Memories of Cats I Loved: Brother David Steindl-Rast

January 21, 2020

 

 

Mietzi, 1980s, New York City

For millennia, humans have speculated why some of us are born into riches, others into rags. If
we can’t answer this question for humans, how shall we answer it for cats? Bad karma, you
say? If so, Mietzi must have misbehaved quite badly in a previous incarnation to be born in a
flooded basement this time around. No one knows. What we do know, however, is that the most
disadvantaged pull most strongly on our heartstrings, and so someone rescued Mietzi and her
siblings from their sunless island of soggy rags. No one ever mentioned the mother cat, and I
don’t know what happened to the other kittens of that litter. All I know is that little Lisa
persuaded her reluctant grandmother, and so Mietzi became my mother’s cat.

After that deluged basement, even a tenth-floor New York apartment that was never designed
for pets must have appeared like paradise to the poor kitten. Or so we were hoping. Lisa
delivered Mietzi in a soft-cushioned basket, and the cat was still sitting in that basket when, after
an elaborate farewell from the cat, Lisa kissed her grandmother goodbye at the door. The door
closed, Mother turned around, and the basket was empty.

That the cat was gone was bad enough, but her pitiful meow was not gone. It kept haunting the
apartment for the next hour, while Mother, eventually with the help of her neighbors on both
sides, searched every corner so methodically that Scotland Yard would have been proud of that
job. The voice, unaccountably, always seemed to come from nowhere; yet it persisted.
When the ladies finally dismantled the Sony radio and hi-fi record player my mother won at a
raffle, Mietzi emerged from the only place where she could have gotten as covered with dust as

she did: one of the loudspeaker boxes. A bad start, especially since Mother felt that the kitten
needed a bath. (There must have been lots of water signs in Mietzi’s natal chart.)
No cat could have been more loved, more talked about in telephone conversations with children
and grandchildren, more lovingly reported on at length in every letter.

Mietzi wasn’t young anymore when Mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Mother was still at
home, and I was with her during the decisive days when the doctor was testing whether or not
medication could help her. I was sitting by Mother’s bed then, when Mietzi seemed to get ready
for an acrobatic stunt. Balancing on the back of the rocking chair, she was clearly considering
jumping from there onto a high chest of drawers.
Never before had she tried this. Ears laid back, Mietzi was measuring the distance. “Is she
going to make it?” I asked—and the moment the words were out, I realized that this was the
question my brothers and I were anxiously asking about Mother at that time. “Let’s see,” Mother
replied. Nothing else was said—neither then nor later—but both of us knew what was at stake.
There was no tinge of superstition about this. Everything hangs together with everything; we
know that. In principle then, we may look at one event and find in it a clue for quite a different
one, unconnected though they may appear to be. Some try this with tea leaves or planets;
others think that, in practice, this is too complex an art. There are moments, however, when an
omen lights up with such clarity that it would be difficult to deny its foreboding. Not wanting this
to be true, Mother and I knew, nevertheless, what was going on here.
Mietzi steadied herself on the back of the rocking chair, crouched, jumped, and missed. Have
you ever noticed the embarrassment of a cat when something like this happens? We tried to
console Mietzi, Mother and I, but we couldn’t quite console ourselves that evening.
The verdict was in. What was not decided was how we would handle it, and that is what really
matters.

Mother handled it with grace. Two days later, she was in the hospital again, never to return
home to Mietzi. Her mind was clear to the last, as she took care of unfinished business calmly
and efficiently. She knew in which folder important papers were kept, in which dresser; she
handed my brother the keys with a smile. Only once did she break down and cry: when Mietzi’s
future was to be decided. But a solution was found: since Mother’s apartment was at the same
time the office for her charitable work, which my brother would continue, Mietzi could stay where
she was. The “super” of the building, who was fond of Mietzi anyway, would look after her when
my brother wasn’t there.

Mother was at peace.
I sat next to her bed holding her hand, and she said, “This is how I’d like to die. You ought to sit
there holding my hand and I’d just fall asleep.”

“Well,” I said, “I’d like that, too, but we can’t plan it with such precision.” Not many hours later, I
was sitting in that very spot holding Mother’s hand when she went to sleep for good. So
peacefully did she breathe her last that there was no telling exactly when she passed from time
into the great Now.

Mietzi outlived her by a year or two, mercifully among her accustomed surroundings: the potted
plants on which she nibbled once in a while, the old rugs of which she knew every square inch
by their smell, and my mother’s empty armchair on which she curled up when she got lonely.

This is an excerpt from a story written by Brother David Steindl-Rast and featured in The Karma
of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from Our Feline Friends, a compilation of original stories by Kelly
McGonigal, Alice Walker, Andrew Harvey, and many more!

Brother David Steindl-Rast was born in Vienna, Austria, and holds a PhD from the
Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna. After 12 years of training in the 1,500-year-
old Benedictine monastic tradition, Brother David received permission to practice Zen with
Buddhist masters. An international lecturer and author, Brother David is a leader in the monastic
renewal movement as well as the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions. His most
recent book is i am through you so i. He is the founder of A Network for Grateful Living. Learn
more at gratefulness.org.

 

 

 

 

Read The Karma of Cats today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

 

David Steindl-Rast

Photo of ()\

Brother David Steindl-Rast was born in Vienna, Austria, and holds a PhD from the Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna. After 12 years of training in the 1,500-year-old Benedictine monastic tradition, Brother David received permission to practice Zen with Buddhist masters. An international lecturer and author, Brother David is a leader in the monastic renewal movement as well as the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions. His most recent book is Gratefulness, the Heart of Prayer.

Listen to Tami Simon's interview with David Steindl-Rast: Grateful Living in the “Double Realm”»

Also By Author

Memories of Cats I Loved: Brother David Steindl-Rast

 

 

Mietzi, 1980s, New York City

For millennia, humans have speculated why some of us are born into riches, others into rags. If
we can’t answer this question for humans, how shall we answer it for cats? Bad karma, you
say? If so, Mietzi must have misbehaved quite badly in a previous incarnation to be born in a
flooded basement this time around. No one knows. What we do know, however, is that the most
disadvantaged pull most strongly on our heartstrings, and so someone rescued Mietzi and her
siblings from their sunless island of soggy rags. No one ever mentioned the mother cat, and I
don’t know what happened to the other kittens of that litter. All I know is that little Lisa
persuaded her reluctant grandmother, and so Mietzi became my mother’s cat.

After that deluged basement, even a tenth-floor New York apartment that was never designed
for pets must have appeared like paradise to the poor kitten. Or so we were hoping. Lisa
delivered Mietzi in a soft-cushioned basket, and the cat was still sitting in that basket when, after
an elaborate farewell from the cat, Lisa kissed her grandmother goodbye at the door. The door
closed, Mother turned around, and the basket was empty.

That the cat was gone was bad enough, but her pitiful meow was not gone. It kept haunting the
apartment for the next hour, while Mother, eventually with the help of her neighbors on both
sides, searched every corner so methodically that Scotland Yard would have been proud of that
job. The voice, unaccountably, always seemed to come from nowhere; yet it persisted.
When the ladies finally dismantled the Sony radio and hi-fi record player my mother won at a
raffle, Mietzi emerged from the only place where she could have gotten as covered with dust as

she did: one of the loudspeaker boxes. A bad start, especially since Mother felt that the kitten
needed a bath. (There must have been lots of water signs in Mietzi’s natal chart.)
No cat could have been more loved, more talked about in telephone conversations with children
and grandchildren, more lovingly reported on at length in every letter.

Mietzi wasn’t young anymore when Mother was diagnosed with leukemia. Mother was still at
home, and I was with her during the decisive days when the doctor was testing whether or not
medication could help her. I was sitting by Mother’s bed then, when Mietzi seemed to get ready
for an acrobatic stunt. Balancing on the back of the rocking chair, she was clearly considering
jumping from there onto a high chest of drawers.
Never before had she tried this. Ears laid back, Mietzi was measuring the distance. “Is she
going to make it?” I asked—and the moment the words were out, I realized that this was the
question my brothers and I were anxiously asking about Mother at that time. “Let’s see,” Mother
replied. Nothing else was said—neither then nor later—but both of us knew what was at stake.
There was no tinge of superstition about this. Everything hangs together with everything; we
know that. In principle then, we may look at one event and find in it a clue for quite a different
one, unconnected though they may appear to be. Some try this with tea leaves or planets;
others think that, in practice, this is too complex an art. There are moments, however, when an
omen lights up with such clarity that it would be difficult to deny its foreboding. Not wanting this
to be true, Mother and I knew, nevertheless, what was going on here.
Mietzi steadied herself on the back of the rocking chair, crouched, jumped, and missed. Have
you ever noticed the embarrassment of a cat when something like this happens? We tried to
console Mietzi, Mother and I, but we couldn’t quite console ourselves that evening.
The verdict was in. What was not decided was how we would handle it, and that is what really
matters.

Mother handled it with grace. Two days later, she was in the hospital again, never to return
home to Mietzi. Her mind was clear to the last, as she took care of unfinished business calmly
and efficiently. She knew in which folder important papers were kept, in which dresser; she
handed my brother the keys with a smile. Only once did she break down and cry: when Mietzi’s
future was to be decided. But a solution was found: since Mother’s apartment was at the same
time the office for her charitable work, which my brother would continue, Mietzi could stay where
she was. The “super” of the building, who was fond of Mietzi anyway, would look after her when
my brother wasn’t there.

Mother was at peace.
I sat next to her bed holding her hand, and she said, “This is how I’d like to die. You ought to sit
there holding my hand and I’d just fall asleep.”

“Well,” I said, “I’d like that, too, but we can’t plan it with such precision.” Not many hours later, I
was sitting in that very spot holding Mother’s hand when she went to sleep for good. So
peacefully did she breathe her last that there was no telling exactly when she passed from time
into the great Now.

Mietzi outlived her by a year or two, mercifully among her accustomed surroundings: the potted
plants on which she nibbled once in a while, the old rugs of which she knew every square inch
by their smell, and my mother’s empty armchair on which she curled up when she got lonely.

This is an excerpt from a story written by Brother David Steindl-Rast and featured in The Karma
of Cats: Spiritual Wisdom from Our Feline Friends, a compilation of original stories by Kelly
McGonigal, Alice Walker, Andrew Harvey, and many more!

Brother David Steindl-Rast was born in Vienna, Austria, and holds a PhD from the
Psychological Institute at the University of Vienna. After 12 years of training in the 1,500-year-
old Benedictine monastic tradition, Brother David received permission to practice Zen with
Buddhist masters. An international lecturer and author, Brother David is a leader in the monastic
renewal movement as well as the dialogue between Eastern and Western religions. His most
recent book is i am through you so i. He is the founder of A Network for Grateful Living. Learn
more at gratefulness.org.

 

 

 

 

Read The Karma of Cats today!

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | IndieBound

 

David Steindl-Rast: Grateful Living in the ‘Double R...

Brother David Steindl-Rast is an internationally renowned author, lecturer, and pivotal member of the monastic renewal movement. A monk in the Benedictine tradition, Brother David is also an expert in Zen Buddhism and a tireless advocate for building bridges between Eastern and Western religious traditions. With Sounds True, Brother David created the audio program The Grateful Heart. In this episode of Insights at the Edge, Tami Simon and Brother David talk about the innate longing that drives spiritual study and is the impetus for seeking out a monastic life. Tami and Brother David explore the concept of the “Double Realm” that lies beyond standard concepts of time and existence, as well as how practicing gratitude can be a doorway to that realm. Finally, Brother David considers the future of religion and spirituality as he enters his nineties.(61 minutes)

You Might Also Enjoy

However you need to grieve, that’s the right way for...

Grieving a cat—or any kind of grief—is not a one-size-fits-all experience (as though any experience or emotion were?). Some people can’t stop sobbing, while others reflect quietly. Some are comforted by hugs and rituals; others need solitude to process their loss.

There’s no “right” way to grieve, and there’s no “right” length of time. In fact, I don’t see a loss as something we “get over,” but rather something that becomes a part of our life experience. When our skin is gravely injured, it doesn’t go back to looking the way it did before; it heals, and we have a scar. 

Loss changes the fabric of our lives; it changes the way we perceive and interact with the world. And like a scar, walking through grief (not trying to circumvent it) makes something in us stronger, more resilient. Grief is something to be healed, not to transcend.

Grief is nonlinear, too. Our human minds would love to make grief into a process that has a distinct beginning, middle and end…but in my experience, that’s just not true. Grief, like life, is messy and unpredictable. As Jon Kabat-Zinn writes, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.”

We all grieve, and for each of us, our grief is as unique as a fingerprint. If we try to avoid grief, it will redouble its strength and burst forth anyway. However you need to grieve, that’s the right way for you.

An original post by Sarah Chancey, the author of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna, the first gift book for people grieving the loss of their feline friend. This originally appeared on morethantuna.com.

sarah chaunceySarah Chauncey has written and edited for nearly every medium over the past three decades, from print to television to digital. Her writing has been featured on EckhartTolle.com and Modern Loss, as well as in Lion’s Roar and Canadian Living. She lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where she divides her time between writing, editing nonfiction, and walking in nature. Learn more at morethantuna.com and sarahchauncey.com.

 

 

 

 

 

ps i love you more than tuna

Amazon  |  Barnes & Noble  |  IndieBound  |  Bookshop

 

Meet the author of . . . P.S. I Love You More Than Tun...

The Author

Sarah Chauncey is the coauthor of P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna along with illustrator, Francis Tremblay, coming October, 2020. She has written and edited for nearly every medium over the past three decades, from print to television to digital. Her writing has been featured on EckhartTolle.com and Modern Loss, as well as in Lion’s Roar and Canadian Living. She lives on Vancouver Island in British Columbia, where she divides her time between writing, editing nonfiction, and walking in nature. Learn more at sarahchauncey.com.

The Book

Book cover

Our cats occupy a unique space in our hearts. When they’re gone, the loss can be devastating, the grief profound.

 

P.S. I Love You More Than Tuna gives us an opportunity to give friends, loved ones, or ourselves tangible comfort during the grieving period, when so many of us feel isolated and misunderstood after a beloved pet dies.

 

 

Send us a photo of your sacred space.

sacred space

First Nation, Saysutshun Newcastle Island is an ancient forest and marine provincial park. Saysutshun, I’m told, means “training or preparation ground,” and indeed, for millennia before colonization, the Snuneymuxw brought healers to this small island to train “mentally, physically, and spiritually.” I knew none of this history when I first began walking long stretches of the uninhabited island’s 13.6 miles of trails. I only knew that the island seemed to lift away anything that wasn’t essential, easing my mind and making way for creative ideas to flow. I’d walk a bit, then sit and meditate, write for a while, then walk some more. This bench, under a circle of seven trees, became my favorite writing and meditation spot. The moss-covered trees became my friends, teaching me to stay rooted when things around me change. As I wrote in a 2016 essay about the island, “I have become a literal tree-hugger, and even—when nobody is looking—a tree-kisser.”

What was your favorite book as a child?

harold purple crayon

I was a total bookworm as a child. Instead of playing games at recess, I preferred to curl up under my desk and read. Of all the books I read—from every Encyclopedia Brown to Freaky Friday to The Short Stories of Ernest Hemingway (I was a precocious kid), the book with the most enduring impact was also the simplest: Harold and the Purple Crayon. I was enchanted by Harold’s adventures, amazed by his ability to draw his way out of every obstacle and ultimately find his way home. Long before I began seeing this as a metaphor for creativity (and life!), this story appealed to me. Fifty years later, I continue to find new layers of meaning in this little book. It’s a simple yet profound testament to the power of imagination and creativity.

What is one unexpected thing or habit that inspires your writing practice?

sarah chauncey forest new castle

Walking in nature is my creative “secret sauce” and the central practice to my writing. Several years ago, I realized that although my role in this world is as a writer, my job is to bring myself back into presence, over and over, to get into a place where words can flow through me. I walk to get out of my mind and into my body. I come into fierce presence by noticing the rain on my face, salal berries ripening into deep blue, or the texture of earth beneath my feet. When my body is occupied by walking, ideas bubble up from my subconscious. Whether I’m looking for ways to trim an over-long essay or searching for words to evoke a hard-to-articulate experience, as soon as my legs find their rhythm, ideas begin to flow.

Learn More

Book cover

Sounds True | Amazon | Barnes&Noble | Bookshop | Indiebound

Kelly Wendorf: Flying Lead Change and Our Evolutionary...

Kelly Wendorf is an executive and personal development certified master coach, educator, spiritual mentor, and socially responsible entrepreneur. She is the founding partner of EQUUS, a leadership development organization that works with high-performing individuals, groups, and thought leaders. Her evidence-based approach to creating conditions for breakthrough transformative learning has earned her worldwide acclaim. In this podcast, Kelly joins Tami Simon to talk about her new book, Flying Lead Change: 56 Million Years of Wisdom for Leading and Living, and the unique evolutionary relationship between human beings and horses. Kelly and Tami also discuss the five central values of equine culture (safety, connection, peace, joy, and freedom), the community we share with the larger natural world, and much more.

>
Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap