We like to keep the ground beneath our feet.
We prefer our maps perfect.
But sometimes, there be dragons.
Before flying machines and Google Earth, our ancestors knew they didn’t know the whole map. What they knew, they drew; where the borderlands melted into mystery, they wrote: “here be dragons.”*
In other words, you are now entering the unknown. You may be consumed. You may be enraptured. You may be captured by 500 Kevin Bacons. We don’t know. Proceed with caution. Better yet, do not proceed.
Today, though, we know better, and that’s dangerous. Most dangerous of all, we know we know better. The world has been mapped. The dragons have been dismissed. The mystery has been confined to a Habitrail, and we watch it run small, predictable circles. We made the map and we unmade the mystery.
So the story goes.
We willingly forget that the world we think we’ve mapped is no static specimen. A photograph is not a living, breathing, bubblegum-cracking human. A map is not a world. And a world is continually changing, whether or not our feet can feel it.
At age eighteen, Jenny knew this world pretty well. (“No, Angela, write ‘pretty damn well,'” Jenny would say. Trust me, she would.) You don’t reach the equivalent of 88 cat years without drawing a pretty extensive mental map. Through Tabby’s Place and adoption and return and Tabby’s Place Part Deux, Jenny developed a serene sense of how reality works. She could play this game in her sleep, like the queen of canasta atop her cards. Jenny’s map was inked into place.
But on an ordinary September morning, the ink went invisible. Jenny tore the world with a howl you probably heard from wherever you are. Our staff ran to her side, only to see that Jenny’s aquamarine eyes were nearly black pools of dilated terror.
Jenny was blind.
Twelve hours earlier, she’d seen it all. Now the world was altogether new, and not so nice at all.
Jenny grieved her sight bitterly that day, staining the map with shouts of protest and fear. I cannot see. I CANNOT SEE. I cannot <expletive> see. I want to see. I want to see. This is not fair. I’m scared. I’m angry. <EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE EXPLETIVE!!!!!!!!!!>
It’s worth mentioning here that Jenny was never an ordinary cat (not that there are any such cats, but permit the turn of phrase). Where other cats might dodder into old age with half-closed eyes and half-dozed souls, Jenny remained an atomic, if aging, fireball. Bad boys in the Lobby quickly learned that mama J suffered no fools (exhibit A: the mysterious pummeling that created Gingko‘s cauliflower ear, and permanently ended his hooligan ways, four years ago). From the chair that other cats learned not to borrow, Jenny superintended the lobby, purring into laps or smacking Girl Scouts as needed. Food was always appreciated; affection, usually, unless you were particularly annoying, in which case Jenny would pop you repeatedly.
Atomic fireballs have more to lose when the stars go dark.
During that feverish day, we found that Jenny was suffering from high blood pressure — almost certainly the cause of her sudden blindness. But what caused the hypertension? No clues volunteered. Jenny’s only underlying ailment is early kidney disease, but even her worst renal values are only “high normal.” We treated her with high blood pressure medication and did our best to soothe her screams.
But soothing was not on the map today. Jenny felt her loss, and her psalms of lament shattered the day.
I had the good fortune to be in the Lobby when Jenny did it. Jonathan and I were gabbing about something extremely important Roy Orbison when we realized that we were being circled.
Nose drilled forward, entire body coursing with confidence, Jenny was walking laps.
First she traced the perimeter of the lobby. Steadily, swiftly, stride unbroken, she walked on, whiskers brushing the walls as she made her circle. OK. That’s the edge of the known world.
The circles got slightly smaller. Couch. Got it. Chair. Continent. Table. Boots — AAUGGHHH YUCK BOOTS. There be dragons. OK. Then around again.
Each time, Jenny would pause just briefly at her “house,” the large crate in which she’d spent the previous night. The motherland. I don’t need to stay here. OK. Around again.
On and on she went, with more energy and more mileage than we’d ever seen from this old broad. Jonathan and I watched, incredulous. Jenny was inking in new lines. The world had changed, so the map would change, and Jenny would change with it.
It was okay. It was all going to be okay.
It took Jenny approximately 24 hours to redraw her map of reality. Now comes the hard work of living into that map.
Maybe there is a map that lasts, whatever earthquakes may reshape the world. Everything she can and can’t see may have changed, but Jenny’s inner terrain was never in question. Sight or no, dragons or Kevin Bacons, she was Jenny, and she was safe, and she was loved.
When we know who and Whose we are, we’ll never spin off the globe.
Keep Jenny in your prayers, kittens — and keep sight of the things that keep the earth beneath your feet. They’re there. It is really all going to be okay.
*OK, scholars question whether the ancients actually did this. But if they did, man, they were poetic.
Photo credits from de top: Mark, Jess B x3, AT x2.