Sometimes I think it would be nice if all personal interactions were as easily understood as those between me and my cats.
When they are happy they rub their head against my leg. When they are put out or indignant they poo in the tub. When they want attention they insert themselves in between me and whatever else I’m doing, and stick their furry little hiney right in my face to make sure that I inhale the maximum amount of fur possible and am unable to focus on anything but them. When they’re really angry they come and sit on my desk while I’m working, but facing away from me with their tail switching back and forth angrily, while aiming a malevolent glare in my direction. (Well, as malevolent as a 6 pound ball of grey fluff can be).
But when humans get involved, communication gets a lot more complicated.
I was thinking about that earlier this week as I was having lunch with my husband. He was upset about a news story he’d recently heard. It involved a “hot button” issue, the kind that causes all connections to the rational, logical part of your brain to shut down and instead leads you directly into highly charged, emotional (over)reacting. Which then leads to conversations where the people around you, who are not directly involved in your conversation, could accidentally overhear certain words or phrases and give you concerned looks as they begin to edge cautiously toward the door.
About six years ago I found myself in a similar situation, but due to the extremely different emotional climate in which we were all living back then, this time it was really funny rather than a cause for concern. But it won’t seem so at first, so just bear with me.
Six years ago this summer my family gathered to say goodbye to my grandmother, who was dying of cancer. Her wish was that when she died, she simply be wrapped in a white sheet before she was placed in her coffin. This was simple, and beautiful, and did not at all take into consideration the fact that this would require there to be A Person In Charge Of Sheets. Since my mom is the oldest child in her family, and I am the oldest child in my family, this duty fell to the two of us.
So we headed off to the local Giant Shopping Mart, but unfortunately there was no section labeled, “Linens for the Soon-To-Be-Deceased”, or, “Easy Coffin Accessories”, so we were forced to stand in the middle of the sheet and towel aisle and have the following conversation:
“Do you think a queen sized sheet will be big enough to wrap all the way around her?”
“I don’t know. I think it depends on whether the body is laid end-to-end or diagonally.”
“Will a top sheet be enough to wrap the body in, or do you think we need a fitted sheet too?”
Are you imagining what you would be thinking if you overheard this conversation? Because my mom and I sure were. As if the situation weren’t stressful enough already, we decided to go ahead and come up with a list of all the ways someone could misinterpret what they were hearing and decide to report us to the authorities. (Sometimes being an avid reader with a powerful imagination can actually be a disadvantage).
I’m happy to say that we did survive that shopping trip, but maybe you can see why I sometimes envy cats their simple, direct method of communication. Although I somehow doubt that coughing up a hairball and then rolling over to lick my private parts would really have been an appropriate response to this situation.