Growing up back home, we always had cats along with other animals that we considered important members of the family. I like cats. Not only are cats valued for their hunting skills, in my family, especially on my mother's side, cats hold a sacred place of honor. We respect them & revere them for their gift to the family. It's a long tale, a part of family lore. Some stories, especially family myths & legends are best told around a fire in the dark mysteries & magic of the night. Long story short:
In the history of family lore, an ancestor saved a cat & took very good care of it for many years til the cat died of old age. The cat repaid the ancestor's kindness by becoming a herald to the family. When someone in the family was about pass on, a cat would cry out, a phantom cat no one would find. And in a dream that night, the cat would reveal who would pass on soon, giving the family members time to make peace & say goodbye before the end comes. And it is a precious gift that we have cherished for generations, one that those of us who believe have witnessed time & time again, always grateful for the rare opportunity to make peace, settle matters, & bid farewell to loved ones before they passed on.
The Fisherman & the Lucky Cat
Once upon a time, when the length of the day was measured by sunlight & the night claimed the earth as soon as the sun set, when news & tidings spread by word of mouth, when travel upon the waters was ruled by the tides & winds, a fisherman took his boat out to the deep blue ocean as he did every calm morning to catch fish. Imagine his surprise when fish wasn't the first thing he caught that morning, but instead, he found a kitten clinging to floating debris.
The kitten had been washed off a ship that sank during a violent storm the night before. The Fisherman rescued the floundering kitty from the flotsam he was clinging to, wrapped a towel around him, & fed that orange tiger striped kitten a fresh fish he had just caught. A few minutes later, the Fisherman's lines & nets were suddenly full of fish, the largest catch the fisherman had ever caught up until then.
The Fisherman returned home with the cat & surprised the villagers with his large catch & new kitten. He sold all of his bounty of fish that morning as the villagers marveled at the rescued kitty. It was the first time that a cat had arrived in the remote village, & the people were curious & fascinated by the orange tiger striped kitten. A few of the locals had seen cats in other distant villages & some cats were definitely present at the capital. But for the majority of villagers, this was the first time they had seen a cat up close. And it was amazing!
The Fisherman took care of that cat for many years after. That cat was a constant companion, staying with the fisherman, even when the Fisherman went out fishing. And when they got back from fishing, the cat would wander off to play with the village children for a while, returning home for meals & nap times.
Everyone in the village recognized the Fisherman & his cat. Everyone fed that cat. Most of the other fishers often asked the Fisherman & his cat to join their crew for the day, because they believed the Fisherman & his cat were lucky. The cat had survived a large ship that sank during a sudden, violent storm. Debris from the ship washed upon the village shore later in the day. No other survivors were found, except for the cat.
Everytime the Fisherman & his cat went fishing, by themselves or with a crew, they always managed to catch a lot of fish, even when the larger fishing vessels caught nothing. Even more impressive, during a fishing expedition, a storm blew up & managed to sink the other vessels in the fleet, except the boat the Fisherman & his cat were on. They survived the storm & managed to rescue the other crews. After it happened a second time with a different expedition, with the Fisherman & his cat surviving on the only safe boat once more, the village believed the cat was lucky. And that luck held true, & eventually, it became legend, the tale of the Fisherman & his lucky cat.
In time, the Fisherman married & had children, & that family loved their cat. Many years later, after a long & wonderful life, the cat eventually grew old & died. It was a sad time for the Fisherman & his family. Even the village mourned the loss of the lucky cat. It was the village mascot, & it was the only cat in the village at that time. It would be a few years later that other cats would come to the village & be made welcomed to their new home. Those later cats were brought into the village by the Fisherman after he returned from a long journey from far off places. Of all the treasures he returned with from his long journey, the most precious & priceless gifts were these new cats. But until then, the Fisherman & his family grieved the loss of their orange, tiger striped cat.
A month later, alone at home that afternoon, the Fisherman heard a cat crying, meowing as his old cat used to. He looked everywhere in & around the house, but he couldn't find a cat anywhere. Eventually, the cat's cries stopped, & the Fisherman wondered if perhaps he was hearing things. That night, the Fisherman had a dream. And in this dream, he saw his father getting on a passenger ship, leaving for a long journey. The Fisherman's father was a missionary, & even after he got married & had children, the Missionary still took long journeys to minister to people in far off places, often gone for a very long time, for months, & sometimes, years.
The Missionary & his son, the Fisherman, did not have a close relationship. And when the Missionary finally retired, he returned to find all his children had grown up, & they all felt ambivalent about him. On the one hand, they respected their father for his work & the sacrifices he made to spread the faith. But on the other hand, their father left them, for years, & they grew up without ever really knowing him, feeling abandoned, as if they weren't important enough for their father to stay at home & help raise them. It would seem the man loved his work more than he loved his family.
The Fisherman did not feel any close ties to his father, & he moved to a remote village far from the place where he was raised & his parents lived. And for many years, he did not see his father & only learned news of him from the letters his mother would write. Over the years, he would meet his mother at other villages when she took a trip to visit her children & grandchildren, who were living in different areas spread wide across the region. She travelled alone; the Missionary opting to stay at home, engaged in one task or another. Even after he got married & had children of his own, the Fisherman did not see his father. But he made the long trips with his family to his other siblings villages when his mother would visit her children over the years.
Still, after so many years apart, the Fisherman recognized from his dream that his father was going away like he used to on his missions. He recognized the passenger ship his father often took when he left for his missions. Except this time, he was taking no luggage at all. Though the Fisherman tried calling out & desperately tried to wave, his father could not see nor hear him. The Missionary boarded the ship, & the ship finally raised anchor & started to pull away. Only then did his father turn to see him, only then did his father nod & wave good bye as the ship started to vanish into the horizon.
Suddenly, the Fisherman's deceased cat appeared on the dock. And it surprised the Fisherman, who had missed his cat so. But he was even more astonished when the cat actually spoke & told him that because the Fisherman was kind to him & took very good care of him, the cat would offer him & his family a gift of thanks. And that gift would be the cat's promise to be a herald of the family. The cat would warn them when one of the family was about to pass on to the next world.
The cat would announce this nearing death by crying out a phantom warning, & it would reveal in dreams who was to pass on soon. The cat would make this revelation early enough to give the family time to settle accounts & make peace before the end comes.
And so it was the cat revealed to the Fisherman that his missionary father would pass on soon. When the Fisherman woke up that morning, he told his wife about his dream, & to her credit, she believed him. By that afternoon, the Fisherman & his family began the long journey to his parents home. It was the first time he would see his home village after many decades when he left to make his own way in the world. It would be a long & arduous journey, but it was a journey he needed to make. Along the way, he picked up his other siblings & told them of his dream.
When the large family caravan of siblings, their spouses, & children finally reached their parents house a few days later, they discovered a doctor at their home. The doctor revealed the sad news that the Missionary had become sick suddenly overnight, & he was not expected to live out the week.
And so it was that the Missionary, surprised at seeing his children & their families for the very first time, wept tears of joy & sorrow; joy for finally seeing all his loved ones together, & sorrow at the time lost & how little was left. In those final days, the Missionary & his children made peace, & he spent his last days surrounded by forgiveness & love, watched over by his children & grandchildren til the day he breathed his last.
The cat's herald had come true. And in the years after, the cat heralded the passing of the Fisherman's mother & his older siblings. Eventually, the cat heralded that the Fisherman's passing would come soon, & by then his wife & his children had learned to listen for this treasured gift from their beloved cat. Those who kept the faith & listened to the cat's herald were rewarded with the rare ability to say goodbye to loved ones, settle affairs, & make peace before the end would come.
And so it was for the Fisherman's children, his grandchildren, & every descendant since. We've listened to the cat's herald & we've taken the time to settle matters & make peace before the end comes. It is a truly rare & precious gift, the opportunity to make peace & say goodbye before death comes and it all ends. A family is made of love, so love your family & cherish your friends, for friends are the family you get to choose. Life is for the living, so live fully & embrace with all your heart your friends & loved ones.
Not everyone believes the legend, but most in my family do. A few who ignored the signs regretted it, like a cousin who was on an alcohol binge, partying for days, getting wasted, as she often did, disappearing from home for days, sometimes a week or two. She heard the cat cry three different times, but she ignored it & partied on. A week later, when she finally ran out of money (& drinking buddies), she made her way home, only to find numerous vehicles parked around her house & all up & down the street. Confused, she spotted one of her cousins scurrying about the backyard over a large fire pit, grilling lots of food for what looked like a feast.
She asked the cousin what was going on. Was there a party? The cousin & other cooks were shocked. But the party girl's shock was even bigger, when she learned that food was for a funeral: They were burying party girl's mother at that very instant. Her mother had a heart attack a week earlier, but she finally passed away after a long week of holding on.
I remember that funeral. I was a very young child then. But I remember sitting up front with my mother, who was mourning her sister's passing. Suddenly, I was startled by loud, inhuman, piercing animal like wails--these primal screams of agonizing, soul killing pain. I was shocked to see my cousin burst through the crowd then throw herself right on top of the coffin; I saw the coffin trembling on the straps that were holding it above the open grave. In a few seconds, those coffin straps buckled, & I watched in horror & shock as the coffin & my wailing cousin tumbled down into the grave while glorious chaos erupted around us, & other people started screaming. Bouquets & large floral arrangements that were caught in my cousin's raging wake were dragged & knocked down into the grave.
A few women fainted; a few mourners were knocked off their seats as the crowd pushed & pulled to get close to & away from the frantic action. The priest tripped & fell over backwards when he was startled by the sight of my screeching, crazed cousin plunging down the grave on top of the coffin. A few men jumped into the grave to try to stop my mad cousin who was trying to pry the coffin lid open. Others tried to pull out the flowers & debris that had been knocked down into the grave. Meanwhile, the piano player kept playing his funeral songs, & a few members of the choir kept singing, ignoring the chaos & disaster that was happening in front of them.
And through it all, I remember my mother taking it all in calmly, her raised eyebrow was the only acknowledgement that this was some crazy, messed up situation that was spiraling out of control. She had come to mourn the loss of her sister, not be witness to a stunt show & circus. I recognized that raised eyebrow. It meant Mom was about to take action, & if you didn't pay attention or follow her commands, you were about to get a serious spanking! It was the most dramatic funeral I've ever been to, & no other funeral has come close to matching that exquisite level of drama & entertainment.
Later on when things had calmed down, & Mom restored order & let the funeral proceed peacefully, I remember my cousin sobbing in my Mom's arms, saying she had heard the cat cry three different times, but she ignored it, & now it was too late to say goodbye to her mom. My heart ached for my cousin, because she had lost her mother, & she was suffering so.
I never gave much thought to the cat's herald, until I heard it the first time when I was 8. That evening, I heard a cat cry, but try as I might, I couldn't find that crying cat. I had a dream about my father that night, & I remember waking up the next day, & wanting to be near my Dad all day. I didn't understand what was going on, only that I wanted to be near my Dad. A week later, he passed away.
It would be many years before I understood what had happened, & when I started high school, I heard the cat herald again, & I dreamt of my favorite uncle. The next day, my mother made plans to see my uncle, for she too had heard the cat's cry. We visited my uncle, who was sick. He passed away at the end of the week.
After my uncle's passing, I knew then what I had heard. And furthermore, my other siblings reported hearing the same thing. And I would hear the cat's herald for other relatives, too. And I definitely remember one of the last few times it happened.
It was a few years ago. I remember calling home to talk to my Mom, but my nephew told me that she was asleep. She had been ill recently & she was spending a lot of time resting. I didn't want to wake her up, so I told my nephew just to let Mom know when she woke up that I called because I missed her & just wanted to hear her voice, to let her know that I loved her.
That night, I heard a cat crying. Then I dreamt that I was at the old harbor back home, looking at an old ship that was taking passengers to far off lands. I remembered this ship, because it was the same one my mother used to take (& sometimes she'd take us) to visit her other siblings & family who lived far away across the sea.
I saw my mother getting on the ship. I called out to her, but I had no voice. I tried running towards her but I felt stuck, & no matter how hard or how fast I tried, I was getting nowhere at all! I looked up as the ship was pulling away, & finally, I saw my mother looking at me, she smiled, so full of love, & she waved. Then the ship disappeared in the distance & I woke up.
That day, I took emergency leave & made the long journey home. I saw my mother. She was in the hospital then. She was very sick, but she was still able to communicate with us. Over the next few days, my siblings & their children started arriving home, to see Mom once more. And after every one of us saw her & made peace & said goodbye, she finally passed away peacefully, surrounded by those who loved her, about a week after I had arrived to say goodbye.
I will always be grateful for that time & opportunity to spend those last days with her. That was a most precious gift, one I will cherish for all of my days. Not everyone gets the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one. Always make the effort to let your loved ones know how much you love them & how important they are to you.
I remember the next morning, sitting on the front porch with a few nieces & nephews, feet dangling off the edge. Mom's passing had kept most of us up all night, reminiscing & sometimes crying over our terrible loss. It was hard to say goodbye to Mom. And we were both sad to see her go, yet also relieved that she had passed on peacefully, free of pain & suffering, that her last hours on earth were full of love & laughter, surrounded by her loved ones. They had all come to see her one last time, to tell her how much she was loved & cherished. She passed away with a smile on her face, serenity in her features; she left this world & moved on to a better place.
My two closest brothers & one of my sisters were sitting on the chairs, watching the sun rise over the trees, bringing light & color into Mom's beautiful, lush, vibrant garden. She had a gift for growing things, whether they be flowers or her family. Birds began singing in the cool morning as light shimmered across the skies & land. Two of our cats were sleeping comfortably on the bench, warming themselves in the rising, warm sunlight.
I suddenly made the comment that I had heard the cat herald the week before, & I knew that it was time to come home to say goodbye to Mom. I told the story of my experience. My nephews & nieces seemed surprised. They looked at me with a mixture of awe & skepticism. Clearly, a few of them had not heard of this family legend, this most precious gift from the cat to our ancestor. I wasn't surprised, given that they were raised in places far away from here or their parents--our other siblings & their spouses--simply chose not to tell these family stories or perhaps no longer believed the legends nor kept the faith.
But whatever the reasons, I felt the need to inform my nieces & nephews of the family legend of the lucky cat who became our family herald, who gave us a most precious & priceless gift. It didn't matter whether they believed me or not. What was important was that they learned of this family lore & glimpsed the rich history & complexity of this family that they were a part of. These stories were their stories, & they revealed who we were; our identity & beliefs; our history & values; the wisdom & the knowledge we learned; & our hopes & dreams for the future of our family & generations to come. The stories of our family was the story of us, of our people, of our experience.
One of my brothers related that he was sitting on the tailgate of his pickup, fishing at sunset when he heard the herald & couldn't find a cat nearby crying. A dream of Mom that night convinced him that it was time to come home. My baby brother said that he heard the herald while he was fixing a car in the garage at work. In his heart, he felt that it was for Mom, who was sick those past few days. Our sister revealed that she was folding laundry that evening when she heard the herald & couldn't find a cat crying when she searched all around the house & yard. A dream of Mom that night was the sign she needed to book the trip home.
My nieces & nephews listened with rapt attention. No doubt they would ask their parents if they had ever heard the cat herald. At the very least, the kids had a fairytale to share with their siblings & friends, a story to entertain them, if not enlighten them on the importance of mercy, kindness, life, & love. The most I could hope for was that they would be granted this blessing, to hear the herald when the time comes, & they would recognize this precious gift & make the most of it, to take the time to make peace, settle matters, & say goodbye to loved ones before those loved ones pass on to the next world.
I felt the need to tell this story of the Fisherman & the lucky cat, because I needed to remember the significance of this story & why it was so important to me & my family. It is the story of us, the story of our family & loved ones, the story of how love is the most important thing in our lives. Even if no one else from the future generations will embrace nor believe this story, the most important thing is that this story is told & remembered, if not as family lore, then as a fairytale to teach people of the value & importance & preciousness of life & love.
Love comes in many forms, & it makes life worth protecting, worth living. Life is short & precious. It's important to let your loved ones know that you love them. It's important to show mercy & kindness, because they make the world a better place. You reap what you sow, so plant seeds of compassion, & you will harvest generosity, graciousness, & understanding.
A life full of love is a life fully lived. So live fully & love wholeheartedly. And be kind to animals. When you take good care of animals, the animals will take good care of you in return. They will be your friends. They will be your loved ones. Take very good care of all your friends & loved ones, because they make your life better & fill your life with joy.
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