The Familiar

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This is Cu Gwyn, my black cat.

Last month, Jeff was away for two weeks traveling for work, and Cu Gwyn kept me company. He keeps me company most days when I’m working from home. If I’m at my desk, he’ll fold himself onto the windowsill to watch the birds in the neighbor’s trees. If I’m working on my laptop, he’ll curl up next to me on the futon on his favorite pillow.

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The first day Jeff was traveling, he did the whole texting-you-during-my-layover-to-say-my-plane-didn’t-crash thing. And I sent him back the usual saying-I-love-you-in-case-you-die-a-tragic-fiery-death. I took a quick picture of Cu, who was watching me from the comfy chair, and sent it along with the caption “Your reason to come home again.”

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That’s how it started. The next day, when we checked in with each other (me from the futon, Jeff from his hotel room), I took another picture of the cat to send to him. “Remember, Cu Gwyn misses you, so you have to stay safe and come home soon.” After that, it became a kind of tradition. Each day while he was away, I sent Jeff a picture of the cat.

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Because I’m a perfectionist (and a slightly strange person), things quickly spun out of control. I became somewhat obsessed with taking adorable cat pictures to send to my adoring husband. To mix things up a bit, I began stalking the cat around the house looking for moments when he was doing something especially precious.

Dinner time was particularly good for getting him to hold still.

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Catching him in the window was a bit more difficult. When he’s intent on birdwatching, he doesn’t like to be disturbed. When he’s bored, lazily looking for something to entertain him, he’s much more nosey about why I’m hovering around with a clicky-noise-maker-box pointed in his direction.

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The more pictures I took, the more I found myself entranced with the little details.

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The way his tail curved.

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The way his nose glistened.

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The way sunlight illuminated the fur of his paws.

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The way he could drape himself almost anywhere.

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The way his black form defined the space around it, a kind of dark gravity that drew forward shapes and contours and textures, playing havoc with foreground and background.

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I especially liked when he curled up next to me on the futon, like an inkblot spilled across a canvas.

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In case you’re wondering if this post is going anywhere, the simple answer is: no.

This post is about small things. It’s about moments that we take for granted.

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It’s about the simple companionship of ordinary objects and creatures and beings, and the way their presence shapes our lives even when we think we’re not paying attention.

A part of us is always paying attention. There is always something within us that is attending to the textures and contours of things, that responds to the way that light falls or a curtain moves near an open window.

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There is no big revelation here. I took a bunch of pictures of my cat and put them on the internet. I write this post in defiance of the expectation that only big revelations matter. I write this post in homage to the repetition of small rituals, in honor of grounding and connecting and self-care. I write this post because our life is overwhelmingly composed of background — light, texture, shape, movement, quiet, stillness — and background makes all the difference.

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In a dream I had last May, I am driving along winding, bumpy backroads in a large station wagon with an older woman next to me. In the backseat, there are a lot of suitcases all piled up, and a black cat and a little girl. In my journal, I wrote:

“The cat is like an anchor, blinking impassively, like a black hole or a stitch of thread that penetrates all time and holds my mind together.”

Maybe this is what familiar really means to a witch.

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Alison Leigh Lilly nurtures the earth-rooted, sea-soaked, mist-and-mystic spiritual heritage of her Celtic ancestors, exploring themes of peace, poesis and wilderness through essays, articles, poetry and podcasting. You can learn more about her work here.

12 Comments

  1. excentric
    Apr 12, 2014

    This post is very zen. I like it. I have a (mostly) black cat, too, and she is fascinating to observe. Very cute, too. :)

    • Alison Leigh Lilly
      Apr 12, 2014

      Every day I am astounded all over again by how cute cats manage to be. :) They seem to have infinite reserves of it…

  2. Raven
    Apr 12, 2014

    This was a beautiful post! Loved seeing pictures of Cu, too <3

    • Alison Leigh Lilly
      Apr 12, 2014

      Aww, thanks! Cu was a natural born superstar. I hate to say it, but all this internet fame has gone straight to his head… ;)

  3. Lori
    Apr 12, 2014

    Lovely post. Cu is an adorable subject. Though I don’t often comment, I immensely enjoy reading every email post alert that shows up with your name on it. Your writing is observant, grounding, contemplative. I am so grateful.

    • Alison Leigh Lilly
      Apr 12, 2014

      Lori, Yay! I’m so glad you like the email newsletter! I’m actually playing with some ways to make it even better (including some special features just for newsletter subscribers)…. So it’s good to know I have at least one person who actually reads them!

  4. Alice Mae Lewis
    Apr 12, 2014

    Just wonderful. A reminder of how important these “small” things are in our life. … and how much awareness they can bring us. If we will still ourselves and pay a bit of attention to them! Cats have a way of making us do that. (I have a whole herd of felines!) Cu is simply gorgeous and obviously a fine companion and teacher. As for his new found fame going to his head….. may he thoroughly enjoy the adoration!

  5. Kristie
    Apr 14, 2014

    You have a beautiful way with words. I also have a mostly black cat. She was named Paint by my 7 year old niece because she has these specks of white here and there, like she has brushed against white paint. I can watch her for hours, the way she moves when she stretches is mesmerising. When she sits on the back of the couch and looks down at me I can see why the Egyptians saw the divine in the feline.

  6. Heather
    Apr 16, 2014

    I think that often the “small things” are more important to our everyday lives than the “big things” (jobs, money, education, etc.) that supposedly make up the “real world.” I think it’s these small things, and taking the time to appreciate them, that help us to feel content with our lives.

    And, of course, Cu is a lovely cat. I need to start taking more photos of my cats.

  7. Susannah
    May 23, 2014

    Love this. Beautiful photos, a wonderful black cat, doing what cats do best; just being. And a timely reminder to pay attention to the background of our lives.

    I found the link to your blog on Heather’s “At the Edge of the Ordinary” blog, here: http://edgeoftheordinary.wordpress.com/2014/05/22/my-favourite-pacific-northwest-bloggers/

    I’m grateful to her; I love your blog. I’ll be visiting often.

    • Alison Leigh Lilly
      May 23, 2014

      Hi, Susannah! Welcome. :) It’s so cool to hear how readers find their way here. I’m a huge fan of Heather’s blog, too, and it’s awesome to connect with other PNW/BC bloggers!

  8. Lisa
    Jun 15, 2014

    The longer our feline is a part of our lives, the more we understand each other. It’s purely magical.

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