Sunday, August 29, 2010

The Beauty of the Bowed Head

My cat, Fargo, has a ritual that charms me. Every morning she will jump onto my desk chair and then onto my desk. She positions herself next to the lamp and waits for me to come upstairs from the kitchen, where I’ve fetched my tea. I check email and read the Times online while having breakfast, all of which I must accomplish one-handed (alternating between mouse, teacup, keyboard, cereal spoon), because my other arm is claimed by the cat. She curls herself into its curve and tucks her head into my elbow, where she purrs for 30 minutes or so before leaving me to the rest of my morning.

Sometimes she’ll sit and face me before heading off to her other endeavors. This is my cue to stop staring at the computer screen and pay attention to Fargo. I’ll put down my cup and place both hands on her sides, scratching or petting behind her ears. “You’re the best cat in the world,” I’ll whisper, finding the sweet spot on her neck. “The best cat in the galaxy,” I’ll say, as she leans into my hand. We’re usually just an inch apart, eye to eye, and her fur has been warmed by the lamp and my arm. It’s just about perfect happiness, but it gets better. On certain mornings, if I’m really lucky, she’ll bow her head in the midst of this ritual. She'll sit directly in front of me, still and silent on the desk, head bowed as if waiting to be knighted. I'll lean in and bow my head, too, so that my forehead is touching the crown of her head. Then we just stay like that, Fargo turning up the purr, me wishing I could purr, until the world shifts and the moment ends.

Maybe it’s a remnant of a mildly Catholic childhood, but there’s something about that posture -- shoulders still, breath steady, head bowed -- that I adore. It’s the posture of prayer, of deep thought, the posture of sorrow and of nodding off to sleep. When one is writing, the head is bowed – and here I realize I must clarify, because it is true only when writing with a pen and not when composing on a keyboard and screen. It is that position – pen or pencil in hand, head bowed, concentration utter – that combines all of the above. We are praying, we are thinking, we are in some reverent half-sleep half-dream half-wide-oh-so-wide-awake state. We are writing, and sometimes, if we’re really lucky, it feels like we are touching, in both solitude and total communion, the perfect reader, the perfect other.