William I. Atkinson
Updated: Apr 11, 2021
Every so often I see something that takes my breath away. I don’t mean the big stuff – sunsets, mountains, championship games. Some small image catches my eye, then my heart, then my mind: and afterwards I have it forever. My winter baby’s rapt attention when he heard his first birdsong. The smile my wife gave me when I brought her fresh tea during a tough business call. And last week, the gracious acceptance of a young acolyte’s devotion by a living god.
I love cats but I have a fur allergy. That means I must hobnob with other people’s pets, then rush home and wash my hands. Two blocks away lives Pepper, a big domestic shorthair with white paws and a thick ginger pelt. Pepper has learned to recognize me, and comes over for attention if I’m walking or biking. Or even driving: he knows my car, and when he sees it I have to slam on the brakes so I don’t squash him as he bounds up.
But the other day, a pleasant Monday in early spring, no Pepper was in evidence. Instead, I stopped in his Pepperless stomping grounds to see two small kids taking turns on a sidewalk scooter while their grampa sat on his front step and grouched at them not to go too fast or far. “But big children like Peter are not afraid of wolves,” and the two – a girl four, a boy two – were racketing along like 20-kg packets of Bose-Einstein condensate, each trying to outspeed the other. Looked like angels, acted like imps.
When it was his sister’s turn the boy approached me and said, “Is that your cat?” I looked down and Pepper, who had ghosted out of nowhere, was sitting next to my bike. “No,” I said, “but he’s friendly and he lives across the street.”
“Can I pet him?” the boy said. “My name’s Adam.” He had red cheeks and a mop of hair the colour of Gabriel’s wings. I thought, Hm! Might the lad be too rumbustious? But I said: “You can pet him if you’re very gentle. Don’t try to pick him up.”
And then the unforgettable moment. Pepper, usually so exuberant, so prone to smash his head against your leg or cavort on the ground, sat fully upright, utterly still. He looked like a New Kingdom statue of Bast, carved out of diorite: The archetypal cat.
And Adam, a moment ago equally irrepressible, approached with the grace and confidence of Baryshnikov in a pas-de-deux. He bent down and caressed Pepper’s face, and I swear I saw the cat nod to him in blessing. It was the Peaceable Kingdom, the model for humanity in nature.
Some linguists think the Genesis verse “fill the earth and subdue it” should be rendered as “fill the earth and revere it;” six days ago I saw that new translation instantiated before my eyes. As Will Shakespeare’s drinking buddy Ben Jonson said four centuries ago –
In small proportions we just beauties see;
And in short measures, life may perfect be.
Last week it was.