April 27, 2020

Dear Hope Nation,

I always thought my childhood was fairly normal. Apparently, I was wrong. Or perhaps my misspent youth has resulted in a faulty memory. “Luckily” I’ve got a kid sister who remembers everything with crystal clarity, or at least everything I did that was insensitive, wrong or disgusting. Until she sounds off in this space, though, I will maintain my parents used a cat-related phrase that I’ve picked up and used ever since, a phrase some people find insensitive, wrong and disgusting.

When I’m describing a small space, whether a bathroom, an office or, the Tiny White Box I dwelt in, I say, “This isn’t big enough to swing a cat in.” In my head, this is a good visual estimate for a room, with no sense of cruelty or abuse. It’s just a rule of thumb, not a secret torture from the feline inquisition. My picture is holding a cat by the base of its tail and swinging it, with speed but not forcefully, without hitting the cat’s head. This image has brought about cringes and sharp words from folks who hear in it some deep-seated hatred for cats. I do not hate cats. In fact, I think of them so little I don’t have any feelings about them.

If my arm is about 25 inches long, my shoulder width is about 18 inches and a cat’s body from nose to butt is about 18 inches, this means a successful cat-swinging (or at least an unimpeded cat swinging) requires a room at least a little more than 5 feet wide. Unless I want to stand in the center and twirl a cat, which does seem a bit over the top to me, in which case the room needs to be at least 10 feet wide. I think.

This estimate is being made without ever having picked up a cat by the tail because it’s only an image! Let me repeat and amplify, I’ve never used a cat for any nefarious or dangerous purpose, including measuring a room. Still, during this pandemic, when I walk into Market Basket or Home Depot, I know I should maintain a distance of at least six feet from every other human. My mental picture is that each of us has a cat (make it a taxidermized cat if that makes you more comfortable) hanging from our hands and our goal when we swing them is to make sure their heads remain unharmed. I’ve successfully maintained social distancing. How do I know? My imaginary cat is curled up in my lap right now with no cranial bruising  and I don’t believe I have Covid-19.

The issue of social distancing, I think, will be with us for some time after Covid-19 has abated (and returned and abated again). I don’t know about you, but I already cringe when I look at video from the Land of Before, and see men, women and children touching and cuddling and physically comforting each other. Like some teenager at a horror movie, I want to scream, “Stop! You’re in danger!” The casual human contact with which we grew up may become as rare as the baby cages of the 1930s, where babies were put in cages in upper-level apartment windows so they could have access to fresh air and sunshine.

When we draw in sight of After, this journey will have changed us, and those changes will continue to reverberate into all kinds of nicks and crannies. What WILL NOT have changed is our need to be kind to each other, to support one another and to live chemical-free lives.

Another thing unlikely to change is the sensitivity to the Cat Defense League to simple images. But I digress . . .

You matter. I matter. We matter.

Keith