It’s been cold lately and my elder kitty is becoming needy. At nearly twenty years old she has started to decline. A recent illness left her thinner than before. Though her fur is still shiny she is skin and bones and her voice, once annoyingly loud and piercing, is hoarse. She has a tendency to space out, as if she gets where she wanted to go but then loses the reason for her arrival. She sleeps a lot more and eats tiny meals. But thankfully, she is still demanding food, and I can get her to eat more if I bring her food to the bed, my bed, where she insists on sleeping most of the time now.
She was my baby and now she is an old lady. But, laying in bed with her this morning, stroking her head, I realized: this moment is all she knows. She doesn’t have the nostalgia for being a kitten. That’s an emotion we humans invented. All she knows is this moment, the cold, and the promise of a warm human to sleep on.
Our large brains noticed a long time ago that there is a past and future; this knowledge was useful for our survival as a species. Knowing where we put things, remembering the seasons, making a plan for the future: these are what we do well. Somewhere in the process of gaining power over past and future, we lost the present. We tend to always be planning for what comes next or worrying about what happened already.
Or perhaps we are enjoying memories of what happened already. There’s nothing wrong with any of that, as long as we don’t let our memories of what came before ruin our experience of what is happening right now. And that happens so often for me. I remember how strong I was in the past, and how young I was, and I get stuck on how many years have gone by. How much time I’ve lost! And how much youth was wasted on being sick! I can easily get caught up in feelings of remorse and loss for who I was, who I might have been.
Looking at my kitty, old and in pain today, I was brought up short against the fact that all of her past, for her, is gone. She doesn’t remember who she was, perhaps a little, but only a dim dream of behaviors she might think she can do now that she can’t anymore. But she doesn’t worry about her lost youth, or the body she once had when she was younger. She is free from that struggle. All she knows is the comfort of my hand or the warmth of my body on this cold morning. So she can enjoy these things unhindered by regret. Perhaps, for a few moments, I can take solace in that fact on her behalf.
And perhaps, less hindered by regrets, I can enjoy my own life for what it is right now: a life that, far from wasted, is rich with experience and wisdom. Maybe I can enjoy my senses, my emotions, and my thoughts right here and now without all the baggage of past and future. The past is over; I can let the future care for itself.
Just to be clear: I’m not advocating that we become amnesiacs or stop planning for the future. But I don’t think we will stop remembering or planning anyway. It’s what we have evolved to do. But maybe we can let go just a bit. Let’s take a moment to actually be here, now, where things are actually happening.