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Cherished by those who know it

It's been years since I had a kitten in the house, probably a decade since I had a very young one. I had forgotten what their energy levels are like and how abruptly they make quantum leaps. I was completely unprepared for the kitten's anxiety at being newly separated from littermates, but fortunately that passed quickly.

The bonding has gone well. Today he's relaxed and friendly, purring easily and visiting me frequently as he tears around the apartment. He's starting to sleep on my bed during the rare occasions when he deigns to sleep at the same time as I do.

I had trouble coming up with a name. I flirted with names before I picked him up; the morning after I got him I found I was drawing a blank. Nothing seemed to fit.

When we recognize a tulku our chief objective is to have someone who can serve the dharma, and possesses a spiritual education and sound character. How would you like it if someone is pronounced as authentic and merely placed on the throne? -- The Panchen Lama in 1989

I still miss The Wabash Cannonball. It would be absurd for me not to. He was a devoted and supernaturally wonderful cat, bonded tightly to me by the trauma of the illness he suffered -- and recovered from -- shortly after I got him. That illness changed him. It didn't just require that he get used to some residual weakness after partial paralysis; his total dependence during his convalescence changed our interaction completely. He was almost entirely my creature after that, in need of my protection, yes, but appearing even to seek it actively.

As much as I want to recapture at least some of that, I still have misgivings about the completeness of Wabash's dependence and, even more so, about how much I enjoyed having him as a pet. I used to joke that he was the perfect companion, because he was brain damaged, castrated, and confined to my apartment. Ha ha only serious?

The City of New Orleans was obviously Miss Right Then rather than Miss Right, but I don't think people who enjoy cats in the first place can really choose when a cat comes into their lives. Cats appear when they need you, not necessarily when you need them. The decision needs to be made fairly quickly or makes itself.

Reincarnated tulkus all have special identifications on their bodies. They are able to recognize religious articles they have used in previous lives. -- Grand Master Sheng-yen Lu

I visited my friends to see this candidate kitten after dark on Independence eve. Newly brought into the house from his mother's nest outside, he was frightened, like his siblings, but quieter. He was not enthusiastic about the cat carrier, but he was quiet in the car. He made a perfunctory circuit around the apartment on being released.

My first thought on seeing him was that his markings are perfect. Over the last week, they have struck me as increasingly beautiful. Mind you, I've selected cats for beauty alone in the past and been punished for it, so I try to think of it as a gift rather than assign significance to it. The real test is the bonding.

It's going well, rapidly. His anxiety seemed to be completely gone within about 36 hours of arriving in my apartment, which he almost immediately (and correctly) identified as belonging to him, contents and all. And then he started doing wumpus things.

It started with the whistle I used to call Wabash. The City of New Orleans never cared for it much, but wumpus went nuts for it. The new kitty never fails to investigate it, even if he's been napping, to trot over and peek at me, his head at the optimal angle for the emission of cuterons. He sits on my cluttered desk for much of the day, although he doesn't seem intrigued by the clutter. Except the salt shaker. He loves it. Just like wumpus did. Then he did the most wumpus-like thing of all: he pulled off my glasses. Later, he did it again.

The naming of cats is a difficult matter. It isn't just one of your holiday games. -- T.S. Eliot

He became The Streamlined Cannonball, the successor to The Wabash Cannonball. I had never seriously considered this name, perhaps because the wumpus already held the namespace, fuzzily speaking. The idea of finding another wumpus was unreal to me after 10 years of Wabash's perfect charms followed by three years of their significant amplification in my memory by the disappointment of The City of New Orleans.

To name a thing is to know it. Names connect things, like family names. People have children to carry on their names. People choose names for their children that they hope their children will grow into. Adam cemented his dominion over the animals when he gave them their names.

I called the veterinarian to make his first appointment. He needs a distemper shot before he can get fixed. He needs a checkup just in general. That's when I realized, for the first time, that there's a chance that he's not healthy. There's a chance that he has leukemia or FIV. I experienced fear about his future, anxiety about his health, for the first time since I considered taking him.

A name changes a thing, makes it real. It awakens you to the possibility that it, like all things, is fleeting, perhaps more fleeting than you can stand to think about.

July 11, 2002