At its bare minimum, life really doesn’t require much. You breathe, you eat, you drink, you go to the bathroom, you sleep. Being able to walk between the bedroom and the bathroom helps, but is optional. Shopping for food and cooking it, cleaning the bathroom, or even working to earn money is another level up..
But that minimum isn’t what life is really about. Life is about having the exuberance to go out and run and dance or play, or the passion to make a difference in the world, or the drive to have a successful and interesting career, or just a wild and crazy dream to follow wherever it takes you.
I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately because I’m watching how much energy and life is left inside Prussia. When she was younger, she was the picture of that delightful excess, and would run around and play, and jump and try to catch birds or attack any other cats she saw. In the last few years she became an old cat: She wasn’t really into playing and very seldom ran anywhere. We had trained her not to get on kitchen counters, eventually she couldn’t jump there from the floor even if she wanted to. She slept a lot, but cats always do that. Just the same, I thought she was sleeping more. She still wandered all over the house, still hated other cats and let them know it. Recently, we start placing “steps” for her, so she could climb up to places she used to be able to jump easily.
Prussia has been hanging in there at the bare minimum level for about three weeks now. We can clearly see that there is hardly any flesh between the bones and the fluff. But the harder thing is to watch is how little life is left in her. She manages the bare minimum pretty well. She breathes. (And we check to make sure that she continues) She sleeps. (Probably twenty-two hours a day of sleeping, napping, and resting.) She still drinks, but not much, and is pretty dehydrated. She eats, now mostly a little gravy around the catfood. She goes to the bathroom. (with difficulty, and I won’t gross anybody out with details!) She can walk, but she isn’t very steady and doesn’t try very often. Sometimes it looks like she didn’t find the energy to put her tail where it belongs but just sat on it in a un-cat-like way. Her world is getting smaller.
Whenever we see a sign of energy above that bare minimum, we celebrate. Even if it is just her tail twitching in annoyance at us, her mother hens. This morning we woke with her at our feet and heard her purring. And when we offered her food, she ate it. Two or three times in the last week, she found the energy to climb the stairs and check out the upstairs of the house. Once she even walked out the front door and wandered through the yard.(Margaret had to convince her not to crawl under the fence into the neighbor’s yard for fear that she would get in a cat fight that would finish her.) Other times she is just very alert and bright-eyed, looking around at us. I wonder if she remembers jumping to the top of the fridge or the fireplace mantel.
Some people I know aren’t able to live life with all this wonderful excess; they are just able to manage the basics of survival, plus (perhaps) a job of some sort. I know some people are sick, or depressed, or very old and infirm, or just somehow lost, but it saddens me to see life a reduced when it doesn’t need to be. I hope to live with as much of this wonderful excess as I can for as long as I can — maybe even equivalent to Prussia’s ninety-and-counting cat years.