A Memorial To Diana

Our cat, Diana, died yesterday. We had her put to sleep because it was all we could do for her. It was time, and I have no doubts about it  being the right decision. She was ready. Nonetheless, it is hard.

Diana was with me for 14 years. I acquired her (or vice versa) during the weekend of July 4th, 2004. She was never what you would call a typical cat. When young, she loved to play fetch with some foam rubber  balls. As she grew older, she became more interested in seeing if she could teach the humans to fetch the balls, dropping them farther and farther from whomever was throwing the balls for her.

She wanted affection on her terms…which usually meant just as I was falling asleep in bed. She would come up to us and tap me gently with her paw to get my attention. Usually she would start by tapping on a hand or a shoulder, but if I didn’t respond to that, she would tap my nose or eyelids.

Diana was named for the Roman Goddess. She entered my household when she was 3 months old as a companion for Artemis (who was then just over a year and a half). Her name, on entry, was Tango, and she’d had a somewhat hard life. She was living in a tiny studio apartment with 2 humans and 3 or 4 other cats. In contrast, my much larger studio, with just myself and Artemis, seemed luxurious. She was tiny at the time. In the evenings, after work, I would come home and lie down on the couch to watch a baseball game. She would climb up on me, snuggle in the crack between my bicep and my chest (from the armpit to the elbow) and sleep. She was so tiny that all of her body would fit just between my armpit and elbow.

She grew, and became somewhat stand-offish. Eva and myself she could take or leave. However, there were some friends whom she allowed special privileges. Neither Eva nor myself would ever have been allowed to flip her upside down like this.

Artemis adopted her and treated her as her kitten, grooming her and taking care of her, which was a good thing, because Diana couldn’t really keep herself properly groomed. She just didn’t care that much for her appearance, though she was beautiful. For years, Artemis would groom her, and Diana would let her. Sometime, around the last 5 years or so, Diana decided she was too old to be groomed by Artemis, and she didn’t want to be bossed around by Artemis any more. As a result, I spent every more time cutting dreadlocks out of Diana’s coat.

She wasn’t always the most elegant cat. She had medium length hair, which got pretty hot at times. So she would sometimes sit in positions which were not the most elegant.

Diana was a brave cat, most of the time. Dogs didn’t phase her. In fact, for the year we had a dog (Snowball–named by a 7 year old, not us), she terrorized the dog psychologically. She would casually saunter between Snowball and her rawhide bone. Diana had no interest in the rawhide bone, but it flipped Snowball out, so Diana started to do it deliberately. It took us forever to catch

on and figure out why Snowball would suddenly start barking. Diana also loved to perch atop Snowball’s kennel and peer down into it.

Diana loved thunderstorms, and would happily watch lightening with me, no matter how loud the thunder was.

Diana did, however, have two mortal enemies: The UPS man and the doorbell. For reasons known only to Diana, the UPS man was terrifying. Not Fed Ex, not US Mail, just UPS. She could distinguish the sound of a UPS truck from half a block away. She tell the difference in sound between the UPS truck and the Fed Ex truck. And she would scurry away at her fastest speed. The doorbell was also scary. People at the door were okay, but the doorbell itself was terrifying. She was a strange cat.

Diana was not particularly motivated by food, which meant that we often struggled to get her to keep weight on. Note, here, Diana deigning to eat, if it doesn’t inconvenience her too much. She didn’t have any foods she particularly loved, and tended to prefer dry food to wet food.

Chewing on plastic was always a favorite pastime. She loved the heavy-weight plastics, like those found in ziplock baggies, but she was flexible. Any plastic bag we left hanging around she would be delighted to pattern with her teeth marks.

Diana had a close relationship with Artemis for most of her life. They would hang together, sleep together. They were usually perfectly happy hanging out together, though sometimes Diana did create a bit of trouble. She would at times hunt Artemis’ tail, or do other things to try to provoke her sister (not biological sister, but definitely how I thought of them).

Diana love to hide in small spaces. She would find a favorite hiding place, and use it for all it was worth. Whenever I moved, Diana would find a spot in the new house and stay there, sometimes for days. Usually it was a spot I just couldn’t find.

Diana was a wonderful cat. We will miss her terribly. She has been a part of my life for almost all of my adult life. I’m not sure what life will be like without her. I will miss her. I’m pretty sure Artemis misses her. I know Eva misses her.

Jewish Spirituality Rabbinic spirituality

Science and Religion

Recently, I’ve been thinking more and more about the intersection of science and religion, or more precisely, about the discussion of the intersection of science and religion. In general, I’m finding myself frustrated by most (though not all) of the discussion.

On the one hand, you have the scientists, such as those writing in New Scientist. In general, I really like New Scientist, but there seems to be a strong editorial bias towards the belief that science must somehow displace religion. Frequently they point out that the existence of God cannot be proven, and that the assertions made by relgion are not subject to scientific validation.

On the other hand, we have those of the religious right who want to rework science to fit with religious doctrine. The most obvious example of this is those who want to teach intelligent design as a scientific alternative to evolution.

I am deeply frustrated with this. To the scientists, I would like to say that you are missing the point. Religion isn’t supposed to be verifiable. Science tries to answer the question, “how does the universe work?” Religion is interested in the question, “why does the universe work?” Not “why” in the sense of what is the mechanism, but “why” in the sense of “what is the meaning that can be drawn from this.” To critique religion as faulty because it is not verifiable is like critiqueing words because they aren’t numbers. Words and numbers serve different purposes and answer different questions. I, like most religious individuals, believe that science does truly describe the nature of the world, and believe that scientific understanding is one form of spiritual contemplation of the universe.

Then we have the folks who believe that religion describes scientific reality more clearly than scientific research. They believe that the universe could not exist without a creator, because the Bible says there was a creator. To these people, I wish to point out that religion is, inherently, METAPHOR. Religious texts are to be understood as metaphors (or to use an engineering term, schematics). They validly describe the world in a certain way, but do not describe all the ways in which the world works. These texts will often describe the Divine as one would a person; clearly they should not be understood to imply that God has a physical, humanlike presence (at least from a Jewish point of view, the question might be a little murkier for Christianity, but only a little). Metaphor works by comparing something which is difficult to understand to something which is easier to understand. Almost always, some precision is lost in the process.

So I want to end with a request: will everyone please play nice and stay in your own sandboxes?! To the scientists I wish to say, please stay out of making statements about the nature of religion. I don’t talk about what is good or bad scientific method or principles. Please leave the discussion of what is valid or invalid theology to those of us with some training and interest in the matter.

To you who believe that religious texts should dictate or inform scientific research or results: Again, please stay out of areas in which you are not a professional. Science has/is a methodology. It functions within a set of rules and understandings, and faith does not and should not have a place in determining scientific findings. Faith may have a great deal to say about the implications of those findings, what we should do as a result of those findings or how those findings may change society, but not about what the findings themselves are.

And now, everyone please behave.

End of rant.

General Jewish Spirituality spirituality

A Prayer for a Dead Pet: Chloe didn't Make it

So, it turned out that Chloe was too far gone, and after two days of improvements, she seemed to give up, and after two days of decline, it was time to let her go. We’re obviously sad, but as we only knew her six days, the grief is mild.

Nonetheless, it sparked thoughts in me, wondering what prayer one should say on the death of a pet. And working within the Jewish tradition, I’ve composed the following:

God, full of love, dwelling in the spirit of all life, may the spirit of ___________ be accepted into your love. By the merit of his/her love, may his/her spirit live on in the love of all life. And let us say, Amen.

Edited: I’ve managed to create a Hebrew version of the text below:

General Jewish Spirituality spirituality

Rethinking Tisha B'Av

Tisha B’av is coming up on Sunday, and as I’m thinking about it this year, I find I’m thinking about it in a new way.   Tisha B’Av is a day of mourning for the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and the exile of the Jewish people from the land. Over the course of about 2.5 millenia, lots of other terrible things have happened on that day also, so they have been added  into our sense of mourning and fasting. Yet, as I think about the origins of the day, the original event, I find myself asking, “where would we be without the destruction?”

There are very few peoples who have maintained a culture over 2500 years, yet Judaism has. Obviously, there have been many changes, but we have maintained a root sense of being part of one people. And I believe that part of the reason that we have lasted so long is that we are a people without a land, that we are a people of exile.

When the Temple was destroyed, first in 587 B.C.(E.) and then again in A.D. 71 (C.E.), Judaism was faced with the prospect of ceasing to exist. Instead, a new form of the religion was created which was not based on Temple worship. Especially in the aftermath of the second destruction by the Romans, this new form of Judaism went on to become the only form of Judaism, which we practice today. Without the destruction of the Temple, Judaism as we know it today would not exist.

There are those who would say that without the destruction, we would still be practicing as the ancient Israelites did in the Temple in Jerusalem with animal sacrifice. I doubt it. Other peoples who at the time practiced animal sacrifice no longer do. In fact, most of those ancient religions have given way to other, newer religions, most often Christianity or Islam. Yet Judaism remains.

Judaism continues because we’ve been able to adapt to changing times and beliefs. We’ve been able to continue to renew Judaism in each generation, creating something which addresses the spiritual needs of the day. Yet without the destruction of the Temple, would we have been pushed to make that first critical step, breaking with a location based cult worship at the Temple? I tend to doubt it.

Maimonides teaches that Temple Worship was a “phase” of Judaism, which was used to wean the Jewish people from the sacrifice-based worship they had been used to before we receieved the Torah. That we were never intended to continue sacrificial worship, but to transcend it with the shift to prayer (which of course took place in the aftermath of the destruction of the Temple, roughly 1,000 years before Maimonides). I love this teaching, in that it says “that was right for that time, but this is right for now.” In fact, it feels very Reconstructionist to me. If we look at the destruction in this way, it becomes a necessary step, albeit a painful one, in the evolution of Judaism.

I am not seriously proposing that we transition Tisha B’Av from a fast day to a feast day. Regardless of the outcome of the destruction, we have only to read the Book of Lamentations (traditionally read on Tisha B’Av) to understand how awful the destruction must have been in terms of human suffering. And so I am caught between celebration and mourning. The process was truly horrible, but out of the destruction Judaism was reborn.

For my thoughts on Tisha B’Av two years ago, see here.

Tisha B’Av begins at sunset on Saturday August 09 and continues through sundown, Saturday, August 10, 2008.


Meet Chloe

Eva and I have adopted a new cat: This is her looking her best (which is rather unfortunate, aChloe's Faces we might wish that she would look considerably better). She was found 6 weeks ago on the side of the road, nearly dead. Since that time, she has been nursed back to health, put on some (but not nearly enough) weight, and tried to get run over by both a car and a horse.

Chloe’s Face

In any case, she is almost 4 pounds, and we’re hoping to fatten her up considerably over the coming months. We think a part of the issue is a hyperactive thyroid, which is making it difficult for her to gain weight. We now have her on thryroid meds, which we’re hoping will address most of her issues.

So, I’ve warned you, she’s very  thin, very underweight. Here is a more representative picture of her, which shows way too much of her skin and bones. She is looking a little bedraggled, despite the fact that this photo is after I gave her a bath and brushed her out (for the record, she hates baths).  We’ve named her Chloe. She is probably around 14 or 15 and seems quite social with people.

At this point, Chloe is still integrating into the household, and the other cats are not sure what to make of her. She is not so sure what to make of them either, though, so it seems to be ok.

Normally, I’d tell you more about her personality at this point, but we’re still getting to know her. She is so starved, that her personality seems to largely consist of needing huge amounts of sleep and not eating enough to make us happy (though she is always delighted when new food appears). We are looking forward to getting to know her better, and are excited to think that at some point her universe might expand beyond the 10 feet immediately around the food bowls, and down to the basement where the litter boxes are.

I am sure that there will be more details on Chloe in the weeks to come, as we nurse her back to health (we hope). But I figured I needed to give her a “coming out” post now.

knitting spirituality

Baby Blanket: Starting a New Relationship

Some very close friends of mine just had a child. In response, as the knitter I am, I am responding in the only appropriate way: knitting a baby blanket.

I want to create something soft and usable, which will be loved for years to come. I want to be able to protect and comfort a child entering into a world which is often threatening. I want to knit the closeness of my relationships with the infants parents into the blanket. I recognize I’m loading an awful lot onto this little blanket. I know it is very  possible that the blanket may be deeply appreciated by the parents, and completely snubbed by the child, and that’s okay. What’s important is that I make the effort.

Eva is also participating (the blanket is being worked in strips, so Eva is doing some, and I am doing some), which is an experiment, in that I’ve never worked collaboratively on a knitting project before. It adds an additional layer of complexity to the feelings. How do I know what she is kniting into the blanket (I know the sentiments will be positive, and appropriate, but they aren’t quite mine in the same way)? But I want Eva also to be able to take part, and so I’m sharing. Also, I’d like it to get done soonish, and having Eva also work on it helps in that effort. But it is a bit of  an exercise in letting go–which is probably healthy for me.

As I knit this blanket, I’m wondering who the child will be. I’m wondering what our relationship will be. It’s a conversation Eva and I have had with the parents, and while we’ve discussed our ideas and hopes, obviously the infant has not yet been consulted, much less the adolescent the infant will someday become. We set a plan in place, and wonder what it will become.

In the meantime, strips of a baby blanket slowly materialize off my needles.