonstrate over and over and over again the wisdom of the wry.

Exhibit A: one Nemo Rosenberg. Born across the wide Atlantic, with eyes resembling wheels of fire and a penchant for puncturing all predictability, Nemo would seem to be a creamsicle without reason.

One day, he swoons into our eager hands, pursuing human friendship as though it were a three-story citadel of liverwurst.

The next, he gnaws and gnarls and gnashes his teeth the second he spots our smiles.

For a lovely, languid week, he’ll do his best Mr. Rogers, welcoming every neighbor into his heart’s ample hood. OK, I perhaps overstate the case, but he’ll at least go for days demonstrating the delicate art of Permitting Other Cats To Live.

And then, all at once, the imperial march in his heart takes a sharp turn towards the savage, and his fiery eyes set their sights on his own species. It’s all Nyla can do to avoid turning into a tattered Nylabone, when Nemo is spiced and over-seasoned with savagery that knows no reason.

Or does it?

The fact that we don’t know Nemo’s reasons does not mean his Reason Box is empty. No: that thing is overflowing with Post-its of a thousand hues, Sharpie-scrawled explanations and justifications that shall never jump the fence from Nemo’s vast mind into our considerably smaller brains.

And so we learn to accept the answers we’re half-given.

Nemo, will you let us hug you like a teddy bear? I decline, for secret reasons.

Nemo, will you accept that Nyla is every bit as worthy of life as the trees and the lemurs and your eminent orange self? I decline, for secret reasons.

Nemo, will you perform according to form, biting and battling and being what bumbling beasts might call a “bad” cat? I decline, for secret reasons.

Nemo, will you fit our preconceived notions, safely beached off the ocean of your own whale-songs? I decline, for secret reasons.

We don’t, won’t, can’t always understand what’s going on inside the whirling nebula named Nemo.

Frankly, we don’t, won’t, can’t always understand what’s going on inside our own starry heads.

But somewhere between the pull of the moon and the silliness of the sea, we can splash and celebrate and rest in the existence of a Great Reasonableness.

Even when everything seems absurd.

Especially then.

We need only look catward.

Cats seem willy-nilly. Cats actually have all of their nillies, notions, and negotiating tactics in good order.

Cats seem devil-may-care. Cats are actually always on the side of the angels, albeit angels of a specific shape.

Cats seem to roll and loll and love and rampage without reason. Cats actually have more reasons than Succession has bad people.

And cats are under no obligation to explain any of the above. This goes double quadruple ten jillion-jumping-upple for Nemo, but it applies to us all.

Perhaps, on Nemo’s nicest days, the moon is singing directly into his ear, crooning love-songs about the value of his soul and/or tuna fish the size of elephants.

Perhaps, when Nemo appears to be auditioning for the lead role of Macbeth, he really just has an itch in his amygdala, or didn’t get his recommended daily dose of riboflavin, or his ma Iris made him listen to six straight hours of Yanni again.

There are always reasons.

There are always secrets.

But it’s foremost among the feline elements of style never to reveal more than necessary. How else will the humanbeans learn that mystery is safe, and absurdity is OK, and life leads us through forests but the morning always comes?

And, c’mon: which of us is not hereby richer, now that we have it in our elegant arsenal to answer questions, “I decline, for secret reasons?”

“Tell me when you’re finally gonna get married!”
“I decline, for secret reasons.”

“Please attend little Shmoopy-Joe Weaver’s combination first-birthday party/political fundraiser/vegan cheese tasting event, only $70/plate.”
“I decline, for secret reasons.”

“Would you give me the other half of that Tasty-Kake?”
“I decline, for secret reasons.”

“Grow up, grow somber, outgrow the absurdities and inconsistencies and inanities and insanities that cause all the color wheels to whirl off in wild directions.”
“I decline, for secret reasons.”

So the next time you’re faced with a cat who’s half knucklehead, half cherub, whole writer of his own life, rejoice in the reasons you’ll never know.

Decline and accept the dances as your own fiery eyes see fit.

And know that Nemo and the Committee of Cats and Splendorbeasts are very, very proud to watch you weave your iridescent web.

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