Our adopted cat went crazy. Having consulted with friends, the vet, and the almighty internet, we concluded she was lonely and bored, and her doting humans were not going to be able to satisfy. We adopted a second cat from a local shelter. To make a long story short, it did not go well. We tried and failed, and we were heartbroken thinking we might have to find new homes for both of them. Thankfully, we found Ingrid the cat behaviorist (fundamentallyfeline.com), and we set about trying to effectively coax oil and water to peacefully mix.
I found myself consumed virtually every day with cat-related activities. They demanded constant vigilance and frequent intervention. To make matters nuttier, I was seeing cats everywhere. One morning I decided I would go to my office early to have some time away, do some reading, and drink a cup of coffee before my day started. I arrived and started to settle in when I heard a small meow. I opened the door to a storage area behind my office. There was a cat. No kidding.
I started to wonder about the symbolism of this. I was dreaming of cats in various forms: house cats, wild cats, feral cats. I read The Cat: A Tale of Feminine Redemption by Marie-Louise Von Franz. Ingrid assured me regularly that we really were making progress and reminded me how far we’d come. I was tired. I had family visiting in August and desperately wanted to be done with this cat project by that time so I could relax and enjoy.
Project cat was not complete. But, the family arrived to help me celebrate my 40th birthday. I stood with friends and family in the back yard beside a small fire. My friend, Kay, handed me a beautiful object she had made, a stone wrapped in cloth, decorated with beads and insect wings. It glittered in the sunlight. “Sometimes life requires sacrifice,” she said. “Throw it in the fire.” So I did. The ceremony progressed with friends and family sharing words they’d prepared. Meanwhile Kay was quietly tending the fire. A few minutes later, she revealed what had happened to the burned object. The cloth and its decoration had fallen away. The stone took on a beautiful, burnished look. Kay had been quietly fashioning it into a pendant.
The birthday ritual my wonderful friends had created was based on a dream I wrote about last year, in which I’d found myself throwing various things into a fire to transform them. In the dream, I accidentally threw in a ring I inherited from my mother and didn’t realize it until it was too late. That’s life, and sometimes, it sucks. The ritual was intended to emphasize not just the sacrifice but the transformation, and the message hit home beautifully. Sacrifice and loss are not the end. There is something lovely and meaningful on the other side of transformation.
The Photographer and I reflected on all we’ve been through the past several years. There had been no point at which we weren’t working on (or through) a major project. Just after we got engaged in 2012, my mother died. The Photographer graduated, we took a trip, planned a wedding, bought a house that we then rehabbed, and most recently, of course, the cat project. (Thankfully, by September, Project Cat was complete, and miraculously our kitties are very good friends. Thank you Ingrid!)
The Photographer wondered what they next project was. “No way,” I said. “I’m done for awhile. No more projects. I’m exhausted.”
I attended a workshop with the remarkable Avis Clendenen, who wrote a book on Hildegard of Bingen. Among other things, she spoke about how Hildegard’s guiding image was viriditas, which literally means greening. Hildegard was acutely aware of the consequences of exploiting and damaging the natural world, centuries before industrialization. But Hildegard’s image also speaks to God as a “greening” force, to growth and lushness in every sense.
The election happened. I find myself challenged by the demands of the Self that holds an intuitive understanding of the darkness of this situation and the depth and breadth of the response it requires, when of course the ego simply wants to repeat “No new projects!” and go back to bed. Friends, I will not pretend to be neutral on this subject. While I will not join with those angry voices who insist that a vote for Trump was a vote for racism, misogyny, nationalism and xenophobia, those votes did open the door to these very dark forces and allowed them a frightening level of power. We all have an urgent new project, and I intend to be very busy. If that means you disengage from this blog, so be it, but I hope you will choose to stick around.
My wise Aunt Peggy recently reminded me of the symbolism of my fiery dream and birthday ritual. We will come through this fire. It is up to us to enact the transformation, to shepherd was it valuable through the flames, and to bring it through to the other side. The force that guides this work must be viriditas, and it must involve reverance for the multitude of forms life, and growth, and the divine can take.