For over a decade, among my closest friends was Ginger, a calico cat rescued from the wild. Beautiful, with striking markings, she had a feral streak and the classic temperamental calico personality. We had our roommate clashes; she was not the docile type and liberally used claws and teeth to make a point. Once, during a claw trim, I squeezed her paw, she bit my hand, and I ended up in the ER (think IV antibiotics and two nights hospitalized).
But Gingy was also affectionate (nudge, nudge, purr, purr) and amusingly smart. I taught her tricks: how to fetch, how to sit on command. Eventually she became a cozy lap cat (still fierce, but sweet, too). When my boyfriend met her, she was at her prime and won him over with her slinky athleticism, iron will, and haughty intelligence. She adored him, perhaps because she could sense that he loved her unconditionally. Me? She recognized my occasional exasperation with her, and she’d snub me in return. But she also knew where she stood with me: We were like sisters, with a complex but deep history.
In her last year, she developed a string of serious illnesses that markedly slowed her down: emergency bladder rupture; radioactive-iodine therapy for hyperthyroidism; diabetes and insulin shots. Finally, irreversible congestive heart failure was too taxing for her little body (which I’d for years considered too hefty at 12 to 13 pounds).
Despite her cardiorespiratory difficulty, however, she continued her daily household “duties.” She woke when I woke; she tried to eat (despite low appetite) to please my boyfriend and me; she groomed herself; she purred when stroked. She kept her official job as front-door greeter, although exhaustion eventually kept her sedentary, lying under my desk almost all day. Even sleeping, however, she was a great helper to us humans, simply by her presence. And she looked fantastic till the end.
Now, I might sound like a crazy cat person, but to me she was embodying the definition of karma yoga: To do one’s duties, or dharma, in life, without concern for reward.
During her last months and weeks, there was no getting better. No matter what she did, there would be no payoff, no miraculous recovery. But she kept going, as best as she could.
Gingy was my first and only cat, and I made mistakes raising her. Thus the hours we spent together at the end—me writing, she dozing with an occasional check-in meow—meant the world to me. She was a no-BS type of cat. By seeking solace in my company, she gave me the greater gift.
If (or, I should say, when) I am someday in her situation, I hope to live as honestly, gracefully, and fiercely as she did.