“I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me.”
–“The Cat that Walked by Himself,” Just So Stories, Rudyard Kipling
I’m a sucker for all things poetic, and the rhythm of this line has been ringing in my ears for a few weeks now (though perhaps that has something to do with the child who has been repeating it to me virtually nonstop since we read the story). Regardless of the why, I’ve been murmuring Kipling’s line over and over, mulling over the beauty and simplicity of the language.
And then, as I was turning this quote over in the back of my mind, I realized: the Cat is telling a lie. Of course, this should be obvious. If all places are alike to him, why does he continue to return to the cave with the man? Perhaps, the Cat reasons, there are benefits to certain places that he cannot receive elsewhere. So he devises a game. Because–you must not forget, O Best Beloved–the Cat is the most wild of all beasts and will not stand to be kept like the Dog or the Horse or the Cow.
The Cat’s struggle is our struggle. We want the comfort and security of a place that is different from all others. Yet, we are stubbornly independent and defy our own desire by claiming, “All places are alike to me.” We want all the benefit with none of the responsibility. And so the wild Cat–the clever Cat–makes his own way. He is helpful when he wants to be, only insofar as it creates the different place the other creatures call home. But he demands his right to disappear, to abandon the family he has grafted himself into, and to return to the wild places at any time. It is quite a feline scheme–and also a very human one.
“I am the cat who walks by himself, and all places are alike to me,” and thus I remain independent. But that one place–that place made different and called ‘home’–I will treat with the sacredness and flippancy of the Cat, so that it is mine and under my control. Though I wonder if someday the Cat–and perhaps we too–will find that the different place cannot truly be home until we give up control and shoulder the burden along with the benefit.