I dug a grave today.
It was a small one, and relatively shallow; it probably wasn't even three feet deep. But it was big enough for a cat not quite a year old.
His name was Binx. He was one of the prettiest kittens I've ever seen, and he grew into a beautiful, affectionate cat; black from his nose to the tip of his tail, with gorgeous green eyes. He was pretty, and he was sweet, and so he was very, very dumb- because with cats, you only ever get two of the three.
I'd never intended to keep him. He was probably only eight weeks old when he wandered up to my sister's porch and refused to leave. He'd obviously been socialized; he ran eagerly to me the first time I approached him, and the first couple of times I saw him he fell asleep in my arms.
I never intended to keep him. I have another cat who's ten years old, and it wasn't fair to her or to him for him to live with two old ladies.
But no one else could or would take him. The rescue groups in my area were (and perpetually are) so inundated that they barely even return phone calls, and the city and county were fighting over whose responsibility it is to handle animal control.
To get him to a shelter, I would've had to go out of my area and beg a shelter to take him. He was too good a cat to be wasted like that.
So I took him in. I named him. I paid the vet hundreds of dollars to neuter him as soon as the vet would do so, and I planned on having him terrorize me and my household for the next twenty years.
Last night he ran out the door, panicked, and refused to come to me (possibly because the outside cats do come to me), all of which has happened before. So as I had done before, I decided that instead of wasting hours chasing him around I'd let him stay out there long enough to get hungry and try again the next day.
My mother found him in the road the next morning. By the damage he took I'm guessing it was quick.
I hope it was quick.
I'm a firm believer that no experience is wasted as long as you learn from it. And so, as I stood in the gray drizzle this afternoon and sniffled as I hopped on a shovel and cut through tree roots and clay soil, I thought about what possible meaning there could be in God bringing me that sweet little soul, letting me love him, and then pancaking him with a friggin truck.
At the very least, it reinforces the importance of looking both ways before you cross the road, no matter how quiet that road usually is.
As I dug, I found myself appreciating the simple work of it. Seeing different layers of soil. Finding bits of clay shards in the soil- had someone tossed broken bits of a flowerpot back there at some point? Cutting through roots. Shaving off the sides to keep the hole in the square I had designated. Digging a hole is more complicated than it at first seems- it requires some actual tactics, not just brute strength.
I found myself appreciating gravediggers from before the invention of backhoes. I was only digging a hole for a cat- even for a man, even for a strong man in his prime, digging a hole six feet deep large enough to accommodate a human adult would be hard work indeed.
Hard work that feels good, feels like you're accomplishing something- because this was the last thing I could do for him. The last thing I could give him. Digging was its own goodbye, and it felt like a long exhale. That alone made it worthwhile- no matter how long that little grave lasts. (I had originally wanted to put him next to my first dog, who's also buried out there. Though my grandfather marked her grave, there was no sign left of it.)
But that's fine. I had uprooted what I think is a tiny hickory tree, and I replanted it at the foot of his grave. I planted a blackeyed susan beside the tree, knowing it probably won't survive. I put his favorite toy, a retractable wand that at one point had a feather on the end, at the head of the grave. I outlined the grave in some of the larger roots that I had cut up digging it.
And on the soil atop where he lay, I put an oak branch with some dead leaves. I put blackeyed susans- pretty flowers, bright like he was- among the leaves.
All perishable, except for the wand. All earthly things that will decay sooner rather than later, but the point isn't permanence. The point is in the doing.
I had tea before I left to bury Binx. There's something soothing, something reassuring, about how ancient that act really is. Boiling water, pouring it over the tea, letting it steep. As ancient an act as digging a hole.
Perhaps the lesson I am meant to pick up on, and to share with you all, is a reminder and an appreciation of tradition. Of those ancient acts; a reminder to appreciate those callbacks to ancestry. To allow yourself to relax into tradition.
This is all the more important when the world despises you because of it.
I took a knee today. As shallow as it was for a grave, I still had to take a knee to lay Binx inside of it, because I wasn't willing to just drop him.
That, too, is an ancient act.
I kneel to no one, because I have no earthly master. By any reasonable metric, this cat was completely insignificant and his life didn't matter. But I knelt for him.
Because he was mine, because I loved him. Because he deserved it.
I cried for him- I, who have watched people die in front of me and not felt a thing.
I dug a grave for him. I knelt for him. I marked his grave, and I made it pretty.
Take from that whatever lesson you will.