In between kissing Bucca’s head and raising money for
Bucca all the cats, I thought some existential thoughts this week.
These were sparked by adventures in diabetes.
Like eight Tabby’s Place cats, I have “the ‘beetus.” Unlike eight Tabby’s Place cats, I am a human being. Unlike eight Tabby’s Place cats (and most human diabetics, for that matter), I have Type I diabetes, insulin pump and childhood diagnosis and all.
Unlike eight Tabby’s Place cats, I had a day that can only kindly be described as “hellacious” recently, with blood sugars scraping the stratosphere and ketones coursing through my system. By the mercies of God, days like these are only a once-every-few-years nightmare, aided by oceans of insulin, sugar-free lemonade, indie rock playlists and cat hugs.
Days like these make me meditate on diabetic cats.
A human diabetic — even a brittle, pancreas-gone-wild type like me — shouldn’t let her blood glucose (BG) levels run over 200. If she does, she’ll feel like barfing is imminent and her tongue is swaddled in fleece. Last week’s hellacity came courtesy of BGs approaching 500.
But a feline diabetic — even a healthy, honorable type like Reese — regularly runs riot. Or, rather, we let them. Over 200? No worries. Over 400? OK, just bump up the insulin. We have no reason to believe they’re suffering from stomach-turning, tooth-fleecing trauma. Time and again, I have asked Dr. C, “don’t they feel dreadful when their BGs are that high?” Time and again, she’s patiently told me, “we really have no reason to believe that. They seem perfectly OK. Better high than low for a cat.”
And she’s right. Cats with BGs that would fell a lesser being (e.g. Angela) romp through the suites and roll around for love and generally act as though they are not, decidedly not, fixin’ to diiiiiie.
My high blood glucose is not Meatball‘s high blood glucose. I can love him and empathize with him and brush his Muppetly head, but I cannot enter completely into his experience, nor he mine. So as we swap BG logs, we don our black berets and get all existential with it.
One of the central concepts of existentialism, as you may remember from your high school reading of The Stranger, is that no human being can completely share another’s experience. Even your bosom friend can’t know precisely what it feels like inside your life, and vice versa. Or, as our fearless leader Jonathan often points out, what you see as “the color orange” might look completely different to someone or everyone else, and you’ll never know.
Moody dudes like Camus and Sartre took this in dark directions, but it need not be cause for despair. Besides, those existential bad boys left out one key fact: existentialism extends to cats, too.
Just think of the feline mysteries we can’t understand, no matter how deeply we share the cats’ lives:
Why does Eek bumble through her days like a Roomba, prone to get wedged in odd corners and unable to turn around, but never dismayed? What sort of pixie dust is she vacuuming up with her crispy white whiskers?
What made Valentino decide — decisively, delightedly, definitively — to be a Super Snuggle Friend to all cats, after reigning in terror as the King Of Tuckus Kickers?
We don’t know, do we? And we can’t know.
Getting a bit closer to home…why did that man with the kind eyes bring back his cat after four years?
What made that friend, that closer-than-a-brother friend, say that Terrible Thing that you can’t forget?
Why don’t your clear, cleaned-twice-with-Windex words make any sense of your situation, even to the ones who love you most?
Close as we get, we can’t get completely inside each other. But that doesn’t mean we’re destined to drift. No cat is an island.
With apologies to Camus, existentialism doesn’t have to make us strangers. It just has to make us listen. If you can’t completely understand someone’s inner ocean, you can sit with them in the worlds between silences, ask questions whose answers scare you, and stay long enough — even in the uncomfortable sea — to understand.
With the cats, this can take some creativity, given their reluctance to use their skills in speaking English and all. So to understand how, say, Charlie is really, truly feeling, we do a “BG curve,” testing that blood glucose every hour for a day. We brush him and look into his eyes and search beneath the surface for signs of stress.
We listen. Sometimes well. Often badly. But always, always, with the hope of hearing and knowing and holding each other’s lives like baby birds.
No, I can’t live your hellacious day, nor you mine. But we can be truly together. Listen well, kittens. (Beret not required.)