by Elise Seyfried
We are awaiting the arrival of our son Sheridan’s buddy’s cat, Ruthie. This mystery feline will be with us (Sheridan promises) only about two or three weeks while its owner resettles. I am quite anxious about this, about the climbing and the feeding and the (possible) clawing. But I’m also anxious that I might fall in a strange kind of love.
When my daughter Julie had her rabbits, I bemoaned their mess and smell. But the minute she returned them to the bunny rescue shelter, I keenly felt their loss. Ditto when hamsters Puffles and Truffles bit the proverbial dust; I actually shed tears at their passing. Bette the beta fish survives, long past her projected time of demise, and while she gives us zero affection, I know I will be sad when she goes to the big aquarium in the sky. I’ve always held the line at “NO dog,” purportedly because I detest the idea of walking said beast in foul weather, etc. But honestly? I don’t think I could stand to have a dog die before me.
I get abnormally attached to the human visitors we seem to attract as well. When the kids bring friends home for the holidays or just because, I take to them like a mother and ALWAYS hate to see them go. Our foreign exchange students’ returns home after short or lengthy stays were incredible wrenching. I pretend that I am thrilled for my youngest daughter, who is on the brink of travel and college and her exit from the house, but inside I just hate the thought of her leaving, just as I’ve hated the exodus of the older kids in their turn. I guess my ideal life would include a dwelling big enough for at least 20 or 30 people at all times.
Perhaps my holding on to the various creatures in my life is my way of freezing time. If nothing changes, I don’t grow older. If something or someone leaves me or dies, I can’t escape the fact that my days are numbered. But so what if they are numbered? Why is that such a tragedy?
If I believe (and I do) that we are created for eternity, then what’s the big worry? Why can’t I consistently wrap my brain around the assurance that we will all be reunited in the end? Because I want eternity right now (without actually dying, of course). I want to reconnect with my departed loved ones. I want to have lunch with my late sister Mo and ask my late Nana to scratch my back again and sit down for a long talk with my ever-chatty deceased mom. I want everyone I’ve ever loved within arm’s reach, and I want them to stay there.
Meanwhile, I wait for a cat, as I wait for all the new creatures, human and otherwise, who will be crossing my path in the days and years to come. I wait, with apprehension about their impending appearances and expected sorrow about their inevitable departures. I wait for a cat, and every instinct tells me to harden my heart, so I won’t get hurt. Maybe the Buddhists have it right: a key to happiness is non-attachment.
But, try as I might to detach, that’s not me. So I will no doubt continue to be an annoying clinger, completely wrapped up in all who populate my life. I’m probably doomed to stick to everyone like glue. One of the few poems I have memorized is “Spring and Fall, to a Young Child,” written by the amazing Victorian-era poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. It describes the grieving of a little girl, Margaret, at the arrival of autumn and the falling leaves. Hopkins ends with: “It is the blight Man was born for/it is Margaret you mourn for.”
After a long, cold and dreary winter, we actually had a spring this year, with cool breezes, crocuses and daffodils dotting the lawn. (We haven’t planted anything for years, and so we are always amazed when flowers come up anyway.) As I write this, there is a bird perched in the tree right outside our family room window, and I can hear its rustling. And on this beautiful, sunny day, I realize that I have a choice. I can love my loved ones, love my springs while I have them and not dwell on the inevitable autumns and winters ahead. After all, it’s Elise I’ve been mourning for — and maybe it’s time to stop.
Elise Seyfried is Director of Spiritual Formation at Christ’s Lutheran Church in Oreland. She is also an actress, wife, mother of five and co-author (with husband, Steve) of 15 plays for children. She is the author of a self-published book, “Unhaling: On God, Grace and a Perfectly Imperfect Life,” a collection of essays. It can be purchased for $15 plus shipping through www.eliseseyfried.com.