Recently, during the opening of a story I told onstage, I said that naming something has a way of diminishing it. The people, creatures, and other life on this earth are so much more than the names we give them.
Two days ago I said goodbye to my cat Rhiannon, so named because I knew she came as my teacher. Once upon a time, when I finally had the wherewithal to pick through my set of “Goddess Cards,” Rhiannon stood out as the purrfect name for my new friend: “She is an embodiment of life, death, and rebirth, for in her realm there is no death without regeneration. Her name derives from Rigantona, which means ‘great queen.’ She is a shape-shifter…a muse…a regal figure symbolic of rejuvenation, beauty, and strength, and instinctual masculine energy. She demands that we honor our instinctual and animal selves as a source of creativity, abundance, and order.”
Seventeen years ago, I was in serious need of some masculine energy and regeneration when a friend suggested that I consider getting a kitten. After a devastating loss, I plummeted into an emotional desert, every sense flat-lined, white noise, dead inside in a way that felt inescapable, yet at the same time I had no available energy to do anything about it. I was slipping down the shadow side of what felt like way too many losses for one person to endure.
There I was in a ten by ten foot, off the grid cabin – homeless in a sense, yet graced to have a roof over my head on the property of friends while I began the process of putting my life back together. The 6 week old kitten, whose mother was feral, was the last of her litter to be adopted. As I watched her tentatively sniff every corner of our temporary home, I thought that helping to recover my feelings was an unfair burden to place on one so small. However, my wise human friend not only proposed the idea, but supported it by offering to care for this little one in her home during my work hours.
For the next three months, kitten and I were bunk mates. Due to my inner state of emptiness and fouled creativity, she remained frostily nameless while her personality blazed hotter than the small fireplace that kept us warm. She waved her kitten smile like a white flag, “Surrender, Robin! Surrender!” When that didn’t work she dove under a chair and reappeared like a decked out clown, her face and whiskers draped with dust bunnies, cobwebs, and dead insects. Or she did somersaults on the bunk, tumbled over the edge, and landed on all fours like a seasoned acrobat. “Surrender! Surrender!”
Still no emotion emerged. Cleaning her litter box, dropping her off at the big house and picking her up, feeding times and play times all merged into one murky vignette. Not even crawling down the dark recesses of my sleeping bag to fall asleep licking my toes was enough to stir my hibernating affections.
This was one persistent kitten. Down the middle of her white and gray tiger-striped back, was a distinct lightning bolt shape. During momentary lapses in unconsciousness, I found myself smiling as she darted around the tiny cabin, “Hey Lightening! You’re pretty fast!” When I walked in the door of the big house she was eager to show me how the other human taught her the game of “Hide Peekaboo.” I was instructed to sit at the top of the stairs and ask, “Where’s kitty?” On cue, kitten popped her head around the corner, then disappeared back behind the wall. I could almost hear kitten laughter as her eyes grew large and her fur bristled. “Surrender? Surrender yet?”
When we finally had our own home to settle into, kitten had a whole new, expanded set of explorations to pursue. It was here on two and a half acres where she grew into a lioness, stalking “prey” such as deer and turkey with no concern that she dwarfed in size comparison. It was here, where she claimed her territory and continued the antics of running, jumping, stretching, carousing, that a tiny crack appeared in the door to my instinctual, animal self. I joined kitten outdoors as I weeded, raked, trimmed, and clipped.
It was outdoors in Kitty Domain where I realized that one of her dark patches of fur formed a purrfect heart. Somehow a kitten with a heart emblazoned on her coat was placed on my path, just when I needed her. “Lightening Heart” I sometimes called to her. That felt more like a spirit name, one known only to her and I. So I gave in to the ongoing queries and crowned her with the formal name she carried through all of our meetings of new friends and neighbors. “Rhia-a-a-non! Rhee-ahhh-non! Rhee? Come here Rhee! Bad kitty, crossing the road.”
Indeed she demonstrated the “Great Queen,” ruling the kingdom when I had the audacity to bring a dog on board. Though curious and even amenable to occasional dog-side naps in a shared sun spot, a discriminating taste left “dog” out of her standard vocabulary and she charged me with the transgression when I’d hear a sudden canine yelp or caught the acrid scent of cat protest in unacceptable places.
So it was that, in the daily raising of “Rhee,” my shape shift was accomplished. It is not possible, without a lobotomy, to keep feelings at bay when a cat sits purring beneath your touch. It is not possible to hold back emotion when you discover your feline friend, who in the process of running with glee, has just catapulted (pun intended) through the air and gotten speared in the belly by a stick. It is not possible to be anything but excruciatingly aggravated when a cat shreds your favorite chair into a heap of threads and polyfluff while refusing to use the nearby scratching post. It is also not possible to smile at the determination and prowess at getting her own way… to be fed, to be played with or cuddled, and ultimately to be returned to her outdoor sovereignty.
Yes, this kitty cat was larger than any name that might try to restrain her. This feline lived beyond her name, in common terms, as my pet. But no, she was a soul mate. No one will ever be able to convince me that there is need for naming or room for making small as in “She was just a cat, what are you so upset about?” I sit looking out on her immense kingdom and tears fall. Yet no one will ever be able to convince me that she isn’t out there, frolicking, capering, and romping in the sunshine, haughtily swiping at objects of displeasure, claiming a new autonomy.
There IS a heaven for all of us. Thanks to Rhiannon, I can feel it. Heaven is in my heart and the collective of hearts of those who knew her. That’s where I will go when my time comes.