One day I saw that my cat Miko had gotten old and would soon die.
She still enjoyed watching a string of yarn twist and twirl around before her nose, but she no longer tried to catch it. She still carried herself with elegance, but was slower than she used to be. She had not lost her curiosity, but her eyes were jaded, as if she’d seen everything.
I think she knew her life was reaching its end.
Her fur was still a sleek, shiny black tempered with white splotches. She was still proud of her looks, perhaps a little vain. They say cats clean their fur to regulate the smell that might give them away to predators, but when Miko cleaned herself with such intense concentration, I couldn’t help suspect she wanted to look her best.
As I got used to the idea that I would soon have to say goodbye to a companion I had come to love and rely on as a part of my life, an old question surfaced once again – a question most cat lovers ask at one time or another:
Does Miko have a soul?
Then, sometimes, when I was watching her and pondering this question, she would pause in her cleaning and return my gaze as intensely and curiously as I was looking at her, as if she were asking herself the same question:
Do humans have souls?
Atheists scoff at the idea of the soul: Since God does not exist, they say, the soul cannot exist. Yet, when they get to talking about what it means to be human, they usually can’t help but use that word. Religious people, on the other hand, can’t imagine life without the soul, and there are few religions out there that do not believe in the soul in some way. Yet, even religious people have a hard time explaining exactly what it is.
That’s because in many ways, the soul is a metaphor for something we feel about ourselves but cannot clearly explain. When we ask, What is the soul? we are really asking, What does it mean to be human?
In this little book I will ask, first, what we mean when we talk about the soul. Then will I approach the question of whether these animal friends we love and have a relationship to, these cats and dogs, too, have souls, and what that means.
When your beloved cat dies, you grieve. You might even cry. That’s when, if you’re like most of us, you ask yourself: Am I being silly? She was just a cat, after all, not my daughter. Why am I so broken up about it?
It’s true that you will never love a cat like you love another human being, yet we still love our pets, and grieve them. Is that love ridiculous? Or is it real?
We apply the word love to a lot of things: We love that steak, we love our new car, we love that TV show. But when we say I love you to another person, the word has a different meaning. When we buy a new car and take the old clunker to the junk yard, we might pat its hood and say, “You served me well, friend; we had a lot of good memories together and I’m sorry to see you go.” But that’s not really love.
We only truly love something that can love us back. We may really like the new home entertainment system, but it does not converse with us, it cannot play with us, fight with us, expect something from us and desire to give us something, it cannot want to spend time with us, want to be near us. That special kind of love is reserved for living beings who can love us back. It is the love that comes from a giving and taking relationship in which two souls reach out to touch each other.
Our cat, unlike our car, appears to love us back. We imagine that it isn’t a one-way relationship, that she doesn’t have to love us, but chooses to.
But is that an illusion? When a cat curls up in our laps and purrs – is it because she loves us, or is it because our laps happen to be warm, and she knows that if she lets us pet her, we will give her food. Is that love, or is it manipulation? Manipulation and doing what you need to survive are animal instinct, but love is something deeper – love comes from a place we identify as the soul.
If a cat has a soul, she can love.
This book is collects what I found out about the soul, and whether the same things apply to our small, furry companions on our journeys through time and space. It is part essay about the souls in general, part essay about the souls of cats.
And for good measure, I threw in 12 heart-warming, thoughtful stories about cats and their larger, non-furry companions on their journeys though life.