There’s this spot between Jenny’s shoulder and neck. That’s Virtute’s spot. Exclusively. And that’s where I found him on a Sunday morning with a glint of sun slicing through the room in such a way that the orange tufts on his belly were struck by the warmth. It was perfection. He purred. Jenny slept peacefully.
I didn’t want to disturb, they both looked so content, but Virtute peered over and looked at me. Barely moving, he asked what was on my mind.
“Grief,” I said. Grief has been on all our minds for the last few years. It’s been a challenging time of loss and despair. I had been reading Michelle Zauner’s Crying in H Mart and had been reflecting on a line that stuck with me as she described love in relation to the death of a parent. Virtute was listening, so I read him the line: “Love was an action, an instinct, a response roused by unplanned moments and small gestures, an inconvenience in someone else’s favor.” For some reason I found this deeply comforting, and yet, I worried that such a description of love removed it from the realm of the divine into the space of the mundane. “Is that all love is, Virtute? Small inconveniences in someone else’s favour?”
Ever patient, Virtute paused, closed his eyes, felt the warmth of the sun – which was now enveloping his entire body – and then reflected.
“Sometimes humans get caught up in false binaries and think that things must be mutually exclusive. What if the divine and the mundane aren’t separate spaces at all?”
This was classic Virtute, the philosopher, and I almost shrugged it off because he could sometimes sound like a walking cliché. But, as was his way, he persisted. “Let me remind you of the trilogy of Weakerthans’ songs, which I was named after, to further explain what I mean.” I was curious; it had admittedly been a while since I listened to those tracks, so I asked him to go on.
“In Plea from a Cat Named Virtute, we first meet our protagonist, Virtute the Cat. In this song, Virtute’s human is struggling with depression. He is feeling lost and alone. Virtute leans into the relationship and starts suggesting things that the human might do to feel more connection. Using all the little mundane tools that cats have to communicate with humans, Virtute “lies down, licks the sorrow from your skin, scratches the terror, and begins to believe you’re strong.” That love, those small gestures, inconveniences in someone else’s favour, were central to the healing process, the human-cat relationship modelled small actions of love.
In Virtute the Cat Explains Her Departure, it is Virtute who finds herself lost and in trouble. She’s searching “for the sound that you found for me,” and it is now the human who reciprocates, desperately trying to find the lost kitty. Again, those small gestures, the intimate sounds and scents that connect us to one another, are at the heart of this care. Virtute, curled up behind a dumpster in an alley, can recall how she’d “kneed into your chest while you were sleeping” and how her human’s “shallow breathing made me purr.” Love is also memory – of a feeling – of familiarity – of a moment in time.
In the final song of the trilogy Virtute at Rest, Virtute’s human is reflecting on his relationship with his late cat after a process of personal healing. He sits with his regret and the desire to have done better for his cat and imagines Virtute forgiving him for his imperfections, singing: “You should know I am with you, know I forgive you, know I am proud of the steps that you made. Know it will never be easy or simple, know I will dig in my claws when you stray.” Even in death, Virtute is still giving those small gestures, they have infinite proliferations.
This is love,” said Virtute.
It was stunning to hear him recount this narrative. As usual, Virtute took something so big and made it feel small and intimate. I thanked him, and he just nestled into Jenny’s shoulder and purred. Perhaps he was saying that grief is just another small gesture, a small inconvenience, that is a reflection of love.
Over the last couple weeks Virtute started to act strangely. He wasn’t eating his food with his signature joyfulness. He was sleeping for long parts of the day and had stopped playing with his 1.5″ mylar crinkle ball. The vets tried to eliminate all of what might be going wrong. They let us know that Virtute’s kidneys were shutting down. He wandered around the house over the last few days to say his goodbyes. He shared a little purr session with Gumption. He hung out and talked music and politics and philosophy with me. He got a couple more sleeps in with Jenny. He paid a visit with our downstairs neighbours Patty and Doug. He ate every single treat we could shove in his face while we gave him treatments. And then, yesterday, he let us know it was time.
Thank you for everything, Virtute the Cat (2011-2022).
In the words of John K. Samson,
“Let it rest, all you can’t change. Let it rest and be done.”