It was a quiet morning at work one day in 1994 when I got a call from a colleague with news from across campus.
"I've rescued a litter of kittens from under our building," she said. "There's only one left; do you know anyone who wants a kitten?"
I hesitated for a minute. My husband had threatened to leave if I brought home any more animals.
"I don't," I answered, truthfully. But then, already knowing the answer, I asked, "What color is the kitten?"
Sure enough, the kitten was black.
I have an overarching fondness for black animals. My favorite pet of all time, George (the cat you see in my picture on this blog's profile page) had died in 1989, and since then I hadn't had another all-black cat.
And this rescued kitten was most certainly all black. She was also incredibly tiny. When I held her, she fit in the palm of my hand. My heart melted.
She went back with me to my office for the rest of the day, then straight to the vet's so she could be ruled out for diseases before being taken home to meet my other animals.
I called Forrest when I got back to my desk. I held the kitten in one hand, the phone in the other. "A kitten needs our help," I told him.
"All right, but I'm leaving," was his reply.
Later on, he told me that his co-workers gave him some grief for his unyielding stance. "How could you be so mean?" they asked. To which he replied, "Do you think anything I say will affect whether she brings this kitten home or not?"
We named her Isis. I was doing a lot of reading at the time about the re-awakening of female/goddess energy, so Isis seemed a good pick for the name of a magical, mystical kitty.
Her tininess and inexperience with the world were remarkable. Because I knew small kittens need to eat frequently, I'd put her at her food dish whenever I got up at night to use the bathroom. From this, she learned that Human Getting Up = Trip to Food Bowl, so even long after she was grown, when I'd get up, she'd get up and run to the bowl. I'm sure these nocturnal trips over the years added to her soft, feminine kitty curves.
I also had to teach her how to use the litter box, but I will spare readers that particular part of the story.
Where Myrtle had a most definite, strong-girl-cat personality, Isis was a quieter soul. She was content to stay in the background and let other cats take center stage, but over time she developed her own center-stage act. Not wanting to deprive her of the attention claimed by our other pets, we created a ritual that we called "Worshiping the Goddess" that involved picking Isis up and loving up on her until the purrs became deafening. She ate up this affection, and we were happy to give it.
One year I sent the picture of her, above, to a pen pal from a Buddhist discussion list. I hadn't gotten to know him very well, but it was Halloween and it seemed like a good time to share a picture of a black cat. "What a magnificent cat," he wrote back. Yes, she was.
Isis and Myrtle became good friends. I thought this was unusual for girl cats who weren't litter mates, but they'd hang out together, eat together, and curl up and sleep together. Many cool or downright cold nights, they'd join me in bed for a cuddlefest.
Isis died last July 31, a victim of lymphoma. My Buddhist calendar said that was Guru Rinpoche's birthday--a day set aside to honor Padmasambhava, who is credited with firmly establishing the practice of Buddhism in Tibet and whose energy is, even today, said to be responsible for establishing Buddhism in the wild borderlands where there are beings who are difficult to tame.
Isis wasn't difficult to tame, but she is difficult to miss. I miss her every day. She and Myrtle are buried together--in death as they were in life--near the Buddha statue in our front yard.
So at Halloween, traditionally a time for honoring those whose lives were lost in the past year, it seems fitting to post this tribute to her. She was much loved, and gave much love in return.
OM MANI PADME HUNG.