Vote Early and Vote Often

So, I shouldn’t start such a serious and important topic with a gag, but always doing what I am supposedly supposed to do is not my strong suit. What I am supposed to do is to follow my nature. Cats, by nature, are extremely independent, so the idea of doing what I am supposed to do is de facto absurd, if that means I am supposed to follow a person’s idea of what my behavior or attitude ought to be. Already, I am off topic.

Mike and Michelle got up early this morning and went to vote. Shayna Maidel, that most civic-minded of tabby cats, started waking Mike up at 4:30 this morning to make sure he got up to vote. She wanted him to get there early so he wouldn’t have to wait in line too long. The polling place opened at 8, and when they got there at about 7:25 there were already around 200 people in line. When they left around 9 after voting, it looked like more than double that number.

Mike brought a book to read. He is reading “The Great Transformation” by Karen Armstrong. She is a brilliant writer and scholar who writes about religious and philosophical history. The book covers a several hundred year period starting around 900 BCE, and traces the cultural, religious, and philosophical histories of the Middle East, Greece, India, and China over this period. While standing in line today Mike read about Socrates, Buddha, Confucius, Zhuangzi, Mencius, and some other sages he never heard of before. Don’t ask him what he got out of his reading, because, at least the specifics, he won’t remember. But he did get this: In various ways, in various places, and at various times people have struggled to understand the world, and how to live best within it. On the one hand, there are people who believe in taking whatever they can for themselves, whatever the cost to others may be. On the other side are those who believe in the Golden Rule. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Or, “Do not unto others as you would not have them do unto you.” What interested Mike as he was reading today is how all these great philosophers, living in different times and coming from different cultures could all come to the same conclusion. True happiness can only be achieved through the denial of self. It is what Bill Wilson called “ego-deflation.” Of course, it is way more complicated than this, or at least, there is much more to it than this, but this much is what I think I understand. It was an interesting thing for Mike to think about while standing in line to vote in this particular election.

I wonder if the same truth coming to different people at different times, who could not possibly have known about each other, means that there really is at some level absolute truth, or at least, absolute reality. Carl Jung wrote about The Collective Unconscious, which could correspond to, or at least partly explain, this idea. The Collective Unconscious, as opposed to the personal unconscious, is common to all members of a species. It is populated by instincts and archetypes, and through these structures influences in a profound way the life experience of every individual. Many of these archetypes can be found in great books and spiritual literature including the Bible. Examples of such archetypes could include the Hero (Abraham, Moses, Jesus), the Monster (Leviathan, Goliath, the Beast of Revelations), and the 3 day descent into the netherworld (Jonah, Jesus). Mike says that if there is such a thing as a Collective Unconscious, it could be transmitted in the DNA, and thereby go back to the beginning of life. What is more interesting to speculate about, of course, is the possibility that cats also have a Collective Unconscious. My vote is yes, we do. It would explain a lot. Of course, if Mike is right that the Collective Unconscious is carried in the DNA and goes back to the beginning of life, then the Collective Unconscious of all species will have elements in common with each other. I like this idea as well. As the Lakota say, mitakwe oyesin, we are all related.

People have been much more political the past couple or more years. The voices of moderates have been drowned out by the angry citizens on both sides (the right side and the wrong side) of the issues. Mike has a point of view, but says that opposing points of view, and their free expression, are necessary for a democracy to work. It is a mistake to take it personally when people disagree. However, the discourse has been decidedly uncivil since Spoiled Donald emerged as a leader. I think it is important to not take the bait and join in the rude insults and mudslinging. It is important to speak up, and of course, to vote. This goes for everybody, Mike says, and in this sense it doesn’t matter who you vote for. Millions of people have given up their lives to preserve our right to have a say in our way of life. Check out Mike and Michelle in this post-polling photo.

We voted!
We voted!


This is a time of year for weird spiders to show up. Mike was on the sun porch last weekend with the boys when he saw a leaf suspended in mid-air, several feet below a dogwood branch. A spider came crawling down a single filament a distance of several feet, cut the leaf loose, and crawled back up again. What was that all about? We saw another weird spider that has spun a web in the front of the house under the Japanese magnolia tree. It had a carapace like a turtle! Who ever heard of such a thing? This is what it looked like.


This is an orb-weaving spider, of which there are a great many kinds. I’m not sure which kind this is, other than it is creepy. Orb-weavers are known for their disagreeable habit of sexual cannibalism. Mike read up on this a little. It seems that the longer the male copulates with the female the more likely he is to be eaten afterwards. If he copulates for ten seconds or longer, he is toast. Also, males are more likely to desist from copulating more quickly if the female is a sister of his. Who studies this stuff anyway?

So, this is a small sample of what is going on in Happy Meadows these days. We do have people we love who are very ill right now. Please keep Bill, Ruth, Nancy, and Ginny in your prayers. Until next time, be well, be safe, and be happy.

Sober as a Judge

So, I’m not sure where to begin. I think I will start by saying that I have been feeling lazy and not interested in the blog recently. But here I am, so I guess I will push through it. Much has happened since my last communication “Shake, Shake, Shake your Lulav” not that long ago, actually. We have had weather that is beyond belief. When I say we, I don’t mean so much right here in Marietta, although we did have some wind and a big rain last week. The devastation to the lives of people and their animals from the flooding and wind of hurricanes Florence and Michael is hard to imagine. A great many of Mike and Judy’s friends have family members or friends directly impacted by the storms. This must be true for everyone here. Everybody pray, and do whatever else you are able to do to help.

Jackson had a “Well-cat” visit to the Extreme Vet a few days ago. He admits that he cried like a baby in the carrier on the way there. They poked around at him for a few minutes, stuffed him back into the carrier, and Mike and Judy brought him back home good as gold. He is 9 years old now, about 58 in people’s years.

Shayna Maidel has always been the fastest eater of the 4 of us. She acts like she has missed a lot of meals, although she never has. Mike and Judy brought her and Jackson home from the shelter as kittens. Recently, the bolting of her food has triggered immediate vomiting. She has barfed twice in her dish. Nice. So, Mike went to a pet supply store to buy a dish that slows down the eating. All they had was a dish for dogs, so, foolishly, Mike got it. None of us could reach the food. We have small, right-sized tongues, not those long slobbery things that dogs use to lick at everything imaginable. Mike will take the dish back once he locates the receipt. In the meantime, Judy took up our bowls and is putting our kibble in flat saucers. So far, so good.

So, partisan politics has met the #MeToo movement. It was a circus. It gives the term, “Sober as a Judge” a whole new meaning. I have never seen people so angry on both sides. I hear a lot of talk in Happy Meadows and on the TV and radio. Mike says the harsh feelings began when Senator McConnell wouldn’t call hearings on President Obama’s nomination of Judge Garland to the Supreme Court. The strenuous opposition to Judge Kavanaugh was payback. But, of course, it is much more than that. Women are speaking up about sexual manipulation as never before. Spoiled Donald, who has acknowledged such behavior in the past, says he feels sorry for young men these days. Their vulnerability, I guess, is to unfair accusations. This has been the case for black men, especially in the South where I live, for many years. Young white women have gotten black men sent to prison for life, or even lynched, with lies about sexual advances. No, the harsh feelings go back long before the unethical machinations of Senator McConnell. As I have said before, the American population is trending brown, and the white folks will soon be in the minority. White men in power will do whatever they are able to maintain the status quo, and it is the obligation to themselves of the brown and black people to assert their rights. If you think I have taken sides, don’t forget that I am a black cat. But really, things will work out only if principled people take charge and do the right thing. This is most likely to happen if people vote. We have an interesting election coming up. A black lady is running for governor here in Georgia. Mike thinks everyone should vote, what ever their politics. I agree. So get out there and vote, y’all.

In the midst of all the insanity, World Mental Health Day came and left on October 10. It’s a good idea to promote the recognition of mental illness as an ever-present problem in our communities and families. If mental illness is destigmatized more people will get necessary help sooner. See what you can do in your own communities to be of service. Here in Happy Meadows we are recognizing a substance abuse problem, and have opened our clubhouse to an AA group for a weekly meeting. Soon an Al-Anon meeting will meet here as well. Mike went to a community event last week sponsored by the Blue Dove Foundation in Atlanta. Their mission is to raise awareness of mental illness within the Jewish community. Much progress has already been made, and yet, there is a long way to go. I think if everyone devotes some time each week to a single cause that is important to them the world can save itself. The Jewish term is “Tikkun Olam.” This is a spiritual concept, but a practical one as well. It translates as “Repair of the World.”  So, grab your toolbox, cast your ballot, and let’s all do better. So long for now from Happy Meadows!

Shake, Shake, Shake, your Lulav

So, we have finally had a bit of change in the weather. It’s starting to get sort of cool in the mornings and we’re getting some rain. The leaves are just starting to turn and fall. It might be my favorite time of year. It’s a time of year that many different cultures celebrate  with harvest festivals and ceremony. In the Jewish religion the solemn holidays of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, a time of atonement, repentance, and culmination in fasting, are immediately followed by the celebration of the fall harvest in the holiday of Sukkoth. (Immediately following the seven days of Sukkoth are the holidays of Simchas Torah and Shemini Atsereth. Maybe I can explore these holidays with you at another time.)

Sukkoth is similar to Passover in that there is much symbolism and ceremony. Mike experienced much of the Jewish religion as it was presented to him in his childhood as rather legalistic and intellectual, which he found dry and hard to relate to. But he always enjoyed the ceremony of the holidays. Of course there is ceremony in the rest of the year, particularly on the Sabbath day, but Sukkoth was a particular enjoyment because of its uniqueness. Ceremony and ritual can have a powerful effect on people. (At times Mike will suggest that his patients  “have a ceremony” and flush their drugs down the toilet.) During the holiday of Sukkoth observant Jews will build a hut in their yard and take all their meals in it. The hut is put together according to particular specifications and although it has structure it is still open on all sides and on the top so that one can see the sky, the earth and all of one’s surroundings. It is decorated with fruits and vegetables. It’s reminiscent of the wanderings of the Jews in the desert for 40 years after the escape from slavery in Egypt. During that period they had no permanent dwellings but lived in structures that were portable and offered only limited protection from the elements. Mike’s brother, Rabbi Robert Gordon, may he rest in peace, famously built his Sukkah on a U-Haul trailer parked on his parking spot at his condo in Chicago when the COA wouldn’t let him build a Sukkah on his balcony. For the observant Jew, the building of a Sukkah each year is a religious obligation, not just some neat thing to do if it is convenient.

Mike and Judy were invited to friends Friday night to celebrate the Sabbath and Sukkoth, and Mike was invited to say the blessings and wave the lulav. He doesn’t remember ever having waved the lulav before, although he has seen it done in the synagogue many times. The lulav is a date palm frond. To the palm fronds are tied branches of myrtle and willow. Frequently the tied bundle of palm, myrtle, and willow is collectively referred to as the lulav. Held next to the palm frond is a citron. Citron in Hebrew is called an etrog. You might want to consult the internet to see a picture. You could probably also find a YouTube video which demonstrates the ceremony. You will notice, if you do look, that rather than waving the lulav back and forth, it is vigorously shaken in each direction. The practice goes back to the days of the temple and probably is derived from pagan ceremonies that go back long before that. Some people say that the paganistic aspects of the waving of the lulav bothers them, but it’s what Mike likes about it as much as anything else. There is much symbolism in the use of the four species as they are called. Some of the symbolism refers to the parts of the body. Lulav, because it is long and straight, refers to the spine. Myrtle refers to the eye, willow to the mouth, and etrog to the heart. The binding of these together represent that the Jew wants to devote all of himself to the service of God. Another rabbinic teaching is based on the presence, or lack thereof, of taste and smell of the four species. The lulav having taste but no smell symbolizes those who study Torah but do not practice loving kindness. Myrtle, smelling good but having no taste, symbolizes those who have no knowledge of Torah but do practice loving kindness. The Willow, lacking both taste and smell, symbolizes those who lack both knowledge of Torah and loving kindness. The etrog having both wonderful smell and taste represents those who both study Torah and practice loving kindness. However, whoever came up with this obviously never tasted an etrog. The aroma is heavenly but they are bitter beyond measure. Another tradition relates the four species to the four letters of God’s name, the Tetragrammaton.

So, just before the Sabbath Mike picked up the four species as instructed and shook them in seven directions, having first said the proper blessing. The seven directions were to the left, to the right, over the left shoulder, over the right shoulder, up, down, and forward. There are many rabbinic interpretations for the reasons for the waving in these directions. One interpretation has to do with a prayer for abundant rainfall for all the vegetation of the earth in the coming year. Another interpretation has to do with the acknowledgment of the universal presence of God always and everywhere.

The number seven has mystical significance in many traditions and domains. The mystical importance of the number seven could be related to the fact that seven is the largest single integer that is a prime number. No doubt there are many other reasons as well. The idea of the seven directions is prominent in Native American spirituality. While there are four acknowledged directions, North, South, East, and West, in sacred ceremony one also acknowledges up for Father Sky, down for Mother Earth, and within for the spirit that dwells within each person. Also found in Native American religious tradition are the seven spiritual gifts of White Buffalo Calf Woman. Roman Catholics acknowledge the seven sorrows, or Dolores, of the Virgin Mary. Christian tradition recognizes seven gifts of The Holy Spirit: Wisdom, Knowledge, Counsel, Fortitude, Understanding, Piety, and Fear of the Lord. The rabbis acknowledge seven fruits that were brought as offerings to the temple at the time of Shavuot, the first harvest festival, which occurs 49 days (seven times seven) after Passover. These first fruits according to Kabbala, the Jewish system of mysticism, correspond to the seven lower sefirot. Exploration of this is worth another whole blog which maybe I’ll get to some time. But briefly, here is what I understand about the seven fruits:
Wheat symbolizes chesed, or kindness.

Barley symbolizes gevura, or restraint.

Grapes symbolize tiferet, or beauty.

Figs symbolize netzach, or endurance.

Pomegranates symbolize hod, or majesty and glory.

Olives symbolize yesod, or foundation.

Dates symbolize malchut, or kingdom.

It is believed that the eating of these seven foods mindfully can promote a spiritual path and deepen one’s relationship with God. It’s kind of like the spiritual act of a cat killing and eating a mouse. It’s the perfect execution of God’s will.

Well, that’s all the news from Happy Meadows for now. Be well, be safe, and may all your ceremonies be happy ones as you progress down your (hopefully) spiritual path. . Sholom y’all!