A Farewell to Lance

I have moved on to a sailboat with my boyfriend – and the process involved a massive divestment that started with a stack of Vegetarian Times and most recently ended with a very special farewell to my first kitty, Lancelot.

The soundtrack to this post is Rastaman Chant!

Some longtime local folks may remember Lance, a white Persian cat who was adopted from the

This is not Lance. I do have a photo of him, but it is in the hope chest. It's OK. He was MUCH cuter than this model. PS Did I mention we thought he was gay?
This is not Lance. I do have a photo of him, but it is in the hope chest. It’s OK. He was MUCH cuter than this model. PS Did I mention we thought he was gay?

Humane Society in Pennsylvania and subsequently moved down to Florida. He died around 2006. He was the cutest, fluffiest guy, with blue eyes and a party personality. He would come out whenever we had people over, looking for love and finding it in all the right places.

When my ex and I adopted Lance, he was about 6 years old and had a nasty gash on his ear. He was in the pound for a couple months already – probably because people saw an expensive vet bill right off the cuff, which is exactly what happened. But he healed up pretty quickly and was super-stoked to be out of jail and in the company of me, a girl around 19 years old who had wanted a cat her entire life.

Lance needed (and deserved) lots of love. But that proved almost immediately difficult, since I was a college kid at the time and my ex worked. He was lonely. We’d come home, and he would scurry to us as if he were a dog. Eventually, we decided to get Lance a friend, and we adopted Althea. This was immediately a bad idea, not because Althy wasn’t cute but because it was like offering a 20-year-old woman an opportunity to be best friends with an 80-year-old man. Lance was really excited; Althea wanted nothing to do with him.

So Lance started to act out in a desperate attempt for attention. For a declawed fluffy cat, his best weapon was his internal system. He would use every orifice possible to get our attention. It was nothing short of gross.

Around this time, we moved to Florida. Lance was game. We arrived in Stuart, and my ex and I immediately hit the beach. Every day. Really every minute we weren’t working. Lance felt neglected, and he probably was. He acted out in the best way he knew how. I will never forget the day at the gym when I was going crazy with frustration on an elliptical trainer because I witnessed my cat puking, peeing and pooping in the living room in the 30 minutes I had before leaving for work. What the hell, cat!? Someone has to put kibble in the bowl for ya.

Bringin' home the bacon. Yep, that's me. I haven't eaten bacon in decades and never plan on it. Fish is another story. Stay tuned.
Bringin’ home the bacon. Yep, that’s me.

After paying through the nose to the landlord (who told us when we moved in that he needed to replace the carpet … guess who paid for it), we moved into a new townhouse. I set about re-conditioning Lance to use the litter box. He lived in the kitchen and hallway (both tiled), surrounded by a baby gate and walls; he only entered the rest of the house when he was supervised so that he could get used to positive attention. It took years, but it worked. He stopped.

So when we bought a home, he roamed freely and was his cute little self. He used to get up on my chest and purr so magnificently that the purr itself would turn into the sweetest high-pitch noise (it can also be found at the end of this song, courtesy of Bunny Wailer).

One day, he got a urinary tract infection (as Persians tend to do), so I took him to the vet. The vet said to me, “He’s so healthy, he’ll live a long, long time.” Two weeks later, he was dead. He started hyperventilating one morning, and the vet couldn’t figure out what was wrong. They wanted to do a kitty EKG on him, but that felt like a waste of money. I was a newspaper journalist! Sheesh, he was a 15-year-old cat. He got really weak. Then one evening – I’m pretty sure it was right after Hurricane Wilma – we came home to find him lifeless under the dining room table.

My ex said he cried more for Lance than for his grandmother. It was a really sad time.

We had him cremated, and I cut a tuff of his fluffy hair and saved it. When my ex and I split, somehow I got the carved wooden box with his ashes. It sat on my bookcase for the next nine years.

So, fast forward to today, after I had moved all my things on to a sailboat. It just didn’t feel right for Lance to be stored in the hope chest that’s at my boyfriend’s sister’s place. He needed a final resting place. But where? People asked me where he liked to be, and the answer was, frankly, my lap! I was carrying his ashes around in my car for a while, trying to decide. Maybe bring him back to the home where he died? But who lived there? How weird is that, asking someone to bury a cat’s ashes in their yard.

I decided to release him into the ocean, Clean Water Act be damned. That way, he’ll be with me all the time, since our plan is to sail the world. My boyfriend and I brought the box down to the shoreline after we skated up a sweat and swam around a bit. The box, which was glued shut as it should be, was a pain to open. I banged it with big stones and shells, trying to pry it open. My boyfriend used an old credit card.

Tangent: I had brought lots of shells and stones with me to the ocean. The shells were the remainders of the “Back to Sea Initiative,” returning them from years of beachcombing. I hung shells from fan pulls and gathered them around candles. One stone was from The Garden of the Gods in Colorado, and another stone was a painted river stone Professor Barnaby Ruhe from NYU gave me in a Galletin class. He told us to paint what we saw the rock telling us to paint. It was a last semester class on liminality. It was awesome.)

I said with a smile, “It’s just like that kitty, being a pain in the ass to the end!”

My boyfriend took the box and went to get a tool. Meanwhile, I stayed by the water and imagined Lance. I remembered him on my chest, purring so sweetly that it went into pleasure-filled overdrive. I remembered how soft his fur was, how much he loved love. I remember holding him. I remembered Galaxywhat his love felt like.

When he came back with the baggie of ashes, I walked up to my chest into the gentle summer-like waves and opened it up. As the ashes came out, they swirled into a white blob about the size of Lance. At first it lingered near my lap as I emptied the bag. And then, like a ghost, with the energy of the water it swirled quietly away. It was as if he had jumped off my lap and disappeared forever.

It felt good to know that his love is never gone, but part of the one love. There was no reason to keep his ashes – especially not locked away, alone. That’s exactly what Lance didn’t want. Releasing his ashes felt like he was running off to a wonderful party, where there were all these happy people waiting to fawn all over him, petting and cooing. Hindus believe that what you wish most for in this lifetime will be given to you in the next (this is why Ishvara Pranidhana is one of the niyamas from the Yoga Sutras). I hope Lance gets all that lovin’ and then some.

That kitty taught me a lot. I had developed such patience with him that I knew I would be a great mother. He helped me understand how love is the very most important thing in life, more important than work and money. But he didn’t like to be alone, and that taught me something too.

His challenging ways made me a better person (Jai Ganesha!), and I loved him very much. He was my first cat; now I live with Penelope of S/V Tortuga. She’s a lot more adaptable and also very sweet. It’s an honor to have these furry companions with me on the seas.

Diving Under the Waves

As the dive boat was bobbing over increasingly choppy seas, and my dive buddy’s eyes were a watery red from seasickness, I was reminded of a wonderful teaching I sometimes share in my Yoga

classes about waves:

Ahhh. Waves at Golden Hour!
Ahhh. Waves at Golden Hour!

See, there are all kinds of waves. There are the big monstrous waves that crash heavily along the shoreline (these are the kind my boyfriend likes best for riding!). There are the gentle waves that crest ever so slightly, and there are waves that are almost non-existent. Those are the kind that you can float in the salt water with your big toes sticking out of the water (I call this the dry toe game — who can last the longest?)

But regardless of its size and its strength, whether the wave allows you to ride it on a longboard or float easily on your back, the wave never thinks of itself as anything but part of the ocean.

Yet, we as humans are far from that, aren’t we? We constantly look at reasons to be separate and different from everything around us. I’m petite, he’s big. I’m brunette, she’s blonde. I like her car. I would never act like him. Good for you, bad for you. Right? You can think of a million examples.

Boy, I really recognized the differences in the world as I took my first giant step to SCUBA dive for the

Look at this crazy critter ... OMG it's exactly like ME!
Look at this crazy critter … OMG it’s exactly like ME!

first time in open waters a few weekends ago! How magical it felt to sink down 60 feet below the surface (shout out to Steve Wood, my SCUBA instructor!). It was like we were entering another world as we entered another atmosphere.

A sea turtle swam past our group, and thousands of brightly colored fish crowded the strangely shaped corals and sponges. Small electric blue fish intersected with fish that sported scales that reminded me of multi-colored iridescent tiles of purples and silver.

Yoga – or, more precisely, pranayama – helped me immensely with SCUBA diving. I was able to take long, slow, steady breaths, and as I result I used about half the air in my tank compared to the other students in my group. This means once I dive with a more relaxed buddy, we’ll be able to stay down longer than most! I was down way too short of a time, or so it felt!

We dove off the coast of Palm Beach, with the Breakers in the distance, but it wasn’t the first time I was deep in that section of the ocean. Years ago, as a journalist, I tagged along on a research vessel with Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute as they studied corals in the depths of the sea. In their pressurized submersible, I sunk to 1,000 feet below the surface. The scientists were exploring uncharted sections of the ocean floor, and mostly it was a desert that far down.

Looking out my little porthole, I saw random small fish swimming by but not much else until we came upon some relief of a coral bank. Then we saw some sharks, beautiful starfish and a few other creatures enjoying the microscopic animals and plants that floated over the coral bank with the currant. It was a special experience.

Worse. Cartoon. Ever.
Worse. Cartoon. Ever.

So what makes these underwater experiences seem so amazing compared to every day life at sea level? I think it’s because we give added value to things that are novel. If we dove down 60 feet below the sea and there was a strip mall and highways, we would be bored. Hey, remember Snorks? That show didn’t get much traction for this exact reason – those little creatures with a snorkel in their head were so much like us that we weren’t impressed.

And yet, that’s what we seek in our lives – people who are like us, things that are like the things that we have. This is the very base of how many of us feel comfortable in our daily routines. Perhaps some of it is sub-conscious, but there’s no denying that if you have a big pile of dreadlocks on your head, you will feel more comfortable with similar Rastas. If you are wearing a suit at a Chamber of Commerce meeting, you will be more comfortable than if you showed up in cut-off jeans.

If you think about it, it’s just as silly as the big set waves being uncomfortable with the little mushy waves that precede them. Waves know they’re all part of the same ocean.

So why shouldn’t we feel the same way? Why should be not be as impressed with the amazing beauty that is happening everyday above water as I was with life below water? We often get wrapped with the minutiae of life – or we get so confused by newsworthiness – that we focus on the problems. We focus on the differences that we neglect the similarities. It’s time to change that, one set of waves at a time!