Jonathan said something both ironic and profound this week.
Actually, he said many such things.
But the particular Rosenberg koan that comes to mind today is this: “We gotta put a moratorium on death.”
The occasion of this outburst was the passing of Leilani.
Lei-who? No, you’ve not yet met our little hula girl on this blog. In her brief weeks with us, we scarcely scratched the surface of Leilani’s life.
Tiny, silky black Lei was unceremoniously abandoned with her siblings, on one of the hottest days of the summer. So we weren’t initially too terrified when Lei shot a stratospheric fever. But even as her sisters thrived, Leilani languished, losing weight, losing balance, losing her fight.
Our vet is almost certain that Leilani had the always-fatal, poorly-understood, hell-devised FIP. This week, she lay down her arms, in our loving arms.
The death of a kitten is always screamingly “wrong.” Wherever you get your bearings and sense of justice in this world, something inside you revolts against one so new being taken so soon. Even if we can’t quite put words to why it feels like theft, Leilani’s death is nothing less, and a great deal more.
But this ripping loss was gashed deeper by cruel timing. We’d not even begun to think of healing from Psi‘s passing last week.
“No more young cats dying,” I mumbled as we stumbled out of the room where we’d let Leilani go.
And that’s when Jonathan said it: “No, not just young cats. We gotta put a moratorium on death.”
A moratorium is formally a “postponement, or deliberate temporary suspension”. And I suppose, if it were in our power to do so, we’d jump at the chance to call a grand “time-out” on death.
But live with that idea for a few minutes. It helps, it’s a start…but it still feels wrong, doesn’t it?
Even if we could fend death off at the gates, wall ourselves up in a tall, tall turret, we’d know that the other shoe was still dangling over our cardboard-sheltered heads.
No. A breather is not enough.
It’s not enough, in our deepest longings, to wind the music box a few more times. Not if we know that, still, again, always, the music will slow to a stop.
Psi’s music, all acid-punk shrilling, stopped too soon.
Leilani’s ukulele barely started strumming.
But even eighteen years of an oratorio doesn’t make the end okay.
Somewhere beneath our bones, we know the music is not meant to end.
We’re waiting for more than a moratorium.
Even the least supernaturally-minded folks seem to sense a certain mystery when it comes to cats. They’re unavoidably ethereal, effortlessly otherworldly, running their whiskers along the border of the seen and the unseen. Perhaps this is especially the case when it comes to black cats. Psi lived her life like Ginsberg’s “Howl;” Leilani was an e.e. cummings frolic; but they both breathed out poetry and mystery and power beyond our understanding.
They were songs — or, better, sonnets: “little songs.”
And the thing that defines a sonnet, from Shakespeare to Shelley, is the turn, the volta. Somewhere in each sonnet, sooner or later, there’s a reversal. If the first few couplets beg a question, the volta answers it. Eight lines may lead you down one path; number nine zags in an altogether different direction. Smarter people than I, who really know sonnets, know to lean in for the turn.
We are yearning for the turn, too.
And that’s our flying-faith comfort in the dark hours of young deaths. We know in our inmost music that the turn is coming, and that it won’t be temporary. Psi and Leilani have died, yes, real and wrenching deaths. They are gone from our arms and our sight.
But verse nine, sweet volta of hope, is coming.
Creation groans, cats wilt, and our hearts break a thousand shatterings for four couplets.
But the turn is just beyond our horizon.
I don’t pretend to know how, exactly, death will be swallowed up in life, or why, for heaven’s sake, it’s taking so long. But I know in my mind and my guts and my music that resurrection is built into every sonnet, every springtime and every soul.
The volta awaits. And the moratorium on death shall be the mortality of death — the end of the end, the demise of despair.
Yearn for the turn with me.
Photos all by Mark. We don’t have any photos of Leilani, but we will never forget her face, and we will see it again.