The Cat in the Bottom of the Bowl

I don’t know about you, but I have become very aware recently of how thirsty cats do not like to drink stale water. They can be as finicky as the little girl in the movie, Signs, who pours herself – or has her father pour her – glasses of water, takes a sip, puts them down and, later when she wants another sip, insists on a new glass of water. I’ve known many cats in my life and this is a recent discovery for me. I thought maybe it was just my cat – a little worrying that maybe she is developing kidney disease or hyperthyroidism or one of those things older cats tend to get – but then I noticed it with other housecats I know.

Anyhow, The Cat announced that she needed more water by sticking her nose in my glass of water the other day. So I cleaned and refilled her bowl, a carefully selected bowl that I foraged long and far for, with a rubber base so that she can’t push it around the room as she likes to. It is also a shiny metal, but that was just what came with the base, not a requirement.

She followed her bowl and me eagerly to her food area and crouched down beside it, gazing into it, but did not drink. Was the bowl so clean that she couldn’t see that it contained water? I splashed a little with my fingers. She did a little cat dance, then gazed into the depths again, but didn’t drink. She didn’t have that sleepy look that sick cats get. She looked eager and alert, watchful, curious. She looked up at me. “Drink,” I commanded her. Having gotten up from what I was doing and taken time to serve her desires, I needed her to release me by actually drinking. She looked at me, then gazed again into her bowl. I leaned down, gazed with her, and realized that the shiny metal was so clean that her face was perfectly reflected beneath the water.

“That’s you,” I told her. “It’s not another cat; it’s you.”

She circled the bowl, not removing her gaze from the other cat, the cat that might slip through the mirror of her bowl and invade her territory. The cat she would not expose her face to by drinking.

I turned out the lights, and in the dim shadows of the room, the other cat disappeared. Only then could she drink.

Later I thought about the lesson in this. How often do we see ourselves reflected and think we’re being watched or threatened by someone else? As humans, we are still pre-Copernican, certain that the world revolves around us. Certain that everyone on the subway is staring at our bad hair day when, if you look closely, you realize that, really, everyone is having a bad hair day.

I think I’ve written before about going to the orthodontist when I was a high school freshman. I felt so low, so mean and growly, my mouth so full of metal, I was sure that the little girl who stared at me and whispered to her mother was saying bad things about me, about how ugly I was.

Later, at the grocery store, I saw a woman who looked familiar. “Where do I know you from?” I asked. “The orthodontist,” she replied, “I remember my little girl pointed you out and told me she wanted to look like you when she got older.”

How often do we do this to ourselves? If not our looks, our competence at work, the way our parents or our children treat us, people walking down the street, our spouse’s grouchy mood. Often it has nothing to do with you, it’s really nothing personal, it’s just where they are right now.

So the next time you find yourself thinking this way, don’t be afraid of the cat in the bottom of the bowl.

Go ahead, drink.

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