FOR A while I lived in New Jersey, and behind a butcher shop in the town that I covered was a tribe of feral cats that I loved. They were fluffy and savage looking, and their fierce, intent round eyes were irresistible peering back from the midst of grass and weeds. One of these cats had kittens, and a female was raised by a girl who worked at the butcher. Eventually, her kitty grew up and gave birth to a new crop of kittens, and among them was one that my girlfriend Ginger and I adopted and named William Penn. I shortened it to Pen after discovering about twenty pens beneath the refrigerator one day.
Nine months later, the same mother had kittens by the same dad, and these included a pair of white and tabby female twins we called Ling Ling and Hsing Hsing. We kept Ling Ling, and adopted off Hsing Hsing to close friends. When I quit my last job and moved to New Paltz in 1989, Ling Ling and William Pen came with me, and we began a true adventure.
We lived in a dozen places together, and in many ways from that point forward my life revolved around this pair of cats and my writing projects. They climbed on my Macintoshes, gummed up the disk drives with their abundant fur, and were universally adored by my multitude of housemates, staff members and various girlfriends. They slid around on mounds of PCB documents, were nearby when I wrote my first horoscope column and roamed freely in the nearest forest, (usually) coming home when I clanged two solid metal chimes together.
Ling Ling typically stayed pretty close to home, stalking her prey for endless hours on top of a woodpile or hiding under a bush. But once she took off for a week and lived outside during one of the coldest winters I ever remember. William would wander off a bit more, often coming home right after a thunderstorm with his coat perfectly dry and his tail soaked.
We were a family, and my journey with them was an experience of connection through which I healed many of my family traumas of separation and abandonment. Living with them, I lived with their vulnerability in the world, noticing consciously how small they were and aware that any day they could be taken. My agreement with them was that they had full access to the world.
As a result, I learned a lot about faith and tended to live in places that adjoined trees and had less traffic, so we all had a good quality of life. I kept a lot of protection around them, and that taught me about holding critters, people and things in the light. In both their lives with me, there were only two close calls with cars or roads, both involving William Pen. Because of a sad story from my childhood, I was determined to keep them safe from cars.
When I lived in a place called Keator’s Corners in the backwoods of Rosendale, they came and went through a second-floor window that had a porch roof a few feet below, and a tree leading down to the ground. The roof outside the window was not visible from the room, and they had a routine where they would run across the apartment, up onto the couch and out the window. When visitors were there, they would ham it up and run at full tilt, scaling the couch in one jump, then appearing to bound out the second-floor window as any first-time onlooker would stand there astonished.
They were writer’s cats, but they were also a witch’s familiars. One day I was called on to work with a young man whose girlfriend had just committed suicide. We held the astrology session on a high hilltop. I promised to do some work with his girlfriend later that day, and around midnight, she showed up, blowing open the dimensions such that the whole house felt like it was thrust into the world of ghosts. I was very happy the cats were there with me that night, taking it all in stride.
William was a talker. Ling Ling had a capacity to understand language. One evening after I had moved to a new house, putting both cats in my new bedroom while we unloaded, Ling Ling disappeared. She was there when we put her in the room, and gone about half an hour later when I returned for her, though there was no way out. My friends and I searched the rest of the house and the neighborhood, but could not find her.
Then we looked back in my room, and she was sitting there calmly. I said to her, “Ling Ling, where were you? Show me where you went.” She promptly climbed onto the bed, flattened herself out and squirmed deep beneath the sheets, imperceptible amidst the folds of the blankets, solving the mystery.
Our lives really were like this most days. When I went from being a relatively poor investigative reporter to a relatively wealthy astrologer, I could shop at the High Falls Food Coop and we all ate the good stuff. Years before that, they endured a particularly frantic winter when the New Paltz campus was overrun with guys in bunny suits and I was sure we were tracking dioxins back into the house.
Then there was the one place I decided it was too dangerous for them to go out. That did not stop them from bailing out an actual second-floor window and into the yard below. (I had the feeling that Ling Ling led the way.) I changed the rule and told them to stay away from the highway. They always wandered the other direction.
When in late 1997 I finally decided that I could not live with allergy-induced asthma anymore, they were adopted by Ginger. She was their guardian the second half of their lives. While I had them, I can say with certainty that I loved them every single day, took shelter in their psychic protection and affirmed that they were free beings.
My decision to give them to Ginger was prompted entirely by health reasons; my allergies were severe and I knew that doing one bottle of Ventolin each month was not a good idea. I had made three emergency room visits in the 10 years I had them. I knew I was not headed in a good direction health-wise if I remained in a dander-ridden environment. But one effect of being free to breathe was that I was free to roam the world. About three months later, I left New York and headed first to England, then to Germany for my first extended trip to Europe. From there, I never stopped in any city or region for very long. These were moves I never would have subjected my cats to.
William Pen died this week at age 20. Ling Ling had died in 2003 at age 15, on the eve of the Harmonic Concordance. While Ling Ling was alive, she and William spent all but one day together.
At the end of both of their lives, I had the responsibility of doing the electional astrology for their deaths. Ling Ling had developed a form of jaw cancer that is common in cats. We did what we could for her, but it finally progressed to the point where we knew she would need to be put down. The timing was extremely delicate, due to the nature of her illness, the desire to have her live as long as possible without being in severe discomfort, and the need to time the vet’s visit to the house. I insisted, and Ginger agreed and supported me, that she would not be taken to the vet to die; that it would happen at home with William Pen and two other cats in the current family there. (For this idea, I am indebted to Laurie Willow and Jason Stern, whose dog Bear died at home surrounded by friends.)
William grieved for a year after Ling Ling died, and at the four-season mark seemed to snap out of it and reconnect with his will to live. For the last couple of years of his life, Ginger, her husband Tom and her sister Amy cared for him diligently. He ate only ham baby food. His Maine Coon fur would get matted, so it had to be cut off every now and then by a vet. In cat years, he was well into his late 90s or mid-100s, depending on whose formula you use.
About a month ago, William Pen was at a point where he could no longer take care of himself, and a discussion began about having him euthanized. I came to visit and reconnect with my old friend. I felt strongly that we needed to wait until the Libra equinox and make a decision then. That created a delay due to various household plans; in truth, nobody wanted to make the decision to put him down. He lived a few more weeks, dying naturally on Oct. 16 as the Moon approached a conjunction to the Galactic Core and Pluto.
From my bed
In the higher window, the shadow falls
I repent another day lost to darkness.
The house is silent as an old estate, ancient
mausoleum that it is. On the back porch
I stumble up to the ledge and get hit
wet with a sudden gust: the mercury
is falling fast, I can feel it
inside my ears.
I call for my cats holler, each by name
wait a minute a flash and a crack
of thunder nobody scampers from the bushes just
echoes, alone in the gray neighborhood. It pours
like never before.
William Pen safe & dry under some brick porch,
Ling Ling & the Trash Cat peeping from
some secret place,
Mugsy crouched & shrewdly awaiting the reprieve. Faith
is a slow process. I seal and bolt the door.
William Pen is curled on Matt’s bed. Mugsy
& the little stray guard the couch like those lions at the
public library. Ling Ling moseys from my closet
with an arch and a yawn.
— Eric Francis, from 444
North Plainfield, NJ, spring 1989
Weekly Horoscope for Friday, Oct. 19, 2007, #685 – By ERIC FRANCIS
Aries (March 20-April 19)
You still have all your options open, if you would only notice. In other words, it’s not too late; in some ways, you’re a little early, but in this world, early is usually helpful. What counts for the most now is the spirit in which you take any action you choose to take. You risk being motivated by insecurity; if so, pause. You can also be motivated by what feels like a profound dedication to service; if so, pause again. Get underneath these things and feel the one thing they have in common. If you listen to what your body is telling you, how you feel will be obvious. The important thing is that you make no excuses and the only way to ensure that is to look inside the stove and have a peek at the hot, glowing coals.
Taurus (April 19-May 20)
What is the sense of loss you are perceiving? Is it that someone seems intent on reminding you that the past is over? You may feel it’s easier for others to move on from history than it is for you, and that may be true. Yet you certainly have plenty of reasons to embrace the present as if it were all there is. Think of it this way: adhering to the past is a good way to deny yourself what you have now, and not only that, it’s a good way to make sure you don’t take any real chances. Someone has to break this cycle, and you’ve depended on others to point you toward the unknown so often that you’ve started to take their influence for granted.
Gemini (May 20-June 21)
You have so much support from the people who care about you right now that it’s difficult to imagine why you would hesitate. Yet your perception is oriented in an unusual way at the moment, which is reminding you that the choices you make really do have the power to change your life irrevocably. And that is not something that anyone else can really have a say in, not on the deepest levels. Be aware that from your point of view, the gap you are closing is much larger than it appears for others. But that is largely a matter of perspective. Anyway, pay attention to your timing. You don’t want to act in a lurch, and you don’t want to sit and wait for something to push you in a way that would deny the pleasure and the privilege of free will.
Cancer (June 21-July 22)
Will you regret it if you plunge into a situation that in some ways goes against your stated agenda? Well, let’s be clear: your stated agenda is not the only one you have. True, you’re investigating what the rest of your program is. You are experimenting with wanting more than you’ve had in the past, with being more than you’ve been in the past, and with projecting yourself into the world with clarity that you haven’t known since childhood. Remember, your internal inquiry is not over. You are, in fact, making many discoveries, most of which involve the relationship between intense desire and your nagging issues about what makes you feel safe. There is a relationship; and soon it will be obvious that denying what you want does not make you feel any more secure.
Leo (July 22-Aug. 23)
Take advantage of a moment of clarity in a key relationship or partnership. People around you seem willing to do the most significant thing in all of human affairs: to admit what they are feeling, and make adjustments based on that revelation. This should not surprise you, any more than it affirms an obvious fact: people change when they are ready, and being ready has a lot to do with wanting to change. But why now, rather than when the issue at hand was more urgent for you? Well, so be it. Less important things have taken a lot longer in the past. You learned from them to avoid driving yourself nuts with anxiety over things you can’t control. It isn’t that difficult a lesson to learn — the more space you give people, the more they will pay attention to what you need.
Virgo (Aug. 23-Sep. 22)
You seem to be wracking your brains trying to figure out what exists beneath your motives. Right. Those things would be called values. Motives are the things we think we recognize; values are the things we usually miss. So if you’re experiencing any confusion, look a little deeper and make a list of what is important to you. Study the list. Is there anything obvious missing? Is there anything surprising you’ve included? Do you have any significant changes to make a note of? I suggest you work this list for the next two weeks and make sure that by the end of that time, you’ve made an agreement with yourself about what is truly meaningful to you. Then, remember that part of your commitment involves acting on that information.
Libra (Sep. 22-Oct. 23)
Passion is perhaps a word that is overused, yet you have an odd or perhaps unique way of dodging the issue. A clarification might help. Passion is more than merely something you feel, or experience within yourself. Rather, in any practical context, it’s an emotional experience that you act upon. Passion has value; it has a purpose; it can drive us toward a purpose. You now need to harness your energy and channel it constructively. If it seems that you are unable to find that purpose, much less focus on it, you need to aim a little higher or focus on one goal in particular — the one you have said you care about so many times. You now have an extended opportunity to make that goal a real thing, but long as it may be, it won’t last forever.
Scorpio (Oct. 23-Nov. 22)
A close partner is going through a phase of inevitable adjustment. They are, in large part, responding to what you are thinking about and the plans you are making. They may in fact be a few steps ahead of an idea you have to make a retreat or to reconsider your commitment to a proposal that is important to both of you. You, in turn, may be noticing that they are reconfiguring their outlook, and you may wonder why. I suggest you look no further than yourself, and if you have something to say, that you say it. If you have something to ask, ask it. And you might want to consider lifting the veil of secrecy about what you are considering, so that you can have a real conversation about your mutual needs and desires. Maybe there is a meeting place you have yet to identify.
Sagittarius (Nov. 22-Dec. 22)
You may be wondering whether an idea is good enough to run with: whether it’s worth your time and energy. The answer is yes, until you convince yourself otherwise. It isn’t always true that things worth doing at all are worth doing soon; some things benefit greatly from careful consideration, review and even delay. Rather, the theme closer to the core is your relationship to your doubts. But the core itself is your relationship to your ideas. You’ve had a lot of good ideas in recent years, and yet just as persistently you question your intelligence. We could ask why this is, but to ask is to state the obvious. When you recognize how little you have to lose by giving yourself a chance, you’ll have a clue that the spiritual matter is entirely one of confidence, and confidence is learned with practice.
Capricorn (Dec. 22-Jan. 20)
There is a deficit of self-esteem in our society. All you need to do is give a few people the space to be honest with you, and you’ll discover that most people walking on the street don’t feel worthy of love, much less authentic happiness. You have developed your own ways of coping with this, but in recent years you seem to reach these little crisis points that bear no resemblance to your day-to-day state of mind. Without getting too psychological, here is what I see. You have learned to take two different approaches to considering your inner reality. They seem to conflict. One is all about creativity and the other is all about pain; or this is the surface perception. Over the course of the next few days, you will get to experience both sides of the coin in close enough proximity to see the split or dichotomy you are dealing with. And that should help point you toward a solution.
Aquarius (Jan. 20-Feb. 19)
Aquarians often get mocked for being unable to feel. Mockery is often a comment on the one doing the talking rather than the target of the remark. We live in a culture where we’re taught to zone out at every possible instance, and where any sense of actual human reality is considered a potential threat. Remember that if people respond to you as if you’re something to worry about. What they are really worried about is the simple truth that you are, by your presence, inducing them to experience themselves. Remember, as well, that there are a lot of scared people in the world, and these people need about one part compassion for every two parts leadership. In this case, both begin with a lot of listening. If you start talking, stop yourself short.
Pisces (Feb. 19-March 20)
All of the personal planets are, were or soon will be retrograde. The world seems to be in a time of endless review, and all the facts never quite add up to the truth. But who really wants the truth? Well, it would seem that you do, and it would seem like you are on a direct course for a major discovery of the truth about yourself and why you came to this strange, benighted planet. For the next three or so months, do everything you can to keep your focus. Drop unnecessary commitments, filter out unnecessary people and work for the most productive balance of business and pleasure. The world may be obsessed with looking back, but you already know the meaning of the past. What you’re seeking is the meaning of the future.