Tuesday, July 10, 2012

How Bear observed Independence Day

by Richard Upchurch

He’s a big black cat with a little diamond white spot at his throat--somewhat gentled by the veterinary surgical knife and by his usual daily routine as the much loved house pet of Thomas and Liz, over in Memphis, but still curious, active and adventurous---staying with us now while they are on vacation in Canada.

Well, this morning I stepped out the back door with a cup of coffee and he was right behind me, then like a flash he was down the back stairs, then under the car where I almost got him, then to the front porch to check out the geraniums, and then he shook me off his trail. Was quite worried for a couple of hours, but then heard his discreet meow and found him behind some old window screens under the back deck. I was able to coax him back indoors with some of his favorite Meow Mix. Good thing he hadn’t had his breakfast.

Bear getting out on Independence day kind of got me thinking about pets, being free and being domesticated-----and, too, about human independence of both the political and the personal kind. Now of course this little scenario of Bear getting out falls far short of telling us much about humans as political creatures or about human liberty. Of course we humans were created to be much more than agreeable pets, much more than mousers to keep away critters from the barn or the attic. Humans were made for something far greater.

What’s that? Well, I guess, to be human. But it is kind of fun to speculate: If Bear could talk to us, wouldn’t he say he was born for freedom, that all his instincts, natural urges, incredibly acute senses and athletic endowments mean he was made for far more than he ever gets to see and do in his highly domesticated existence. And of course any indoors pet could say the same.

Our own cat Gracie maybe comes closer to “having it all” at least in the kitty kind of existence.. Who else do you know that can make a flat-footed jump to the top of the six-foot-high board fence at the edge of our back yard, then walk the length of it, from all appearances just to be doing it, or climb to some impossible perch in a tree notch to get the sun just right, or sneak up on birds eating seed at a porch railing and sometimes, by George, jump up and get ahold of one, as though the bird had been hypnotized by the slow and precisely controlled movements----both of which feats, along with many other incredible things I’ve seen done by Gracie (who you might say is presently Bear’s hostess, albeit perhaps somewhat less that his entirely cordial hostess).

I think there is a similarity between the feline balance of freedom versus domesticity and the human choice between freedom and security that is very close to the essence of who we are and who we choose to be. When tyranny presents its ugly face in any particular political situation the choice to be made or at least the direction to take is often obvious---as it became obvious for the brave men who signed the Declaration of Independence, or for those who fought for independence, from an overreaching British. tyranny.

Sometimes, however, we need to remind ourselves that the choice between personal liberty and personal security is not always a political one. Sometimes it presents itself as entirely personal. The political choices, commitments and sacrifices made for us, for Liberty , now embodied in our Constitution, give us the lineaments and structures where liberty is a possibility and perhaps an ever renewing possibility for all of us. They do not however dictate the extent to which any individual will voluntarily give up his personal security or happiness for freedom, or the extent to which he may choose to give up personal freedom for his own happiness ---meaning, for most folks, particularly of the male persuasion, domestic happiness.

Oh, by the way, if anybody is wondering: old Bear is asleep in an easy chair right behind me thank you very much, and seems purrfeckly contented. But I wonder if he ever thinks, “Now, once out that door next time, if instead of hiding under those screens, I just keep a-goin’……

Richard Upchurch lives in Nashville.

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