Three days ago I read some of the many, many moving letters the dying Lawrence Auster has been receiving from his readers. One quotes “Lapis Lazuli” by Yeats. Another (Thomas Bertonneau) quotes the final lines of Tennyson’s “Ulysses.”
The next day I was reading The Geography of Thought by Richard E. Nisbett and found that it also quotes “Lapis Lazuli,” though not the same lines. Then just yesterday I watched the movie Skyfall, in which Judi Dench recites the final lines of “Ulysses.”
The latter may not be a coincidence; Skyfall is a very recent movie, and it just might have put Prof. Bertonneau in mind of “Ulysses.” The Geography of Thought, on the other hand, was published in 2003.
This past Sunday, our cat MacGyver finally succumbed to the feline leukemia virus with which he had been born some 18 months before. His short life was marked by several coincidences which seem worth noting.
The coincidences began on the day we got him, as I mentioned in the comments to this post on my other blog.
Yesterday we adopted a semi-stray kitten (homeless, but there was a man who left food out for it sometimes). When I asked the man who had been feeding it whether it had a name, he said he called it Diandian (點點). That evening we took the kitten (which we renamed MacGyver) to the vet, and while we were waiting to see the doctor we started chatting with another woman in the waiting room. It turns out that she had also adopted a cat that same day, and her cat was also called Diandian!
Then, just as we were leaving the veterinary clinic, another woman came in, and we overheard her talking to the receptionist about her sick sugar glider. The vet couldn’t help her, but we were able to jump in and refer her to a good exotic-animal vet in the area. Sugar gliders are a very unusual pet, and the chances of two glider owners running into each other at a dog-and-cat clinic neither of us had ever patronized before are obviously very low.
Just a few months later, MacGyver was diagnosed with feline leukemia, and the vet told us he could live anywhere from a few months to a few years.
A day or two after the diagnosis, my wife was taking her keys out of her motorcycle and dropped them on the pavement. Her keychain has a figurine of a seated black cat (the Egyptian goddess Bastet), and when it hit the pavement, one of the cat’s legs broke off. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, man. That’s an omen.”
I was thinking in general terms — bad news for the cat — but the omen turned out to be a pretty literal one. Several days after the keychain broke, MacGyver, whose eyesight was the first casualty of the leukemia, wandered off the edge of a staircase and fell, injuring one of his legs. It wasn’t the same leg that the Bastet figurine lost — you can’t expect that kind of voodoo-like precision — but it was close enough to seem uncanny. Fortunately, the injury was not serious, and he recovered quickly.
As the disease progressed and MacGyver’s quality of life deteriorated, I suggested that perhaps it would be best to have him put down, but my wife wouldn’t hear of it. In her mind, we didn’t have the moral right to make that kind of decision.
One week before he died, MacGyver’s condition became so awful — he couldn’t stand up, couldn’t eat, had no bladder control, and was having seizures — that my wife finally agreed that we should have him put to sleep. We took him to the vet with that intention — but, the vet suggested one last thing we could try before turning to that last resort. It would involve having him stay overnight at the animal hospital, hooked up to an IV, after which we could take him home but would have to inject fluids through a catheter every two hours round the clock. Even with this treatment, the best we could hope was that he would live another 24 or 48 hours (or so the vet predicted; in fact he lingered for a full week). I was extremely reluctant to go along with this plan, but in the end my concern for my wife trumped my concern for the cat, and I agreed.
We left MacGyver at the vet’s and came home. I went to the bathroom and picked up my current bathroom book: Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome. Finding my bookmark, I opened up to the beginning of Chapter 13 and read this:
The line that caught my eye was: “Montmorency thinks he will murder and old tom cat — But eventually decides that he will let it live.”
Only later, looking the page up again in preparation for writing this post, did I notice a second coincidence. The last line before the beginning of Chapter 13 is “and put up for the night at the ‘Crown’.” The hospital where we had left MacGyver for the night (his first and only inpatient stay) was called Crown Home Animal’s Hospital.
On Saturday night my wife and I were staying at a hotel in Taipei for a conference and had left MacGyver in the care of our niece. That night I dreamed that I saw MacGyver walking along with a spring in his step. I thought to myself, “Wait, how can he be walking? He can’t walk” — and then suddenly I knew what it meant. When my niece phoned us the next morning in tears, she didn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know.
This morning, for no particular reason, I felt like listening to the Tommy James & the Shondells song “I Think We’re Alone Now,” so I looked it up on YouTube and did so. What probably put it in my head was the movie Mega Python vs. Gatoroid, which stars Debbie Gibson and Tiffany, the latter of whom had a hit in the ’80s with a cover of that song. The writers acknowledge that fact by working the lines “I think we’re alone now. There doesn’t seem to be anyone around” into the script. However, it’s been a few weeks since I saw that movie, so I’m not sure why I wanted to listen to that song today in particular.
After listening to the song, I checked my email. I’m in the middle of an email discussion of Otto Weininger’s Sex and Character; specifically, the discussion is about the plausibility (or lack thereof!) of some of Weininger’s ideas about homosexuals. This led me to look up Steve Sailer’s old article “Why Lesbians Aren’t Gay.” Sailer’s list of contrasting gay vs. lesbian tendencies includes a note that gays tend to have “upscale, creative” careers, while lesbians have “downscale, blue-collar” careers.
After that, I checked a few blogs I hadn’t read in several days, including Dusk in Autumn. The two most recent posts on that blog were “The return of small-only gatherings in youth party culture” — which mentions that “Large parties make for those ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ kind of interactions” — and “The myth of wealthy gays and blue-collar lesbians” — which obviously ties into what I had just read in Sailer’s article.
Convenience stores in Taiwan always have tea eggs for sale — but in my eight years in the country I had never yet bought one until today. Today I had a sudden craving for protein, so I popped into a 7-Eleven on my way to work and bought and ate two tea eggs.
Less than an hour later, at work, I stepped into the director’s office to discuss a few things with her, and just as I was leaving she called me back and said, “Here, do you want these?” — and handed me two tea eggs! She explained that one of the students had given her three of them but that she had only been able to eat one. She has occasionally given me food before — generally sweet vegetarian snacks that I don’t much like — but this was the first time she had given me eggs. So I ate two more tea eggs, feeling like the recently deceased centenarian in a newspaper article I once read, who had reportedly eaten some ridiculous number of hard-boiled eggs every day (a dozen, if memory serves) for what the reporter described as “complex psychological reasons.”
Earlier this evening (October 2, 2012), I was teaching a class for Taiwanese business people, focusing on writing business-related e-mail in English. One of the sample e-mails in the textbook contained something along these lines: “Can I get back to you? I need to consult my supervisor before giving you a final answer.”
I explained the meaning and usage of the English word consult and, as is my habit, illustrated its semantic range by giving a wide variety of examples — explaining that you could consult your doctor before trying a new drug, consult a dictionary for the meaning of a word, consult your parents or spouse before making a major life decision, etc.
One of the students — I’ll call her Estelle — raised her hand. “What about God?” she wanted to know. “Can you ‘consult God’ before making a decision?”
“Yes, absolutely. Consult God, consult the I-Ching, consult a fortune-teller — almost anyone or anything, really. In some cases you might consult a–”
“And do you?”
“Do I what?”
The question caught me off guard, and I’m afraid I came out with something pretty dishonest and lame: “Well, yeah, I suppose I do from time to time — but, you know, he never really answers me.”
(The truth: I’m an atheist, and although I do occasionally make a few prayers in the spirit of agnosticism, I never actually consult God in the strict sense of asking for information or advice. And back in the days when I did consult God, I never had cause to complain about not being answered.)
I don’t know what made Estelle focus on the question of consulting God. Idle curiosity, I suppose. I know her pretty well, and she’s not at all religious.
After the class was over, I went home to have dinner with my wife. She had a few things to do before we could eat, so I picked up one of the books I was reading, The Varieties of Temperament by William H. Sheldon, and opened it up. I was in the middle of a case study of “Gabriel,” a preacher. To understand the passage I am about to quote, you should know that Sheldon sees temperament as consisting of a combination of three primary tendencies: viscerotonia, somatotonia, and cerebrotonia (associated with physical endomorphy, mesomorphy, and ectomorphy, respectively). When troubled, viscerotonic personalities tend to turn to other people for help; somatotonic people, in contrast, have a need to take physical action when troubled; and cerebrotonics prefer to withdraw and contemplate their problems in solitude. Here’s how Sheldon describes Gabriel’s response to trouble. (The emphasis is of course my own.)
The predominant reaction [to trouble] is somatotonic, with a viscerotonic secondary tendency. His verbal response to the direct query is simply that he always consults God. This might imply a cerebrotonic reaction, and the point well illustrates the necessity of looking deeper than the verbal response. In this instance, Gabriel “consults God” by doing something actively, or through the minds of other people, not through solitary communion.
I read this passage less than an hour after my exchange with Estelle regarding “consulting God.” Not only does Sheldon use the same phrase (not a phrase which I see, hear, or use very often), but he draws attention to it as a phrase. He also talks about “looking deeper than the verbal response” — just as Estelle began by asking me a purely verbal question about the correct usage of an English word but then wanted to “look deeper” by asking about my religious behavior.