The following essay was written to illustrate a metaphor. However, after I wrote it I realized that the metaphor is, well… flawed. It’s still worth sharing, however.
I’ll add this to my “revise later” file.
Is there no choice so wrenching as deciding whether or not to pick up a stray?
Poor little animal. For me, a cat person, stray cats are always the hardest to ignore. They’re often so affectionate, and seeing their dirty coats of fur and often skin-and-bones bodies, and hearing their cries and yowlps… so difficult.
I always try to scare it off. I yell. I make wild arm movements. I jump towards it, run at it. I throw things near — but I’m not an accurate thrower so I rarely continue lobbing things. I don’t want to hurt the poor thing. I don’t want to increase their doubt about us two-legs.
Isn’t that pathetic? I assume that a stray cat has seen humans at their worst; that they’ve been beaten and thrown out into the cold and had to forage for food, that sadistic children have had their fun by heaping torment on the little animals, and that, in spite of all that the animal still seeks assistance from our duplicitous and cruel species.
I consider that the creature’s instincts are generally good, since it’s true that I don’t seek to harm it further, and that I would take it in if I could. Yeah, it’s an ego-stroke to think that a cat can judge my inner qualities. OK, that all is probably just in my head.
Yeah, it’s probably just seeking food or warmth or might even just be bored, saw me walking by and, having vaguely associated my upright form with the basic necessities, started meowing and following me.
Thing is, I’ll never know. Can’t judge motivations well in humans, even with the benefit of sharing a biology and communication, let alone something as alien as a cat. Is it opportunistic? or seeking a higher form of compassion?
At any rate, frightening it off never works. It only draws attention, gets me involved with the thing, rewards its attention with more attention. It will only continue to follow me, since I have now become the most exciting thing it has found.
So, the choice. Can I take it in? And often, the choice is, no. It’s not the right time. I can’t have pets. I don’t want the responsibility. I think of how one-sided it would be — I offer warmth and love and food and care, cleaning up after it, and it gives me… what? What is the return? Intangibles like the comfort of knowing that I helped a fellow creature on this planet. The knowledge that my actions increased, by a tiny fraction, the amount of caring in the world.
And… selfish, I know… but… is that enough?
I mean, it’s a stray. A wild animal. It really isn’t compassionate in the way that humans are. I was only projecting my need for love onto it, giving it credit for higher emotions that it, honestly, probably doesn’t have. It just just as likely to turn on me, scar me and bite me and shit on my floor, as it is to become a gentle loving companion. And it’s likely not to matter how much effort I put into it; the end result is likely to be random.
That’s when I ignore it. I walk away. I stop shouting at it, stop looking at it, even. I continue on my way. I can still hear it behind me, crying. It may even catch up to me and rub up against my legs. I keep walking, going over my justifications in my head.
It’s a cruel choice. I can convince myself that it’s the correct choice. The time isn’t right to take this animal in. I’m not a rescuer.
Just walk away.