I would like to tell you a story that seems to me to have helped almost everybody I have told it to, and has certainly helped me.
I have gone on a long and dangerous journey into an unknown world. I don’t remember much about it, except one thing that is extremely clear: I remember a point at which I was given a choice. There was a natural desire to live and survive, and I was looking for ways to do it. But I think that if I hadn’t found a guide, I wouldn’t have made it.
The guide turned out to be my beloved cat Coe. I remember weeping into his fur when I finally had to put him to sleep after a long bout with cancer. Coe was always the family clown. He had no instincts. He didn’t fall on his feet. He was very smart, and quite capable of lying. Once there was a terrific crash in the living room, and Coe came strolling into the family room elaborately yawning as if he’d just waked up. The catastrophe in the living room, we were supposed to believe, couldn’t have had anything to do with a peacefully sleeping cat.
I was very surprised to encounter Coe. I didn’t really see him, but more sensed his presence. I knew that I was at the juncture between life and death. It was a busy place, and I wasn’t sure Coe would even wait for me. There seemed to be very little time. At that point, in the physical world, I began trying to call my son on the cellphone, or so I thought. I later discovered that he was at my bedside. It was as if I was living in two worlds at once. I wanted to tell him that Coe was here, because I thought he’d be very excited. They were close, close friends, those two.
I’d always expected to see my dead mother. She passed away when I was only seven, so I don’t remember her much at all. I’d been waiting for this moment all my life, because I want to see her and remember her. I’ve always thought that I would see her again after death, and remember her then. And yet, she wasn’t at the center of my love. Her death was just so long ago, and I was so little when it happened.
I certainly had a lot of love with Coe and I was so glad to see him, but right now he was very matter of fact. It was as if he was saying, "C’mon, there’s no time to waste." I was left with the impression that animals know the secret of life and death far better than we do.
I heard him say inside my head, "These STUPID humans–Don’t even know how to find the World of the Dead on their own!" He took me to a place that looked like a subway or Greyhound bus station, an underground waiting room lit with those weird yellowish lights you see in such places. The place was busy: I had the impression of lots of people around, and that they were clutching bulging shopping bags and suitcases, maybe the memories they wanted to bring with them from life. And I somehow knew that they weren’t going to be able to go on (to catch that subway or bus) until they were willing to put their packages DOWN.
I told Andrew, "Coe is here!" Andrew was so glad to hear this, and just as surprised as I was that my spirit guide would turn out to be a cat. I heard a disembodied voice saying, "You can keep going if you want to." I think I was given a choice about whether to live or die (and get on the train or bus). I obviously chose life.
To Coe, it was nothing special at all. It wasn’t as if he thought of himself as a spirit guide or anything. It was much more casual and matter-of-fact than that. He was ready to take me down a certain path if I wanted to go, and there was love, but it wasn’t filled with elaborate new emotions.
He never functioned well as a cat, mousing and that sort of thing. But he was the world’s best cuddler, little boy playmate, and friend of the heart and soul. And now he was here, ready to take me for a little stroll into the beyond.
After he died, he showed up in our apartment a few days later. Whitley, who sees such things, saw him and saw that he was lost. He took him and pointed him toward the other world, that now seems to me as much a part of ordinary life as it is for Whitley. Now he was back, ready to help me take the same journey.
I think that the reason for this happening is that there has been an investment of real love. I put love into Coe, and he loved me, and that love now has an independent life. Maybe it wasn’t even Coe there, really. Maybe he found the path long ago, and is far down it now. But the love was left behind, waiting for me until I needed it.
It took a journey beyond the edge of life and the help of a little animal to bring me to a place of new understanding, that all that really survives of us is the love we have made in the world. It’s a simple truth that will stay with me forever, even when I pass again across the threshold, this time never to return. Especially then.
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