Tag Archives: sadness



My cat is dying.

She’s a beautiful cobby-shaped black and white longhair of undetermined breed with gem-like green eyes. We found her wandering outside our church, skinny and bedraggled. We brought her food, but she wanted to be petted more than she wanted to eat. When a raccoon ate all the food we brought her, we decided to take her home. She’s been home for sixteen years.

Her name is Spot. I named her Spot because I was six. Also, she has a black spot on her tiny pink nose.

She is the best cuddle buddy. She always knows when I’m sick or sad, and whenever I’m either of those she’s right next to me, in my lap, or curled up on my chest, her deep, rumbling purr vibrating through my bones and shaking all the broken pieces back into place.

In cat years, she’s 80 years old, but she still plays with bits of string or catnip mice like a kitten. She has a habit of finding a toy, putting it in her mouth, standing in the most resonant place in the house, and howling to get our attention. It’s annoying, but iconic.

Spot is the queen of the roost. The other cats are bigger than her and much younger than her, but Spot only has to look at them archly to have them back down and behave. Occasionally, our middle cat Dot will get in a violent mood and need to be extracted from underneath a piece of furniture. Once she had wedged herself under my nightstand and wasn’t at all eager to be pulled out. Dot’s a big cat and very strong—Spot is small and frail. But when Dot angrily latched onto my hand, Spot attacked Dot in my defense and made her let go. Spot is not the kind of cat to attack anyone or anything, but she would not stand for anyone hurting me.

She misses me. I know people joke about how cats don’t care when their humans are gone, but Spot always very distressed when she sees me packing a suitcase. But when she sees me unpacking a suitcase or bringing in boxes of dorm accoutrements, she’s all purrs and affectionate rubs around the ankles. 

Spot loves to watch the outdoors. While she never wanted to return—she bristles at the sound of loud trucks and dogs barking, indicating she’s had nasty encounters with both—she loves wide windows. She loves car rides and watching the world whiz by. She loves basking in pools of sunlight. She loves watching birds and squirrels and falling snowflakes.

But more than anything else, she loves to curl up with me and be scratched between the ears.

We found out she has thyroid cancer about a year ago. Last week we noticed a sore in her mouth, and when the vet examined her and did some tests, he found out the cancer had spread to her mouth. She has 38 days left to live.

The things is—she knows it. She knows she’s sick. She knows she’s dying. Dot knows it too—despite their occasional tussles, Dot idolizes her—and stays with her all the time.

Spot spends even more time looking out of windows—even late at night when there’s nothing to see. She wants to spend all her time with me. Right now she’s curled into a ball next to me on the couch. She’ll leave her usual resting places and seek me out, patting me on the arm to be petted, purring wildly. And she gets agitated whenever she sees me cry.

“Don’t do that. Don’t be silly, human. Just pet me. It will be okay.”

I hate to see her hurt. And she does hurt. She’s learned how to ask for pain medicine. It hurts her to eat, so she doesn’t eat much, and she didn’t eat much before this started. I don’t want her to hurt, but there’s nothing I can do about it but do what she wants—pet her, brush her, hug her, and let her wake me up in the morning.

She’ll probably go while I’m in Croatia. I’d like to think that she wants it that way. 


A Little Fall of Rain


Not all of the world’s lovely music is in a major key. Some music rests in minor, passing over our senses subtly, smoothly. It does not call of attention or demand a change of mood. But to the listener whose heart is predisposed to sadness, the ebb and flow of music in a minor key frees up knots of emotion that would have remained tied otherwise.

There is a place for sadness in everyone’s life. Normally I talk about happiness on this blog, but tonight I’d like to take a break and give due credit to sadness, especially sadness without a cause.

Normally we feel sad for a definite reason: a death in the family, a breakup, a national crisis, a failed interview, or even something small like not doing well on a quiz. But every so often, sadness creeps into our lives unbidden and seemingly without motive.

This sadness does not feel the same way that the other kinds do. Other kinds of sadness roar into our lives, shackle us, and drag us into inescapable tar pits of unpleasant emotions. No, this is a gentle sadness, like a misting rain. It casts a grey shadow over you for a day or two, softly laying down a coat of dampness that slows your thinking ever so slightly, as though you were watching the world from behind a foggy window. This sadness does not make you want to cry, but only to think while curled up in a blanket and listening to the softest or most profound of your favorite songs.

Far from torturous, this soft sadness does not bring to mind all of the mistakes you’ve made or all the people you miss. It reminds you of nothing but itself, becoming a memory in and of itself. It is a productive sadness: it drives you to think of word combinations or images you had never even dreamed of before, and soon the cup of herbal tea that had occupied your hands is replaced by a pen and paper. Before long, you find yourself drawing with words or pictures, moved by the tide of sadness and the sound of music.

When the rain clouds pass, their work complete, they leave the air fresher and the grass greener. Likewise, when this causeless sadness passes—whether after a long nap or a long time alone—we are left a little fresher and more joyful for having a reprieve from endless exuberance. All sunshine and no rain, the grass will never grow. All happiness and no interludes of sadness, and neither will we.

This inexplicable sadness passes quickly, like a minor line in a passage of music that is mostly major. It winds itself around us for a moment, reminding us that sadness can be beautiful, before resolving itself in a major chord.


Of Chocolate and Dying Carnations


The only thought in my head at the moment, aside from the thought “hallelujah, it’s Friday” is the thought of the wilted carnations sitting atop the mini-fridge at the foot of my bed. They were a gift from a friend, and they lasted a blessedly long time. Now they’re wilted. I’m tired enough right now that the sight of those blackening carnations makes me sad.

It reminds me of a poem I performed once upon a time. A long, rambling, and lovely poem by the genius Carl Sandburg: “Little Word, Little White Bird.” It’s a poem that attempts to define the undefinable, and it’s too long to reprint in full, but here is a section:

“And are they after beguiling and befoozling us
when they tell us love is a rose, a red red rose,
the mystery of leaves folded over and under
and you can take it to pieces and throw it away
or you can wear it for a soft spot of crimson
in your hair, at your breast,
and you can waltz and tango wearing your sweet crimson rose
and take it home and lay it on a window sill and see it
until one day you’re not careful
and it crackles into dust in your hand
and the wind whisks it whither you know not,
whither you care not,
for it is just one more flame of a rose
that came with its red blush and crimson bloom
and did the best it could with what it had
and nobody wins, nobody loses,
and what’s one more rose
when on any street corner
in bright summer mornings
you see them with bunches of roses,
their hands out toward you calling,
Roses today, fresh roses,
fresh-cut roses today
a rose for you sir,
the ladies like roses,
now is the time,
fresh roses sir.

And I’m waiting–for days and weeks and months
I’ve been waiting to see some flower seller,
one of those hawkers of roses,
I’ve been waiting to hear one of them calling,
A cabbage with every rose,
a good sweet cabbage with every rose,
a head of cabbage for soup or slaw or stew,
cabbage with the leaves folded over
and under like a miracle
and you can eat it and stand up and walk,
today and today only your last chance
a head of cabbage with every single lovely rose.
And any time and any day I hear a flower seller so calling
I shall be quick and I shall buy
two roses and two cabbages,
the roses for my lover
and the cabbages for little luckless me.
Or am I wrong–is love a rose you can buy and give away
and keep for yourself cabbages, my lord and master,
cabbages, kind sir?
I am asking, can you?”

And with that thought, I return to my melancholy tunes and my bar of chocolate. Have a poetical weekend, everyone.