Monday, August 30, 2010

The mammal's brief moment of sorrow

Photo: Jacob in the movie Twilight, being a mammal.

Sometimes when we're leaving for work, the cat follows us to the door. As we go out, there's a glass-paned door that we shut between her and us. She will have been following us, looking up at us. Then there's a sad little moment. As we put our shoes on outside the door, she sits down on the floor on the inside, and then she stops looking at us and looks at some distant space on the floor a few feet away.

It's a moment we all recognize. This gesture, this way of experiencing a moment, this passing brief sad look, is something that cats and dogs do, and people do. We are all social mammals. And this little look-down-at-the-floor maneuver is something we do when we are feeling small, feeling that someone who we want to pay attention to us is no longer concerned with us.

I have felt that way at various times; we all have, right? Any teen movie is full of that look. So many times in my life, I've looked just like the cat looks when we leave for work. And if you had asked me at any such moment how I was feeling, I could have put words to it, likely embedded in the context of the particular moment. But I think there are a lot of things that we feel that are just mammalian. And this is one of them: it's a small melancholy moment of a social animal feeling alone. It is deep wiring, not in the sense of being a deeply-felt feeling, but in the sense of being some long-ago-evolved part of being a social mammal. It is some basic part of who we are, our animal selves, not our language and culture selves.

They've gone away and I'm still here. There's the floor. I'm alone here. A moment to absorb this. OK.

And then it passes: you look somewhere else, think about the next thing to take your mind to something else, comfort you: you turn to go find a little bit of food, or a blankie, or maybe a new email that might have arrived on your iPhone.


Redd said...

Absolutely lovely post. I love it when writers take a moment we've all seen and experienced and extrapolate it into a useful life lesson. Thank you!

Joe Wright said...

Thanks Redd, much appreciated.

Texaco said...

Yes. Absolutely lovely.

I miss having a cat that does that. Having outdoor cats now, they tend to be the ones that do the leaving.